How Much of My Land Should I Clear?
How much of my property should I clear? The answer should be guided not only by appearance, but also by what best supports sustainability of the land, plant and animal life, water quality, and public health.
While property owners often wish to remove all rough shrubbery, view-blocking trees, dead limbs, logs, and wet moss and dirt, it is actually these types of substances that feed a healthy ecology and what makes Gardiner naturally beautiful. What we often perceive as purifying our landscape, may actually be harmful to that we really cherish the most.
The grass lawn as a status symbol has its origins in the customes of European aristocracy, and the very first lawns were grassy fields that surrounded English and French castles. Those castle grounds had to be kept clear of trees so that the soldiers protecting them had a clear view of their surroundings. We can probably let go of that now.
The complex web that is our ecosystem relies on microscopic forms of life, bugs, birds, moles, foxes, bears, deer, turkey, water, puddles, swampy areas, leafy ground cover (called duff), sun, shade, and all other forms of existence.
Best practices for the environment suggest clearing only the yard that you need, and allowing the rest of your property to remain in its perfectly natural state. While we cherish our acres, we very often do not “use” them other than for aesthetic views. That once-a-year party may be quite successful and cozy in a much smaller area. Maintaining a smaller “footprint” is also cheaper, easier and less time consuming.
You might consider landscaping practices that use only plants that are historically native to the Hudson Valley. Consider plantings that support critical and magnificent species (such as milkweed, to support the dwindling monarch butterfly population) or use native ferns and grasses. And converting some of your mowed lawn to a wildflower meadow is a gratifying gardening experience (Lawn To Meadow, Gardiner Gazette, Winter 2014).
Clearcutting trees and sanitizing your yard may provide a level of satisfaction, but connected forest and wildlife corridors are essential to a healthy world and climate. What brought so many of us to Gardiner is the natural beauty and wildlife invoking a sense of freedom and connection to what is genuine, both within and outside of ourselves. When we try to mold this natural beauty to fit our view of perfection, we often destroy the things that we love most about Gardiner.
Screens have gone out of fashion, but some of my fondest memories are those summer nights talking on the screened porch. In the new millennium we, too, can find ways to enjoy outdoor life without mowing every inch of our property or excessive use of pesticides (see Tick Tubes, below). Perhaps expanding our community use of Majestic Park would allow us to use less property individually, and keep in mind that “more and bigger” will result in less and less for future generations.