Your garden can be a human habitat

When landscapers use the word ‘habitat’ it’s almost always preceded by the word ‘wildlife’. Nothing wrong with that, to be sure. But what about you? What about a human habitat?
Landscape designers can create environments that make birds and other wildlife feel right at home. They feel safe and relaxed and they are likely to spend more time there.
If you are like many homeowners, your backyard doesn’t seem to be beckoning you outside, inviting you to kick back, relax and become one with nature.
Sound familiar? If so, stay tuned because I have a few suggestions that will help you create a delightful human habitat that can adapt to any budget and any skill level.
When Cheryl and I create a new garden, we focus on elements that allow us to be enveloped by nature, to enjoy the peace and tranquility that nature provides. (If you’d like to see some photos, see the note below.) A human habitat garden should resonate with the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
1. The sight of foliage in different shapes and sizes and shades of green and other colors; the sight of flowers as the progress from tiny green buds to full blooms, then to the gold and copper of fall. 2. The undulating sound of leaves rustling together as the breeze wafts through the tree canopy above. 3. The smell of roses and other fragrant perennials and the burst of aroma released when fresh herbs are rubbed between your fingers. 4. The touch of different textures from the rough bark of a tree to the velvety-smooth feel of a petal. 5. And yes, taste too, from the herbs that go from your garden to your kitchen pots.
For us, nothing beats taking a cup of coffee out to our garden first thing in the morning and letting the sights, sounds and smells of nature give us both peace and energy. Twenty minutes like that and we’re ready to deal with whatever life can dish out for the rest of the day! Nature, yes; but nature to which we’ve lent a helping hand.
If you’re feeling that you could do with some of that right now, here’s how you can start.
Don’t plan anything too grand. It can become overwhelming and you are likely to give up in frustration. Remember, this is your own personal human habitat. It doesn’t have to be big or take up your entire yard. Start with a small area. You can expand later if you wish.
Think ‘scale’. You’re not Gulliver. You don’t want to be dwarfed by trees that will, in the course of time, soar into the sky on trunks wider than an oil drum. Nor do you want everything in your habitat to be so miniscule and close to the ground that it is little more than a lawn. Think different plant sizes that complement each other (and you) without overwhelming.
Evergreens. Plan on including some evergreens so you have some greenery in your habitat year round. There will be warmish days in early spring and late fall that will tempt you outside and the evergreens will be there to welcome you.
Yarrows. They’re easy to grow and are some of the most popular plants as a result. Look for Achillea Moonshine with its canary-yellow flowers and silver-green foliage that goes with just about everything. Add in some Achillea Paprika or Achillea Terra Cotta for an eye- pleasing mix of colors.
Ornamental shrubs. Yes, they’re ornaments but living ornaments. Think about Carolina Allspice with their aromatic leaves and fruits that have almost a strawberry fragrance. Check out Fragrant Honeysuckle with its heady perfume and delicate pink and white flowers. Don’t forget Spirea Gold Mound with its clusters of tiny, light-pink flowers on reddish-hued foliage.
Hardscape. A wooden bench where you can sit and enjoy your habitat. A pergola or even a gazebo can be found ready-made or in kit form if you’re not skilled in carpentry. Find paving options at hardware stores and garden centers.
Yes, there’s much more and we’ll pick it up in the next Plant Man column, with a focus on herbs and grasses to make your yard a true human habitat.
If you’d like to see some examples of gardens that Cheryl and I have created over the years, send an e-mail request to and we’ll e-mail you some pics.
More human habitat tips next time!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit

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It sounds like you mean a habitat free of indigenous plants and animals, where only plants that need human intervention will grow. A plastic world, a Disneyland for Barbie and her little friend, Ken.
I could be wrong. Maybe you do mean a restoration of habitat where trees clean the air and the accumulated humus trap and clean the water, while simultaneously supporting and creating topsoil. Maybe you mean, marshes and pools that filter and provide drinking water water for raccoon, deer, squirrels, and migratory water fowl. Are you talking about a habitat that is good for the planet or an environment that calls for consumption to fuel human conceits?

Democrat and Republican Leaders Behind Bars
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