This landscaping company helps boost biodiversity, one meter at a time


Last week, one of America’s most iconic butterflies, the monarch butterfly, was listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The decline in their population (and that of other species) is largely due to suburban development which replaces one million acres of wildlife habitat each year. But recent studies show that wildlife gardening focused on native plants, those that co-evolve with wildlife in a specific region, can have a substantial positive impact on the environment by boosting biodiversity, the variety of life that gives ecosystems their resilience.

For Alexis Suton, co-founder and CEO of online design company Tilly, sustainable landscaping has always been at the heart of their mission. Tilly has partnered with the carbon-neutral business operation One Tree Planted and donates 1% of its revenue to environmental causes as part of the 1% for the Planet community. More recently, Tilly has partnered with the National Wildlife Federation to create landscapes that qualify as Certified Wildlife Habitats that provide food, water, and shelter for native wildlife to raise their young. From a design perspective, Tilly wanted to see how landscaping, particularly in private courtyards, could impact two factors: water use and biodiversity.

Kiers designed her front yard with drought-tolerant plants and a mix of native and ornamental plants. Metal decking and edging provide structure and support the modern look of the home.A. Havre Kiers

The entire Tilly team, based in the United States and Canada, is trained to NWF standards for creating these habitats. In addition to providing a safe space for wildlife to rear their young and hide from predators, these habitats provide sources of food and hydration (via berries, pollinating plants and water) to support and protect animals. species like monarchs and swallowtail butterflies, among others. , said A. Havre Kiersassistant professor of landscape architecture at UC Davis.

Previously a landscaper for California design firm Miridae, Kiers tackles the stigma that native plants make a yard look like a “messy meadow.” Instead, it relies on the concept of lush natural ecosystems designed within “ordered frames”. By arranging essential native plants in boxwood hedges or steel planters, Kiers creates a sustainable and diverse habitat for wildlife that is always pleasing to the eye.

Certified wildlife habitats can be in any size yard or space, says Mary Phillips, manager of the NWF’s Garden for Wildlife program. She wants homeowners to know that these landscapes can be versatile and work for a variety of situations or preferences, whether as a container garden or a raised bed around a patio.

This landscaping company helps boost biodiversity, one meter at a time

A 3D rendering of a New York patio fireplace filled with native plants and space for a vegetable garden.Tilly

“For Tilly’s client, it’s not a hard sell,” says Sutton. The company’s sales team said 80% of people calling right now are asking about drought-resistant design, native species and how their properties accommodate other environmental concerns. Once owners opt in to the certification process, the execution is simple. They receive a pdf plan that includes a list of plants and accompanying design materials like pavers and birdbaths. When the designer completes the landscaping and checks off each item that qualifies them for certification, homeowners automatically receive cross-certification from NWF. In addition to having a positive impact on their businesses, Sutton says designers are also happy to play a positive role in the fight against climate change and its catastrophic onslaught.

But even if homeowners and designers agree with the aesthetics of a beautifully wild landscape, how many plants are enough to make an environmental difference? There’s no concrete answer, only an understanding that the ecology of a traditionally tidy lawn or garden isn’t sustainable, Kiers says. According to the NWF, conventional lawns in the United States use 9 billion gallons of water a day and lack native plants and trees that support wildlife. By incorporating these plants into yards, homeowners are supporting biodiversity, even if it’s just one small step at a time.

Left: A courtyard on the University of California, Davis campus is used by architecture students to test drought-tolerant plants and landscaping elements. A. Havre Kiers | Right: This wildflower meadow designed by Kiers for Miridae features local native wildflowers and grasses. A. Havre Kiers

A four-year study conducted by the National Science Foundation found that yards qualifying as Certified Wildlife Habitat had a 50% increase in wildlife sightings and significant bird diversity compared to monoculture yards across the United States. United. More than 278,000 wildlife habitats have been created in the past 50 years, according to Phillips, but there is room for much more growth. She hopes designers like Tilly will help “propel public understanding” of the importance of native plants and inspire more people to take a more natural approach to landscaping.

Similar to the concept of biomimicry – drawing inspiration from the design of natural selection solutions adopted by nature – Kiers saw “neighbor mimicry” in his own community. “If there’s a nice front yard that’s done well with wildlife habitat components, people start copying it,” Kiers says. “That’s how you start expanding those wildlife corridors and habitats.”

Homepage image: This 3D rendering of a Wisconsin garden is full of native plants and features a new patio, fireplace and pergola. | Courtesy of Tilly


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