Ecology + Design

Designing a Private Nature Preserve At Home

We have noticed a trend over the last year: a growing appreciation for natural areas, time spent outside, and of course, a hyperawareness of our personal health. Undoubtedly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and a realization that a healthy environment contributes to human health, our clients are seeking the benefits of a nature preserve, in the privacy of their own backyard.

A client’s mature woodland in Bedford Hills, NY was incorporated into the design with seating areas and walkways immersed throughout.

Beyond the usual landscape design requests — foundation plantings, leveling, screening — these clients want to emerge themselves in an environment that feels natural, alive, safe, and therapeutic. 

Not so coincidentally, these are our favorite types of landscapes to design! In this post we’ll explore how to create these wild and vibrant spaces on your own property.

Landscaping vs. Designing Landscapes

Too often people think of landscaping as an accessory to the house – how best to accentuate an entrance, hide an air conditioner, screen a neighbor’s home – instead of the actual value the landscape itself can provide. Ecological landscaping recognizes that each plot of land, no matter how small, can impact the local ecosystem. 

A mostly-native, part shade landscape in Rye, NY featuring a naturalistic waterfall, stream & pond system.

Designing with plants that are regionally native, that have evolved over thousands of years with local insects, birds and other wildlife has a direct, noticeable effect.  As soon as the plant delivery arrives, we see the bees, butterflies and moths delighting in their new pollen and nectar sources. 

Swallowtail butterfly on Monarda, one of our favorite native perennials!

These insects are integral in the plants’ reproduction – spreading pollen from plant to plant, enabling seed production and dispersal – and foundations in the food chain for higher up wildlife like birds and mammals. Picking the right plants is the first step in creating a vibrant and lively landscape ecosystem.

A note from a client. We designed a bird and butterfly garden in prominent view for their young children to observe.
Email from a client whom we designed a Bird Sanctuary for. This was only a week after our installation.

Nothing brings us more joy than notes like these from clients. Seeing more birds on their property than ever before. Using their pollinator garden as a teaching opportunity to explain metamorphosis – the beautiful transformation from caterpillar to butterfly – to their children. Or the client that takes on amateur entomology, determined to identify every new insect that now arrives on their landscape.

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar; its nectar attracts many other Lepidoptera as well.

Designing Access: Pathways & Viewing Areas to Enjoy Your Nature Preserve

Hidden patios and walkways. Mixing natural hardscape materials to delineate spaces and seamlessly blend in with the wild aesthetic.d

Our design philosophy is simple: create natural landscapes that invite both wildlife and human engagement. A static landscape viewed from afar is simply boring! 

A simple rectilinear flagstone pathway leads from front yard to backyard.

We always strive to integrate meandering garden paths that allow our clients to slow down, take a stroll, notice the changes in their surroundings, listen to the sounds, smell the scents and reconnect to their own wild nature.

A central patio with naturalistic fire pit invites respite and relaxation in your landscape.

Some of our favorite ways to invite human interaction with the landscape are garden stroll walkways, woodland paths, hidden seating areas with framed viewpoints, and unexpected gathering spots – like a firepit, fountain or swing nestled into the nature preserve.

Designed waterfall with shallow areas provides critical water and bathing areas for birds. Nectar & pollen-rich perennials line the stream.
Stairs leading to a small patio to observe the fish, turtles and pollinators in this designed pond ecosystem.

Reduce Your Lawn Area

If this type of landscape environment sounds appealing to you, wonderful!! As mentioned earlier, properties of any size can be designed to emulate your own private nature preserve. However, don’t expect to achieve dazzling results if you restrict your design area to typical foundation plantings surrounded by huge expanses of lawn.  Not only is this intimidating to birds, pollinators and other wildlife, it restricts the number, size and diversity of plants we can work with.  

Plant diversity at its finest! An explosion of color, nectar and pollen for our essential pollinators.

Pollinators are both specialists and generalists. Some can feed on many pollen/nectar sources, others are highly evolved to feed and reproduce on only certain plants. Both specialists and generalists need consistent food sources throughout the seasons. That means a strategic planting plan that achieves successive blooms during the growing season, followed by seed and berry production for the fall and winter months. Diversity of plants is key!

Monarch butterfly on native Agastache.

So, we always encourage clients to think hard about what they actually use their lawn for.  Does it a serve a specific purpose, like a play area for children? Or is it really just landscape filler? Reducing your lawn area allows us to develop a layered plant composition, from native trees to berry-producing shrubs to pollen-rich perennials and groundcovers. Design, plant, and the wildlife will come!

Learn more about designing your own private nature preserve by scheduling a consultation with us. We offer free 15-minute discovery calls and paid professional, on-site consultations. 914-560-6570.

Green Jay Landscape Design

Where Design Meets Ecology

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