I will start by admitting that I’ve not always praised dead, fallen leaves ‘littering’ our lawn. I invested (heavily) in a wide range of tools, especially gas-powered, as well as yard crews, so that each Fall we could rid our little ecosystem of unsightly disorder of dead organic material on top of our lawn. Then each Spring I invested (heavily) in chemical supplements to stop weeds from emerging and to grow a gap-free, green lawn. Then each Summer I invested (heavily) in a wide range of tools, especially gas-powered, as well as yard crews, to mow, edge, trim, and otherwise cut back much of the lawn that I had invested (heavily) in to grow. All so that my yard looked like what was (is) expected of a responsible homeowner.
Then I came to realize that I was investing (heavily) in severely damaging our little ecosystem. Ironically, to achieve a ‘look’ that I didn’t and don’t really like. As I’ve written here, the outdoors, in all its orderly disorder and natural cycles, is my preferred haven. Not manicured human creations. Creations of conceit that we can do a better job than Mother Nature.
The pivotal point in my thinking was when we decided to apply for our local Audubon chapter’s backyard wildlife sanctuary certificate. At that time, it was the Atlanta Chapter and is now the Georgia Chapter Wildlife Sanctuary Program – https://www.georgiaaudubon.org/wildlife-sanctuary-program.html.
Achieving this certification was an outgrowth of our love of nature and wildlife. We wanted to look out our windows or walk across the yard and experience a piece of the ‘wild’ without having to travel to someplace else. Imagine how soul stabbing it was to learn, as we researched what we needed to do to meet the criteria, just how far we were from being a sanctuary. We quickly came to understand just how much we were doing, to gain our neighbor’s acceptance that we were responsible lawn keepers and keepers of property values, that was in fact combatting nature’s best laid plans to sustain biodiversity in our own backyard. We were devaluing our yard as a home to a diversity of life, starting with the ground-level foundation to the food web on which all ecosystems depend, including the ones we co-inhabit. We were ridding our lawn of ‘litter’ along with the diverse plethora of organisms, including worms, snails, spiders, and microscopic decomposers like fungi and bacteria on which the food-web is built to sustain the pollinators, birds, and small mammals that we wanted to provide sanctuary.
I will not attempt to write a paper on why ‘leaf litter’ is essential to the food-web and therefore biodiversity. A simple search will return thousands of papers, reports, and opinion pieces providing the science and enumerating the environmental services.
What I do want to say is that by ‘re-wilding’ our yard, our investment outlays in mainstream acceptable, responsible lawncare, as defined by cultural norms, has dropped to near zero. We still work ourselves or pay our yard crew to gather and move leaves for infrastructure, and yes aesthetic reasons. Re-wilding to a Georgia Peidmont habitat does not mean unplanned or totally unkept. Fighting back invasive interlopers is a constant battle. It has been worth it. Our investments in natural processes to sustain as close as possible the regional ecosystem that preceded urbanization have increased and are positive return-on-investment. They are paying dividends that enrich our wellbeing, and our souls.
We now feel we are better stewards of our little ecosystem. The returning pollinators and our growing eBird yard checklist (87 species to date) are testimony to being on a better trajectory. As a bonus our yard is pretty in a literal life-like way the Creator intends.
Here is a sample of the birds, and one rabbit, that enjoy the ‘litter’ in our yard.