I consider myself an active Master Naturalist. I support the ideas of the organization. I understand that I need to do my part to assist the natural world around me. But, that doesn’t mean that my home is a model of Master Naturalist perfection. My lovely wife, Rachel, is not a Master Naturalist. She does not always agree with my quest for a “native” environment. Somehow, we have managed to find a happy balance that works for both of us.
I am an RV enthusiast. Since first getting an RV in 2011, I have gone on 206 camping trips and spent 536 nights sleeping in my RV. I think my wife was probably there for 14 of those nights. Camping is not her thing. She made that clear when we were first dating in the last century. Her idea of roughing it is staying in a Hilton hotel and sleeping on someone else’s sheets. I can’t say she has no appreciation for nature, but it certainly does not involve being in it or working to protect it. I, on the other hand, have always recognized the beauty of nature, especially when hiking and camping.
One Sunday, I was taking the hike to Honey Creek, led by Ranger Craig Hensley and Master Naturalist volunteers. I asked him what the Master Naturalists were. He told me a little about them and pointed me to the Alamo Area chapter’s webpage. As I read about the organization, it became clear to me that I was going to be a part of it after retirement. Like all the other trainees, I was amazed to learn how much I had really never known about the world around me. My eyes were opened to concepts such as native vs. non-native plants. I started to notice more of the natural realm as I hiked the trails. I felt reborn.
Now, let’s rein it in a bit. Rachel and I have lived in our house since 1988. It was originally a model home for Pulte Homes. It came landscaped and had Bermuda grass around it. It looked really nice for a year or two. Then, our lack of yard maintenance skills and my laziness allowed it to decline to the point where it almost looked like our house had been deserted.
I mowed the backyard when it got too high for our little dog. I rarely watered it, so all of the Bermuda grass died off. We paid to have everything re-seeded with some other kind of grass, and I set some zoysia plugs out there. None of it ever really took. By 2017, the backyard was covered with the same kind of weeds/grasses that you see along the highway. It was a shameful mess.
Suddenly one day, Rachel said that we needed to hire someone to come in and take control of the backyard. We threw that idea around for a few weeks. She wanted a manicured lawn with beautifully landscaped “pretty flowers.” I wanted native grasses and landscaping with native plants. I took lots of pictures of public places that had been landscaped using all natives to show her that “native” did not equal ugly. I also showed Rachel that book that shows all the suitable plants grouped by color. We finally came to an agreement of what we would do.
We hired a landscaping company that only uses native plants. Their designer drew it out and sat with us to pick the different plants we wanted. Rachel agreed to let me keep one corner of the yard as my “wild zone.” It would remain mostly untouched, although I did eradicate the hedge parsley and plant a few native plants in it.
The company drew up designs for landscaping the front of the house, also. Unfortunately, we ran out of money for the project. Rachel took on the challenge of designing and, with very little help from me, planting it with mostly natives. This is where the balance came into play. Since the front yard was now her domain, I agreed that she could plant some of the non-natives she wanted, as long as they were not invasive. Afterall, it is her home as well as mine. I would rather be a Master Naturalist with non-native front yard landscaping than a divorced Master Naturalist living in a 25-foot RV.
Over the past three years, we have worked together to maintain our yards. I have been blown away by the number of birds and insects that have been coming to visit. Looking out our back windows is very similar to being in a bird blind. Rachel has seen, and now understands, how several of the birds prefer to hangout in my wild zone for protection. As a result, she has warmed up to it a bit, but is constantly telling me that it looks “too messy”. Sometimes, I will go and selectively remove some of the overgrowth to appease her.
Today was my yearly “wild zone clear-out day”. I trimmed and mowed all of the old dead growth. It looks a little barren now, but in just a few weeks, it will go through spring renewal and go back to its normal wild self. Rachel won’t like it as much, but will tolerate it, just as I tolerate her non-natives in the front of the house. For us, it is a happy balance.