Wild and Edible Landscapes for Us and Our Companion World
Plus Resources and Tips on Dealing with Homeowner Associations
April 13, 2020
In the midst of our current problem, people in Houston and all over the world are finding solace in tending a garden, if they are fortunate enough to have access or space for one. It could be a vegetable garden or a wildflower garden, though it seems that, as happens during crises, our thoughts turn to growing our own food.
This is a logical response. Not only does gardening benefit mental and physical health. It’s also wiser and more practical not to rely on long-distance supply chains that can be disrupted during floods or pandemics. Or wars.
Local nurseries and seed providers, considered essential businesses during our local shut down, have reported a surge in interest.
Lawns Really Bad. Alternatives So Much Better
But the growing movement towards edible landscapes, as well as edible forests on public land (see also “food forest” Dallas and Austin), is not just for human food. It’s about feeding the insects and birds and the entire ecosystem without which we cannot survive. Scientists, concerned about an insect apocalypse, are urging landowners to get rid of their lawns.
The state of Minnesota is actually paying homeowners to replace lawns with wildflowers, clover, and native grasses. It’s called rewilding. Interesting historical fact: clover was the preferred lawn cover in the US up through the 1940s.
During this devastating pandemic, we might also want to consider the importance of urban biodiversity on our health. That means everything from soil microbes to plants and animals.
Also Reducing Flooding, Pollution, and Temperature
It so happens that turning our lawns and vacant lots into planted gardens and prairies also helps protect us against flooding. Anything that helps slow and absorb rainwater from the time it hits the roof and the ground is going to reduce the peak flow in our streams and streets.
Planting vegetable, native plant and wildflower gardens also reduces carbon emissions, helping to protect us against climate change. Maintaining our thirsty American lawn is hugely polluting to our land, air, and water. Lawns are the number one irrigated agricultural “crop” in the US.
More green space, and less concrete, helps cool the city, reducing the heat island effect, which attracts disastrous weather.
Gardens Everywhere: Roofs, Parks, Vacant Lots, and Prairies
The City of Houston is encouraging gardens of all sorts, and even edible forests. (p. 86)
The City’s Resiliency Plan, released in February 2020, promotes community gardens, green roofs (which include rooftop gardens), urban farms, and prairie restoration, as well as denser development—building the city up rather than out, replacing the urban sprawl that is destroying so much of our native prairie, wetlands, woodlands, and the few remaining riparian areas needed to help protect us from flooding. The Resiliency Plan, citing the Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan, also has a goal of preserving as green space 24 percent of the land in the eight-county region by 2040. (p. 153)
In support of this project, the City’s goals are to conserve city parks as nature preserves, “discourage development in sensitive upstream areas” (west Houston, among other places), and restore native prairie, wetlands, and woodlands. (p. 153) This includes, apparently, planting pocket prairies in neighborhoods. (p.128)
Natural Area Permits, Homeowner Associations
The City’s Natural Resources Management Program, a part of the Parks and Recreation Department, already has ongoing projects to restore prairies and riparian areas in city parks along our streams like Sims and White Oak bayous. (Note also that the City in theory has been encouraging urban farming for some time. See also here.)
Perhaps a lesser known fact is that the City also has a Natural Area Ordinance which provides permits to property owners who wish to turn their land into a native prairie or native plant garden, wildlife habitat, vegetable garden, or rain garden. The permit, however, does not override deed restrictions or homeowner association rules.
Which brings us to a common complaint: how to deal with homeowner associations that enforce conformity and environmentally unsound regulations about yards and lawns?
Here are some tips about dealing with homeowner associations when rewilding or recreating your yard:
Making Messy Look Good (Hint: mow the edges)
Golf Courses and Butterflies
As an aside, note that the Audubon Society has a program, Monarchs in the Rough, to encourage golf courses to plant wildflowers to sustain monarch butterflies. So far in the region there are only four golf clubs participating: The Club at Falcon Point in Katy, Lakeside Country Club in west Houston, Kingwood Country Club in Kingwood, and Bay Oaks Country Club in southeast Houston.
And here are some further resources, tips, and guides:
Native Plant and Seed Sources:
Rewilding Your Yard
Roof Gardens and Green Roofs