By Michal Crawford-Zimring
Editor’s Note: This article comes to you from special guest, Michal Crawford-Zimring, who has been an invaluable supporter of The Watershed Project and leader of the 21st Street habitat garden.
On June 30, 1808, William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham gave a speech in the House of Commons declaring that “parks were the lungs of London” and green spaces needed to be preserved for the health and well-being of urban inhabitants. Today, urban cities around the globe have dedicated parks and green spaces for everyone to enjoy. They are designed and planted with exotic grasses, plants and trees, which are usually non-native to the area. In designing a habitat garden in the city of Richmond, I thought this was a good starting place because I wanted to research and rethink the design of urban green spaces.
When we hear about species extinction and habitat loss we usually think about the polar bears, the rainforest or the coral reefs. But habitat loss has occurred right in our own backyards and neighborhoods. The streets we drive down everyday were once grasslands, meadows, and forests maybe with creeks running through them. They were once the home or habitat for many species, and now with nowhere to live, these species have either disappeared or moved on. That is why I wanted to plant a habitat garden.
The location for the garden is a small plot on the Richmond Greenway near 21st street. I began by doing historical research on the area using maps and reports from The Wildcat Creek Watershed Report. Historically the watershed was rich with native perennial grasses that were deep-rooted for holding water, and soil abundant with nutrients. This was a habitat for many native species. Now the Greenway is covered mostly with invasive annual grasses and various weeds.
The first project goal was to remove the invasive species and prepare the soil for fall planting. With staff and interns at The Watershed Project we began by pulling out the weeds and covering the area with cardboard and mulch. The second goal was to choose plants that are native to the Bay Area and have had success surviving in the now nutrient-poor soil. We also looked for plants that would provide a habitat for birds, butterflies, and pollinators such as native bees.
After a very dry summer, I was nervous that the drought would impact the planting phase of the project, but just before our planting day in October it rained. A swallowtail butterfly even showed up to check out this new habitat.
The first phase of the garden is now planted and is successfully surviving. We are planning to extend the garden along the path and eventually integrate into a larger urban green infrastructure and bioswale along the Greenway.
Planting habitat gardens in urban areas is a new way to think about greening our cities. You can even plant one in your backyard. These gardens help restore degraded landscapes and increase local biodiversity. They give human inhabitants a way to interact with and appreciate the nature of local ecosystems.
Greening our cities by including increased biodiversity in gardens and parks gives new meaning to the metaphor of green spaces being “the lungs” of a city. In the 21st century, urban citizens need the clean air and water that native habitats support.
Photo credits: Michal Crawford-Zimring