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  • ljmarkson

New Fall Habitat Yard Workshops in Atlanta!

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

By rewilding my urban Atlanta yard I'm hoping to restore nature in some small way where I live. So far, I’ve been focused on sharing my ongoing yard restoration journey mainly through my keyboard, but I’m now going live. My monthly habitat yard workshop sign-up is now open for September 17, October 15, and November 12 from noon to 2:00pm each day.

Every section of my rewilded yard offers an opportunity to explain ways to create an ecologically sustainable habitat that supports a biodiversity of wildlife and plants. .

I’ve started the monthly workshops because I’m consistently arranging to meet people for a variety of reasons related to creating a healthier habitat yard - to see how a native plant I may have mentioned looks growing in the ground; to learn more about features like water sources, brush piles, or pocket meadows; to pick up free native plants or seeds; for suggestions about plants to buy at a local nursery; or to get ideas and information about increasing biodiversity using native plants. What seems like a quick visit often ends up being longer. I’ve had enough visitors to realize what I think is obvious from being a gardener with experience transitioning my yard from a traditionally landscaped intown yard to a wildlife sanctuary is not common knowledge. I was inspired to try this by one of my Instagram friends who is a conservation specialist and partners with other organizations to host habitat focused educational events.

It's hopeful to meet families who are teaching by example how to nurture and protect nature in their own yard.

Although I love meeting fellow Doug Tallamy groupies who are also obsessed with talking about the different varieties of goldenrod or a podcast out about native grasses in the landscape, my goal for the habitat workshops is not to sing to the choir – there are already niche native plant resources for folks to wonk out with each other. My idea is simply is to offer help and information in person to anyone who is new to yard restoration and interested in making their own yard more nature friendly. I’m not an expert, but I’m a lifelong gardener and passionate "backyard" naturalist and know the differences between traditional gardening practices and habitat gardening to restore nature where we live. Most folks seem to know one or the other and not have the language of both.

I've always been a gardener. As recently as a half dozen years ago I was on the right ecological track by creating a yard without a lawn. Yet I wasn't quite there understanding the function of the plants in my yard. My "cottage garden" aesthetic included a dreamy mix of beautiful flowers, herbs and vegetables but I wasn't versed on the importance of native plants. Yet.

The workshop is different from the traditional self-guided garden tour template. Last year I spearheaded a popular inaugural native plant habitat garden tour for a local non-profit organization with over 300 people wandering through half a dozen public and private properties. I wanted it to be called a habitat tour to make clear it was not in the tradition of a lady’s garden tour. Yet the idea of a yard as a habitat took a backseat to the insistence it be called a garden tour because garden tours are such a familiar reference. My sensibility is more with the Georgia Audubon’s more ecologically forward Wildlife Sanctuary Tours. I like it so much I even agreed to be on their tour a few years ago.

I was honored to be on the Audubon Sanctuary Tour because it recognized the functional importance of a yard to offer food, shelter, nesting sites, and water for birds and wildlife.

The new homeowners who are replacing their lawns with meadows or families who want to be part of a pollinator pathway so their children don’t grow up in a world without butterflies are not at the strolling through gardens stage of life - they need practical advice and want resources and an action plan. They are the folks finding my yard and asking me basic questions about going pesticide free; not removing leaves; building a brush pile; how to add native pollinator plants to edible landscapes; removing invasives; or what native plants to get for erosion control, if they have children, or instead of invasive liriope. The older folks who I talk to about my yard may have time for garden tours, but like me are feeling the pressure to do something more action oriented to help our world for future generations.

The imperative to protect species at risk of disappearing before it's too late. seems to be weighing particularly heavy on Generation Z and Millenials. They want their children and grandchildren to grow up experiencing the thrill of butterflies in their yards, not in a museum. A few days ago this monarch spent hours pollinating the magnificent native New York ironweed, (Vernonia noveboracensis) blooming now in my rewilded yard.

I’m a bit frustrated with experts who have the same goal of helping our fragile ecosystem but act more as gatekeepers than tour guides. Landscape gatekeepers insist you know about landscape design before even thinking about welcoming wildlife into your yard and native plant gatekeepers insist you know about things like the whether a native plant grows in ecoregion levels I or II before adding it to your yard. You don’t need to be a professional landscape designer or have a degree in botany to start the process of turning your yard into an ecological oasis. For generations gardeners have poked around in their yard without being admonished for being neophytes. To change the predominantly toxic landscape culture, anyone trying make their yard more ecologically sustainable, even in the most basic ways, needs to be encouraged with resources to make it easier.

