Across the world more and more people are moving into cities. In Australia in recent years this has resulted in both urban infill, where one house is demolished and two or three spring up in its place, and as new housing developments being established in what was farm land. What all this construction signifies is a loss of vegetation from tall trees to shrubs and ground covers – all what were homes and food for other animals, birds and insects.
Since I moved into my current home a year and half ago I have witnessed the loss of a lot of the greenery in the three houses opposite me. As I was moving in, one house and all its vegetation was being demolished and the blocked reduced to bare earth. A much larger house was built in its place and only in past month has any plants been put in. Then a few months after two houses down changed hands and all the understorey habitat in their front garden was removed leaving bark covered earth and one standard exotic plant. More recently the house across pulled out all the hedges along the fence and construction a massive three door garage that fills the width of the block in monstrous cream Colorbond. Taken individually perhaps not a great change to the biodiversity of the street, but added together along with all the other construction going on it starts to become a significant loss of vegetation across urban areas.
Does it matter if we loose vegetation in our neighbourhoods? As a tree lover I would of course say ‘Yes’, but there are a number of reasons that go beyond the sheer pleasure I get from being surrounded by plants. There are of course the environmental benefits a tree provides such as, improving air quality and in providing shade and thereby reducing the heat effect of all the paved surfaces. Then there is recent research into health and well-being which indicates the positive effects being outdoors in green spaces, particularly areas rich in range of plants, like forests.
Now it’s wonderful to go and hike in a National Park and get all the health benefits of walking under tall trees and being immersed in the richness of life, but in a busy working life how often can we all do that? So why don’t we enrich are our daily lives by creating more biodiverse surroundings right where we live?
If we go back to the case of my neighbours carefully and lovingly established lawn, that I mentioned in my previous post, imagine how the same love and care could transform it into a biodiverse productive garden. Converting all that water and energy that went into maintaining a lawn into healthy nutritious food on our doorstep. Studies have shown that the nutritional value of greens diminish as soon as they are picked. So instead of eating nutritionally poor spinach picked a week ago many miles from your home, transported in trucks to the supermarket and then kept looking fresh by refrigeration we could walk out our door and pick what we need for the next meal. Much less food miles and more nutrition for us. Additionally by including native plants it could also provide habitat and food for native birds, insects and animals and contribute to an even greater richness of life around us.
Many years ago I read how the late great Dr Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, used to celebrate by planting a tree and this has stuck with me. It seems like such a wonderful way to commemorate milestone moments while also helping to re-green the Earth. We might feel overwhelmed and powerless to act meaningfully in response to all the messages of crisis and doom around the world but a small start could be to plant a tree and nature it. Choose a tree indigenous to your area that is best suited to providing shelter and food for native birds and insects, or plant a fruit tree and begin to grow some of your own really local food. If you don’t have the space for a tree then plant a shrub which can provide great habitat for birds or brighten up a corner with some flowers and provide nectar for bees. Every plant your add to your garden helps create a healthier, richer and more alive environment for us all.
“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now”