Ros Johnson (RJ): Buzz, what can you tell our readers about your experience with Yardbio?
Buzz Brooks (BB): It was the summer of 2011, and I desperately needed to vacate the house where I had been living for 16 years. It had been a nasty break up, but I was prepared to purchase another home. I had been going to open houses for about a year, in anticipation of such an event. There was one house that seemed to me really suitable, but it had, to me, one big drawback: A huge yard, which in my eyes, looked like an ongoing maintenance headache. My agent, seeing that I liked the house, kind of pushed me into saying yes to this one. Now, seven years later, I am happily ensconced in my little castle. But, what about the big headache?
The backyard landscaping was staged, and even with the staging still had a very funky look. Over the first few years, what little staging there was faded away, things died. And my backyard took on the appearance of an overgrown jungle. What to do? My response was to get out my string trimmer and have at it. Those first few years I noticed that there were these beautiful yellow-orange flowers that I was certain were California poppy. So, I tried to avoid cutting those. But each year, after having spent hours back there cutting the tall grass and weeds and shoving it all into the green bin, the yard still would end up looking like hell. So in early 2014 I hired a gardener to clear everything out and plant ground cover. His approach was to kill everything with an herbicide. Then we had to wait three weeks for the poison to clear. Then we planted a few hundred dollars' worth of ground cover…. Here we are 4 years later. Ninety per cent of everything that was planted is dead. And, I am still saddled with the annual labor load that I abhor.
So you can imagine how delighted I was to stumble across a posting on the neighbor to neighbor local online platform called Nextdoor. This posting was trumpeting something about a backyard challenge. I opened the post to find that there was a competition of sorts, the winners of which would get to have their yards rehabbed at no cost especially for labor. To enter the competition, all I need do was to submit photographs of my backyard as it is. I figured I might have a chance to be selected, just on the basis of, really, how many people are actually going to stop what they're doing and go take pictures of their backyard and submit it?
You guessed it- my yard was selected. The promoter, purveyor, proponent and progenitor of this program is one Dr. Rosalyn (Ros) Johnson, who is a wildlife ecologist. Her simple idea is, if you add up all these little urban backyards, it comes to quite a few acres! Imagine if they all could be supporting local native flora and fauna. Nice. But why should I care about that?
Urban dwellers especially are subject to perhaps a false sense of security regarding their environment and their food sources. It's so easy just to go out to Safeway and purchase everything you need to eat and drink. That doesn't change the fact that we have here what can be a robust environment, embracing a wide variety of flora and fauna that are native. I don't think any of us would like it if our backyards and our local parks had very little vegetation thriving. So, supporting our local natural ecosystems is important.
As my yard is being transformed, I am starting to embrace the idea that one day soon, my yard will not be a liability, but an asset. And because we live in proximity to San Bruno Mountain, it behooves us to support that ecosystem, some species of which are endangered. (You've probably heard about the Mission Blue butterflies.) And plants? According to Calscape, a website that features native plants, San Bruno mountain is home to 769 distinct plant species! And what about bugs? I would guess that 99% of the naturally occurring bugs occurring on the hill are essential to keep things going (for example, pollinating) and have no interest in harming people.
We humans are the largest animals around. And, with that largeness comes a larger responsibility. So, each and every one of us has to be somewhat of a steward. Most of us have already become stewards, in a way, when we diligently and properly use our green compost bins. Let's add to that stewardship a sense of responsibility for the micro-ecosystems that exist in our own backyard.
Perhaps you, too, can help a bit? Think about designating a small section of your back yard as a place to put in locally native plants. Hey, maybe you already have some! One way to find out is, schedule a visit from Dr. Ros, who can give you some ideas on how you can enjoy local plants and critters, while helping out our local ecosystems as well.
RJ: What positive things has Yardbio brought you?
BB: When I go to my backyard now, it's a big relief to not look at it as a liability, but rather, as an asset. I have come to understand that my backyard is teeming with life that I either ignored or failed to see. Also, the content of my frequent social contacts with my friends has been about the yard project. It's all I talk about. Every one of them has been "jazzed" by this development. Now, when I see them they ask, "How's the yard coming?" I envision a scenario in which engagements that started as primarily altruistic motivations to come to the aid of the local ecosystem, may result in other engagements between local residents that have nothing to do with ecology. In my book, the more we engage with our neighbors, the better off we all will be.
RJ: Should Yardbio offer a long-term maintenance plan?
BB: I would encourage it. There can be several models for this. One would be, the owner is entirely hands-off. There has to be a model like this because, Nancy (who is 92 years old and can barely walk up and down stairs) loves what you are doing and needs everything done by others.
RJ: Would you recommend Yardbio.com to a friend?
BB: All my friends are all over it. Ray wants to go to the Mission Blue Nursery. He says, "I have a hole in my yard, I'd like to fill it with a local San Bruno Mountain thing." SEE? it's working!