Our Origins: A Letter from Our Founder

For more than two decades, I have been transforming the landscape of my two-family home in West Cambridge— from a neglected site into a predominantly native woodland garden that is a joy to sit in and share with friends. It took many iterations to get it to its present state, with, no doubt, more changes to come. Succession happens. Gardens are not constants.

During these years of transforming this small parcel of urban land, I have been rewarded with a wonderful array of avian visitors and wildlife— in large part because we have planted an oasis of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses that they need. Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, blue jays, goldfinches, Carolina wrens, and red-tailed hawks are regular visitors. But my husband and I also see sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and on even more rare occasions, an American kestrel. The spring migration is always exciting as it brings hermit thrushes, a wide array of warblers, white-throated sparrows, ruby-throated hummingbirds, an occasional ovenbird, and sometimes even an American woodcock stopping to rest on its way to a quieter and wetter locale. Sitting on my own porch and watching such an array is pretty darn fun.

As a naturalist and ecologist, I have worked throughout my career for environmental and conservation organizations. Curiously, as I worked actively to increase the biodiversity of my home landscape, I began to feel “a disconnect” between a prevailing cultural concept that envisions the natural world as out there— somehwere else— and my own conviction that we humans are integral to nature wherever we live. I am sure that our built environment and consumption of resources is just as much a part of the earth's organic systems as is any other creature's.

Some friends and colleagues would advocate for an emphasis on the conservation of “special places” in preference to the city or the suburbs, clearly convinced these places represent an important priority for environmental focus. There are valid historical reasons for this frame of thought. But today, in the 21st century, how can conservation be successful if it does not begin at home? We humans now occupy so much of the landscape, that we must change our attitudes and commit to stewarding all the lands that we use. Otherwise, we will continue to tear apart the food web and ecosystem that underpins all life.

So, I am certain that we need a new ethic that sees conservation as important everywhere, and that it is a false dichotomy to think that we must choose to pursue it only in specially designated places, to the exclusion of others. And at the most basic level, why in the world would we not first want to care for our own “nests” or most immediate places of habitation— regardless of whether they are big or small, urban or rural?

With this framework in mind, I began to gather some friends and neighbors together in the spring and summer of 2009 to explore their views. Many of them resonated with my concern. Together, we began a series of gatherings and workshops about native plants, invasive plants, and gardening for habitat and biodiversity. As a group, we embraced a commitment to work on our home gardens and green spaces with an awareness of their collective importance, because together, they are our common ecosystem. We have no other.

This is how Grow Native Massachusetts was born. We are rooted in community activism and local neighbor-to-neighbor networks. Our premise for acting is clear. We desire a future that supports continued biodiversity with birds, butterflies, and a rich natural heritage. We advocate treating all land as conservation land—whether it is at home, in a neighboring park, or part of a larger institutional landscape. We know that we humans have much to learn about being part of balanced ecosystems, and so we seek a deeper understanding of these systems that sustain life throughout New England. We trust that this knowledge will do much to inform and improve our stewardship practices today.

We hope you will join with us. At the end of the day, every garden matters and every landscape counts.  And each of us has tremendous potential to make a positive difference.

Claudia Thompson