In Praise of Brush Piles

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By Dave Coulter

Rough Edges

I have no doubt that many of you are spending these dank late winter days thinking about your gardens with great anticipation.  And I hope that many of you consider the other local creatures as you make your plans for the new season.  One way to help create habitat in your yard comes by doing something a little counterintuitive to many adults: make a mess!  

Let me explain.  Over the weekend I was volunteering to help cut some invasive brush from a preserve out in Kane County. By the end of the session we had generated some nice fat heaps of buckthorn and honeysuckle that will be disposed of by county staff. Seeing as how these brush piles were out of the way of nearly everything we discussed their potential use as habitat for wildlife.  We live in a world that discourages rough edges in our home landscapes, don't we? Naturalistic landscapes are beautiful, but there had better be some refinement, yes?  

When I was little we had an old couple across the street that let their yard get overgrown in a way that was irresistable to us kids.  Maybe it drove the neatniks crazy, but that was the yard where the rabbits nested and Jack-in-the-Pulpits still grew wild. I saw my first Scarlet Tanager on the edge of their lot, too.  And that old couple - Lou & Mary - didn't seem to mind one whit that we kids would poke around that wild yard of theirs.   

The sight of those brush piles reminded me of the many animals, birds and insects that depend on niches that are routinely found in the natural world - and just as routinely cleaned up in the man-made one. Our narrow residential lots may be somewhat limiting, but I'd encourage everyone to think about creating a new niche this spring. You readers are a clever group, and I know you know where to begin.  

But alas, if you don't know, I can get you started on your fancy new brush pile...




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