It's helpful to know the ecoregion you live in for successfully adding native plants to the landscape but I didn't even know about ecoregions until I was a few years into my yard restoration! Fortunately, reputable native plant nurseries sell plants native to the ecoregion they're in. The details and controversies around ecoregion levels are not typically entry level conversations

It’s also important to not water down the situation. Explaining that pesticides and habitat loss are the top contributing causes for the alarming insect and bird decline is not being judgmental or a purist but making clear what’s a stake if we don’t change our current landscaping culture and aesthetic. Not using pesticides and adding native plants are foundational ways to bring nature back to our yards.

This fantastic yard sign from what is now called North Georgia Native Plant Nursery distills what are nonnegotiable truths in a habitat yard.

At the habitat yard workshop you won’t find old school landscaping tips like planting by color or in threes, adding evergreen foundation shrubs, using fertilizers, irrigation system schedules (we killed our system!), getting rid of garden pests (there are no pests in my little ecosystem!), or anything about exotic ornamental species (or even finding rare native plants which can encourage a desire for the unusual).

Legume plants are a host for this long-tailed skipper butterfly caterpillar also known as a bean leaf roller. They are not pests in my yard where I intentionally grow even more host plants for them (and my family!) by planting a varieties of bean and pea plants along a sunny border fence also covered in native vines. I get plenty of peas and beans as well as butterflies!

What you will find at the workshop

  • A new way to look at our yards as an ecological source of life.

  • A paradigm shift in the landscape aesthetic.

  • A vision of an ecologically sustainable urban habitat landscape.

  • A focus on the function of our landscape and the plants in it.

  • Examples of how a small yard can offer big habitat value for wildlife.

  • An explanation of keystone species and why they matter.

  • Native plant ideas for right-of-way strips. lawn alternative groundcovers, raingardens, and seasonal succession planting.

  • Healthy yard practice suggestions including reducing light pollution, Keeping cats indoors, removing invasives, living mulch, not using gas-powered landscape tools, and protecting the soil.

  • Habitat features including brush piles, water sources, and nesting boxes.

  • Ways to add habitat even if you don't have a yard - like creating container micro-meadows using native plants.

  • Information about why yard certifications matter and which one(s) might be the best fit for you. (I'm kind of a yard certifications junkie and have nine different certifications and counting!)

  • Resources for healthier yard practices, quiet and native plant friendly landscapers, classes, books, and local green organizations.

  • A list of local native plant nurseries along with a native plant or two to get you started!

  • Maybe a bit of snark thrown in for good measure.

My yard certification signs are a way to give context to what's going on in my yard. They are also a resource of options for anyone who is trying to figure out which certification or pledge sign might be the best fit for them. I'm happy to share what I've learned about all of them!

In the fall my yard is a wonderful mess of plants with paths I keep clearing from plants that stubbornly insist they belong there; seed heads of plants that bloomed earlier in the year including annuals and biennials that have completed their life cycle and are now brown stalks and stems; defoliated host plants and maybe even a caterpillar or two; pollinators, birds and urban wildlife going about their business (it's their home!); plants that may have stretched and flopped, and a sunny pocket prairie with native grasses starting to come into their own. I look forward to sharing my ungardened yard with folks who might benefit from my workshop.

The function of leaving dried seed heads and stems throughout the year is a basic habitat yard practice I'm happy to explain and share examples of. The architectural beauty of seed heads is a bonus - like this combination of native rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) and river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

For now, as part of my non-profit’s educational outreach I’m offering the workshops free for folks in or near intown Atlanta who have a fairly typical intown lot and want to make their yard (or even patio!) more nature friendly. I’m keeping sign-up lowkey - just send me a message to ljmarkson@att.net and I’ll ask a few questions to make sure we're on the same page and the workshop is a fit. The workshops will be in person and limited in size. Priority will be given to newbies who are ready to make a change, particularly newish homeowners. I anticipate filling up quickly and will keep a list if anyone cancels.

Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is an amazing habitat plant for numerous reasons I'm happy to share in my workshop. My favorite is that I get to see goldfinches picking at the seeds just about all year long!

Note: There are no affiliate links in this blog. Please click the highlighted text throughout the post for links to references, details, explanations, worthy organizations or businesses, or examples that I think might be helpful.

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