Transforming Our Lawn into a Living Laboratory

A Special interest article by Kathy Adams

“… like friends, they have become so much of who I  am.  It is hard to separate them from who I have become because of them”. Kathy Adams

What our backyard looked like.

What our backyard looked like when we moved in.

Perhaps people think it is too difficult to establish a friendly yard, or maybe simply don’t know what to do. They may believe it takes too many resources. If they come to see a yard like this one, that is not perfect but in progress, evolving, yet with bees, butterflies and dragonflies, birds, and lovely flowers, they can try a little at a time, too. Sure there is grass and there are unwanted plants, but so what, at least it is safe to come here and hang out! And there are flowers to drink from, a bird bath, some seeds in feeders, and people working to make it better.

Our backyard today.

Our backyard today.

The first step is to let go of perfect grass, and stop spraying. Then the magical world out there can come in and change your heart, so you can see up close how much power you have to let the little ones survive and thrive. You will start to bond with those sweet spirits.  Begin to care about their well being and experience the joy of Nature.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

In the summer of 2002 we set out to find a smaller home in a sunny place not far from Deephaven, MN. That was the place where the shady sugar maples reigned, towering overhead, causing evening to come way too early in the summer and the mosquitoes so thick we sat wrapped in sheets and head nets in the heat of summer. Although the deep woods mysteries – raccoons chattering in the dark outside our  bedroom windows – the ancient calling of the pileated in the shadows – the deer quietly moving on the hillside paths under the moon and my little children running about to catch fireflies in the dark, so thick it was as a million stars had fallen from the skies, the woods had become my home here in the city and I longed to feel at home again.

The suburban lawn was bright green and the sun shone on a third acre of grass as we walked up the driveway that August day, We bought the house, moved in, and  I began my plan to return the land back to a living ecosystem alive with plants, trees, shrubs, snakes, bugs, birds, frogs and whatever else wanted to join us. Since then the journey has become a part of me, changing how I look at the world and my place in it.


The view looking to the west.

The original plan was to create three triangles, each with its own niche. The one to the east is sunny with a hill that slopes down. On the hillside would be big blooming shrubs, dogwoods, wild roses, elderberry, viburnums and a big patch of native prairie to become my nursery for spreading out into the rest of the area. The middle triangle is where the lilacs, cherry trees, bird bath, hydrangeas, chokeberries, winter berries grew. Some are still with us, others have met their

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

demise at the hands and mouths of the locals (smiles and curses to the rabbits and deer).  Newer members of the community are Joe Pye, Cup plants, monarda, coneflowers, aster, whorled and poke milkweed and many dragonfly perches we made out of tall sticks. The dragonflies keep life glistening with their antics and I believe they fly out to see us as soon as we arrive to wander the paths. There is a bee nest there, too, and Old Naturalist gave us many plants and the idea to create the bee home out of dried hollow reeds. We wait, hoping the hotel will have guests.

Tubes for cavity nesting bees.

Tubes for cavity nesting bees.

The triangle to the west is shady, with a half dead ash that provides wonderful perching spots for the huge family flocks of birds that make their way to the yard – a big stick pile sits in the back of a row of thick maples, the milkweed those proud soldiers stand waiting for monarchs, and the milkweed community – fragrant, friendly milkweeds – with a scent more luscious than lilacs and certainly each one with its own personality – but all in common are proud to bear the complex community that thrives within their protective haven.


Kathy and Denny in front of the aspen forest.

I leave out many other important members, perhaps, like friends, they have become so much of who I  am  it is hard to separate them from who I have become because of them –  the aspens whose community started out as 5 young trees, to be whittled down to three over the years, and now they all have reached out with one after another to form a complete grove of fluttering leaves, working to restore that desolate, poisoned, sterile turf that once shown Crayola Green under the midsummer sun. Now, underneath them, the dragonflies and little toads make their homes, dear rabbits hide and watch with wondering eyes, nibbling on dandelion leaves fresh with dew. A willow tree waves in the breeze within the aspen grove, and many native shrubs, this is the shady part where one can wander the path on a hot day, kneel down and wonder at the dragon flies, bees, and creatures that flourish in there, watching them , looking up into a world so marvelous that one can only imagine.

Kathy and Denny Adams

Kathy Adams and Denny Jordan

This is the beginning of a restoration that began with a field of grass, and evolves every day into a richer universe, thriving with each new member that joins the community – plants, always more plants, native plants, shrubs, is there room for another tree? Another bird feeder? Can I let that little milkweed grow or should the roses be given more room…is there room for more? The land is recovering and although it stands alone in a desert of suburban turf, the creatures and the native plants and I have a place to call home.

Monarch larva on the milkweed

Monarch larva on the milkweed

I have great hope that many people want to do what is right and they are aware of what they are doing with their mowing and poisons. There are many progressive folks with rain gardens, un-sprayed properties, veggie gardens,  chickens, native plants and flowers…

I hope that my property will demonstrate what others can do and that can bring the same joy to them, their families and neighbors.

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