For years I’ve feared my garden was nothing more than a siren’s song. A place full of beautifully enticing things birds and insects can’t resist. And, in recent years, the place they’ve unwittingly come to die. My neighborhood has about 300 homes. Fire blight ridden Callery pear trees line the parkway and most of the ash trees that populated the other streets 15 years ago have been leveled due to emerald ash bore. It’s not pretty. But wait, it gets worse.
About eight years ago, many of the homeowners jumped on a “good deal” set up by another homeowner that involved the mass annihilation of insects. It’s incredible what fear and lack of knowledge can do. This lethal cocktail fueled a Facebook neighborhood sign-up list for quarterly insecticide application on houses, fences, swing sets. Basically anything that could be sprayed got sprayed. Wasps were the target. But they didn’t know that contact insecticide wasn’t selective. It killed EVERYTHING that landed on it and few seemed to care. As long as the wasps were gone, life was good. My appeals on their Facebook page to reconsider resulted in sarcastic replies (funny how brazen people become when they flex their social media muscles), expressions of fear and the frequent “What if my child gets stung?”
And there it is. The “What if.” It was the fear that a child could get stung and the possibility of serious allergic reaction that fueled the “If you can’t control it, kill it” mentality. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Like most gardeners, I’m very much in tune with what’s happening in my garden and I know when things change. Soon after the spraying began, dead bumblebees began turning up, insect activity declined and resulted in fewer birds visiting my garden. The apple orchardist adjacent to our neighborhood lost all his hives. The pussy willows in my backyard that once sung with honeybees on that first warm spring day no longer had visitors. My garden was being silenced and I cried. Then I got angry.
Every time an announcement was made that the company was coming to spray, I followed it with an appeal to reconsider and why it was so important that they do. Many had no idea they were killing far more than wasps. While I don’t know how many have renewed their contracts with the insecticide company, I think awareness is growing and things are changing for the better. These last few years have been tough, but my garden is finding it’s voice again and I hope it gets louder. Most of all, I hope we listen.
In his new book Nature’s Best Hope, author Dr. Douglas Tallamy addresses the mentality common among people completely detached from nature. “”Why do we have to save nature here? Nature belongs in natural areas, not where people are.”” It’s this detachment from nature that prevents us from considering the trickle-down effect of our actions. Nowhere has it been more apparent than in my own backyard. Now imagine it on a much bigger scale. Mind blowing, isn’t it? Even more sobering, it’s happening every. single. day.
According to Tallamy, scientists have discovered a connection, documented in 75 studies, between lawn pesticides and lymphoma. Most at risk are pets and children who spend the most time playing outside. I wonder how the insecticides sprayed on swing sets and slides in my neighborhood affect the little hands that touch them. How does a childhood full of insecticide exposure alter the genetic code? Is the “What if” really worth the very real possibility that your preventative measures now could be the source of your child’s life altering illness later, not to mention the demise of the creatures with whom we share this eco-system?
“We are winning our undeclared war against insects at our own peril,” writes Tallamy. Based on my experience in this little neighborhood in Illinois, I totally agree and I’m determined to help turn things around. One native plant, one life-supporting tree, one less patch of grass at a time. Welcome to my Homegrown National Park, Dr. Tallamy!