Berger Family Landscape, Kane IL
Featured Site Created By Jeremy Berger
Housing developments around the United States are a common form of residence in suburban areas. Living in these communities often comes with rules and regulations. Jeremy Berger in Kane, Illinois, has given his housing development a new definition of beautiful yard. Though the vast majority of his neighbors landscape primarily with lawn, Jeremy and his family have ventured into more sustainable landscaping. They have planted almost 100 different native plants and each year the size of their lawn shrinks. They have a wealth of native wildlife attracted to their native-plants and they have shared their love of these plants by distributing seeds to neighbors and the local elementary school. They enjoy the process of educating their community on different definitions of landscape beautification. Recently, their property was acknowledge by their village Beautification Committee, demonstrating that their passion and educational efforts are paying off. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?
In terms of habitat creation, the yard is a continual work in progress. When we purchased the house in 2006, the landscape was primarily a lawn. It was new construction with a few non-native bushes and a couple of trees. We immediately began by adding native plants and trees. Planting for wildlife was a focus from the beginning. Cover plants like grasses and shrubs, host plants for larva, and food plants (nectar and seed/nut sources) were all a part of the initial plan. We used resources like the Minnesota DNR’s Landscaping for Wildlife and Robert Dolezal’s Birds in your Backyard to help us generate initial lists of plants. We further refined these lists by consulting with people knowledgeable of and experienced in native flora. The Natural Garden Nursery and the Wild Ones Organization were two of the local resources we used.
Nine years after our plantings began, we now have a mecca for wildlife. In fact, many of our neighbors joke that they live next to a wildlife preserve! In addition to our habitat creation, we added birdhouses, bird feeders, and water sources. There are currently five feeders that stay up year round. There are another four that we add seasonally (hummingbird in the spring through fall, and woodpecker from the fall through spring). There are three rock structures that have natural basins that hold water and two traditional bird baths in the yard as well. If you poke around our property on YardMap, you will get specific plant and animal species that can be viewed in our yard. I believe that there are over eighty species of native plants that we have added over the years and this has translated into new species of animal visitors that frequent our habitat. Every year we see new bird species as the food sources and structures mature.
What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")
There are many experiences that we have celebrated related to the improvements that we have made to our property. One of the most exciting things for us has been the opportunity to share and educate others about the benefits of welcoming native flora and fauna into our landscape. Our prolific plants produce many seedlings. We have shared these with all of our direct neighbors as well as added to the prairie garden plot at our local elementary school. Viable native habitat has a slowly expanding radius around our yard.
In addition to sharing plants, we have been able to teach others in our community about these benefits. One big step in this learning process was recognition from our village’s Beautification Committee this summer. Typically, past winners of the floral display award from the village were labor-intensive, resource-absorbing “traditional” flower beds. Constant attention, fertilizing, herbicide/pesticide applications, and watering resulted in appealing displays, but these were often devoid of life. This year our yard was recognized by the village and received the floral display award. Our yard is the antithesis of traditional. Hopefully, this translates into a more encompassing definition of beauty to include life forms other than only those of the human variety!
One of our favorite successes are the birds that visit our feeders, water sources, and take up residence in our birdhouses. Our two most exciting are the tree swallows and Cooper’s hawks. The territorial tree swallows are appreciated for their natural predation of flying insects as well as their aerial prowess, even though it makes yard work a little more difficult. The Cooper’s hawks that hunt our feeders are, perhaps, more exciting to observe. I know many people that have feeders dislike the predators that prey on their birds. But we view the presence of predators as a positive sign that our habitat is working more like a natural ecosystem.
Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?
Management of our property itself has not required too many difficult decisions, other than not having enough room to plant all of the things we’d like to. People in our subdivision tend to lean toward the green lawn monoculture of grass philosophy, as opposed to accepting weeds as part of the environment. Because we don’t use chemicals, we have dandelions, clover, and other weeds. This provides an opportunity for conversation about life and health as it pertains to aesthetics. Educating others is part of the process and there are always opportunities for learning. Most people come around to acknowledge that life and health usurps just looking like the rest of the neighbors (even if they don’t embrace the concept in their own yard). This only occurs if there is dialogue. To some, we are just the house with the weeds.
Another tough consideration has been how to go wild with natives that support wildlife, while considering things like resale value or local ordinances. Fortunately, we live in an area where so called weed laws are not too stringent. As long as it is in a flowerbed, pretty much any plant goes. We have maintained some lawn space (though it shrinks yearly) while creating beds that group natives with similar exposure and moisture requirements and would also potentially be found together naturally. By doing this, we give the appearance of more traditional flower gardens while increasing diversity and retaining some of the natural heritage of the area. Also, we have used local ecotypes whenever possible, in an attempt to maintain local genetic heritage.
Fortunately, we have not had to worry much about the resale value. Our roots grow deeper by the year and we enjoy the fruits of our labor!