Fritillary nectaring on non-native privet

By Guest Ranter Kathy Introne
It never ceases to amaze me how many gardeners are blatantly killing our natural world – in the name of “beauty.” They spread harmful chemicals, rip up sensitive habitat for insects and spiders and destroy any hope for ground-nesting bees. What’s the sense in rototilling the bejesus out of the earthworms, destroying top soil, and leaving microbes and every other minute life form to be cooked in the sun?
It should not be the object of the garden to be a sterile place devoid of the creatures that on plants and co-exist with them. Every gardener who loves being outdoors working with plants should strive to do as little as possible when altering the earth’s magnificent design. A design that perfectly balanced every living thing from the microbes in the soil to the largest mammal who fertilizes that soil inadvertently.
The fact that insect populations are finding it difficult to survive in this world should be enough to alter any decisions regarding the use of pesticides/herbicides. Insects are most numerous on greenways, trails, road sides and railroad byways where weed seeds collect and prosper undisturbed. The recent trend toward encouraging pollinators into the garden is great, but remember, moth and butterfly pollinators were plant-eating larva once. We need to accept the good with the not so good (like half-eaten leaves).
We should try to remove the humanness from the garden in an effort to help restore the environment to some semblance of working order. Witnessing plants, insects and animals co-existing is evidence of the fascinating achievement of a plant community. It spotlights the layers of intricate synchronization we are all part of.

This wild grape vine is hosting the eight spotted forester caterpillar.

I find being non-human in my garden is the most rewarding work I can do, and this is by no means less work. It’s an adjustment focusing on any disturbance I may inflict onto any  living thing that may be in the way of a) planting, b) clean-up c) plant maintenance and d) reconfiguring. Yes, add plants; yes, encourage diversity. This is a goal of mine in the face of the onslaught of monoculture. Do your research, know the difference between native or alien plants, and find out who needs what to eat, drink or grow on.
Glimpsing the flight of a butterfly, moth, insect or bird spontaneously visiting my garden is an exhilarating experience. That tells me I am on the right course. Remember, good bugs need bad bugs to eat. I have seen a revival of insect and bird occurrences due to my non-human approach — less impact, less disturbance.
Shift your focus from “us“ to “them.” You will be duly rewarded with a multiplex of living beings to observe. Observation is the key. If we don’t notice the life around us, we humans have lost our place in the scheme of things. We observe, judge, save or destroy at will.  Simply go outside and breathe — that’s all. That will tell you where to begin: You wish to breathe? You wish to live? So does every living thing at your mercy.

Non-native Tithonia, Mexican sunflower, makes a great nectar plant for all who partake.

My problem with the native/alien plant advocate conversations is that for the last 20 years I have  focused all my planting and actions on the property for the benefit of insect populations – mainly because they and their larva feed those baby birds were all so worried about. But trying to keep strictly native plants thriving has often been like beating my head against a wall. If I get some species to succeed on the property, then I am thrilled.
Host and nectar plants are my main focus.  But insects don’t have google maps to tell them where the plants are. Am I dreaming that the clearwing moth will find my three struggling snowberry plants?  The main problem I encounter is the fight against persistent invasive weeds like mugwort thugs and aggressive grasses.  Our natural spaces are no longer teaming with native plants; they are the exception now — nor were native plants the dominant species in my lifetime, and I’m 73.
If trends continue, in view of today’s environment, we’re in a losing battle. Between the invasive species and herbivores at large, the garden for native plants is a dream, an oasis. But let us do what we can to sustain a viable habitat for all living creatures – with what we have. Every plant that popped up in the yard is there for a reason. 
And it’s not just about saving plants. We must leave the leaves, sticks and debris in a pile of ugly yuck, to let the ground nesting bees or larva of caterpillar  and insect pupae complete their cycle to maturity without disturbance.  Some overwintering larva need to be near the tree or plant they eat.  Without people, no living thing rakes leaves. I had native bees chasing me because I was taking thick layers of last fall’s leaves off a Solidago caesia to give it air, but the bees had a ground nest there.  So I packed up and left.
 It is heartbreaking to me to have to endure  neighbors obsessed with  lawn culture and destruction this mindset inflicts on their properties, let alone those multiple corporate housing complexes with mindlessly maintained grounds. Older residents cry at the insult upon insult inflicted upon the plants and environs they helplessly witness because they have ended up in a place where they are removed from any decisions. (That’s material for a whole other rant.) Every one of us with our humanness, demanding conveniences of the civilized world, is at fault. We’re killing our world while nobly trying to save it.
I will continue my fight to keep those insects thriving because I believe the end-all and be-all happens with them. When it comes to my garden I live by the words of Nancy Lawson, author of “The Humane Gardener:” “All were welcome, none were turned away.”
Sounds Biblical, doesn’t it?
Kathy Introne lives in the Delaware Highlands, Beach Lake, Pa., zone 5b. If she had a nickel for every plant that came and went in her garden, she’d be able to afford a landscape gardener to do the work.