August 12, 2021 Getting Closer to Your Ecological Restoration Ah, what an interesting summer it has been for ecological restoration. With the pretty much constant heat and humidity, and relentless stream of smoke from our friends in Canada, it’s been a real challenge to leave the cool AC and venture into the outdoors. Well, our staff at Natural Shore have been amazingly dedicated, efficiently working each day in these adverse conditions. Without a doubt, our observations made in the natural areas that we create and manage boost our resolve and instantly make us forget about the challenging conditions. For instance, finding a rusty-patched bumblebee, or a monarch caterpillar feasting on a swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) that we just planted last visit makes it all worthwhile. So with the cooler conditions just ahead, we encourage you to make up for lost time and get out and totally immerse yourself in your ecological restoration. Here are five super fun and easy ways to get closer to your natural area: 1. Start a phenology journal or a photo album One way to feel closer to your restoration is to keep track of specific dates of different events and then compare them each year. Did Marsh Marigold bloom earlier this year? When did you see your first adult or caterpillar Monarch of the season? When did the loons arrive on your lake? Are there other unique observations that you’d like to remember, maybe a visit from a Sandhill Crane? Keep records in one of many beautiful nature journals available. Another idea is to keep photo albums of ecological restorations and compare pictures year-to-year. One good thing about our natural areas is that each year is different. In some years a few plant species will thrive and others will step back. It’s great to write those observations down and then speculate as to why. For example, we thought butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) did especially well this year compared to last year; was it the dry weather? The early June heat? You can keep track of these observations in your journal and then ask other native plant enthusiasts their observations. Sharing phenological observations on our Facebook page is one option: 2. Set aside a place for a hammock or bench There is no better way to appreciate your ecological restoration than to take a few minutes each day, or even once a week, to just sit, relax, and take it all in. The perfect way to do that is to string up a hammock, put out a bench, or even add a small table with chairs. What a great place to enjoy your morning coffee, or to read a book and listen to the sounds of the birds, bees, and other insects living in your restoration. Was that a blue dasher dragonfly that just landed on your knee? Or a gentle sweat bee stopping by? What a perfect place to watch the lightning bugs at night, or view a suspicious green heron patrol the shoreline edge. When you sit and quietly observe, things come to you! 3. Join a Citizen Science Project Do you want to take all those cool observations you’ve made and apply them to a real-life scientific study? There are a multitude of easy science projects to join that will get you into your ecological restoration looking for monarch butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, lightning bugs, and so much more! Easy to use apps on your cell phone make it simple to upload your observations. These projects can be found on iNaturalist, Bumble Bee Watch, Journey North, and many more! Even local schools and universities use locally gathered volunteer data for their studies. Knowing you’re helping others advance the community’s knowledge about native plants and the ecosystem they support is a huge benefit to growing native plants in your backyard, and can quickly become addicting. Start your new hobby today of critically observing your restoration and sharing them with these engaging citizen science projects! 4. Keep adding color and diversity Once you start learning the names and characteristics of native plants you’ll be bitten by the plant bug and just want to keep adding more! There are so many different species of plants available that can fit into your specific soil or exposure conditions. By adding more species of plants, you’ll be creating more beauty and ecological benefits! Those extra benefits might come by introducing a nitrogen-fixing legume like Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis), or a specific host plant like Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) for Black Swallowtail butterflies. Does your restoration look a little worse for wear after the main summer bloomers finally go to seed? You might want to add more asters like Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) that bloom in the fall. Are there other flowers in the same genus you want to try? Maybe you already have white prairie clover (Dalea candida) in your planting but want to give purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) a try. They would definitely complement each other! Don’t be afraid to make room by digging up a few things like Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and sharing them with your neighbors. Many plants spread by underground rhizomes and can be easily divided and gifted. This benefits the neighborhood and gives you more room for new plants! Remember that variety is the spice of life! 5. Make a path It sounds like such a small thing, but making a path through your restoration can really help immerse yourself, instead of just trying to observe from your lawn. It might be easier to find ground nesting birds, shy insects, and other cool observations you might not see otherwise. It also feels great to be in the middle of the restoration, completely surrounded by native plants on either side! It doesn’t take a lot of work to make a path, it can be planned into your restoration design, or a mowed path put in an existing restoration. Once you put a path in you can easily use it to entertain friends, family, and neighbors with garden tours, sharing your extensive plant knowledge and inspiring them to start their own native plant garden! These are just a few suggestions of many that we have for enjoying the plants in your restoration, and all the wildlife they attract. If you would like more information about the plants in your restoration, just let us know! Or visit our retail nursery for information on new plants and get inspired to try different things!