Nativescaping and the Principles of Stewardship
by Steven Paulsen, Michelle Richman, and Kent Fotherg of Conservation Seeding and Restoration, Inc.
There are numerous benefits to landscaping with native plants: beauty, wildlife habitat, sense of place, water conservation, and being environmentally sound. It is relatively easy to find information about native plant choices and planning your landscape. However, very little information is available on the aspect of nativescaping that is most crucial to the success of the project- stewardship.
“Whether the project is 600 acres of restored wild lands or a backyard corner, proper stewardship is critical to a successful outcome.” Steven Paulsen, General Manager and Founder of Conservation Seeding and Restoration advises.
A nativescape is not a static collection of plants dropped into a landscape that needs to be maintained. Native plants can be utilized within a traditional landscape approach, and some benefits will be achieved, but the attitude to the botanic components are the same as a traditional landscape. A nativescape can have traditional elements and form, but it is a living entity that must be nurtured through time toward maturity, a process we choose to call stewardship. This difference in approach is best illustrated by a comparison of a traditional landscape feature and a similar feature in a nativescape.
A traditional landscape requires continuous inputs of maintenance. The traditional lawn requires inputs of water, mowing, fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, and other maintenance items (e.g. aeration, removal of lawn clippings, etc.). The goal is one of imposing by force a texture and growth form that is not the plants choice. Because the plant is under continuous growth stress, poisons are required to keep competition (weeds) and predation (e.g. insects) from disrupting the desired result.
The native lawn is climate adapted and able to flourish with minimal additional water. The growth form of the species chosen is naturally short in stature, so mowing changes from weekly to as dictated by aesthetic choice. Mowing less frees time and labor toward other pursuits and creates an opportunity to reduce lawn mower emissions and reduce noise pollution. The grasses chosen, belonging in the area, are well adapted to hold their space - minimizing need for weed abatement. Additionally, the grasses have their own defenses against harmful insects and provide habitat for beneficial insects which lessens needs for anti-insect measures. Intervention takes place only when monitoring demonstrates the need. The botanical component is encouraged towards viability; the paradigm shift is from one of dominance over the landscape to one of encouragement of the landscape.
Stewardship has three key components:
Monitoring quantifies varying degrees of project success and then provides a feedback loop to identify site specific conditions that contribute to anything shy of total success. From monitoring data, one can develop actions that can avoid or rectify problems. Monitoring is influenced by project goals and can range from extremely detailed inventories of plant populations and states, photo monitoring, insect counts, and statistical analysis of data, to simply enjoying and noting the procession of color through the seasons. Monitoring is the process of interacting with and getting to know your landscape, its’ denizens, and human patterns of landscape use.
All plant communities are influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. The goal of actions is to create, or at least mimic, the natural factors that maintain the plant community created within the landscape project. These actions can take place on various scales and intensities.
Just as shampoo directions tell us to lather, rinse, repeat in our quest for a shiny mane, stewardship requires the cycle of monitoring and informed action to be repeated through time to achieve nativescape goals.
Nativescaping requires a stewardship approach in order to achieve highest success. Stewarding a nativescape ultimately is informed by natural plant communities and their responses to various stressors. Stewardship should begin before planning and implementation of the project. Stewardship principles could be applied to traditional landscapes, but success would be harder to predict and achieve as many of the combinations and even the cultivated varieties of plants utilized in traditional landscapes do not exist anywhere in nature – eliminating the mentorship of natural communities in the stewardship process.
Over 3,000 species of plants are native to Idaho. Not all species are suitable for every application, but in most situations an amazing botanical palette is available to create form, texture, color and human uses to express individual tastes while reflecting how wonderful and amazing the place we live in is. Nativescaping, planned carefully, implemented thoughtfully, and well stewarded, can create viable and sustainable landscapes that not only help conserve resources and native biodiversity but enrich human lives.
It is not by choice, but by acceptance that we find ourselves in place. Many people live here without knowing the joy of being in this place. By being patient, humble, and really listening to what our surroundings are telling us we gain understanding of place. This embracing of place is the essence of stewardship and the antithesis of yard work.