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Building lots from 1/2 acre on up present the ideal opportunity to preserve or develop contiguous areas of natural habitat. Unlike natural landscaping which incorporates nature into the managed landscape the goal here is to allow nature to have free reign with out conversion to managed landscapes. This is easy to do if the building site already has existing mature woodland, but what if the lot was an of old field, a corn field or shrub land? Most people would see only one option; turn it all into lawn.
Learn the three Ds of restoration work: define, design and develop. Define the area you want to preserve, design a short and long term plan for the restoration and then begin to develop the land to a natural community.
At all costs resist the temptation to mow the offending vegetation before you have a plan in place. Few people will ever escape the addiction to mowing once you have started.
The critical first step is to define the area that you want to restore. It is far easier to restore land to a natural state that has not been converted than it is to turn established lawn into a natural area. Grass is poison to restoration work. Determine the minimum area of mowed lawn that you can live with around the home. It is far easier to convert land to lawn than it is to work the opposite way. The lawn area does not have to conform to normal convention for residential homes. The lawn does not have to sprawl from house to road and border to border. Maintain lawn around the immediate vicinity of the residence and in the areas used outdoors in the summer time. All other space converted to lawn is simply going to cost money and time on an annual basis to maintain as lawn.
As in natural landscaping where the landscape is defined by edging between the landscape and lawn, the natural restoration is also defined from the lawn area by a clearly defined boundary. This boundary does not require installed edging but can simply be defined by the mowed lawn and the natural vegetation.
Pathways are a critical feature of any restoration effort. A pathway allows a person to explore and enjoy the restored area with ease and comfort especially in the early stages of restoration when perennials and shrubs may dominate. Ease of walking is the main reason people convert shrub lands and old fields to mowed lawn. Pathways should meander and take the longest distance between two points. Pathways should lead one to explore interesting features and points of interest in the landscape.
Jim Engel, 2003
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This page updated September 10, 2004