For some years I volunteered with the Thatcher Woods Savanna Restoration Project and gardened at home. I also trained and volunteered as a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener, and later worked at an independent garden center. As time passed, what I did in the garden seemed to conflict with what I was learning about conservation and restoration.
Without trying to make my small yard a conservation area, my gardening practices began to change. Without getting rid of the lilacs and peonies, I began to bring in native plants. I stopped using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Many birds and insect pollinators showed up. I learned about the historic Chicago Wilderness landscape, our region's history, about soil and animals and compost and the virtues of the messy garden. More birds, bees and butterflies showed up. I began to propagate plants and grow native plants to harvest the seeds for use in forest preserve restoration work. I began to understand how my tiny piece of land fit into our regional ecosystem, and selected plants accordingly.
Yet my garden was, and continues to be, a garden in a small back yard on an urban-size lot. I wasn't exactly gardening for wildlife. I haven't removed my well behaved non-native perennials. While informal, it doesn't look wild. I've chosen all the plants (though a few volunteers have shown up). I look after things.
I wasn't sure what to call what I was doing. Yes I was practicing ecological gardening, but it seemed to me that this didn't quite cover the holistic, region-specific aspects of what I was doing. Then I read Win-Win Ecology, by Dr. Michael Rosenzweig. His term "reconciliation ecology" seemed to be the perfect fit. Here in the Chicago Wilderness Region, we have many conservation and restoration areas. Yet hundreds of thousands of acres in private hands are treated as though separate from the ecosystem that contains them, to the detriment of all living species--including humans--who live here.
It has become a great purpose in my life to share what I've learned about how and why to garden with reconciliation ecology in mind. I give talks to garden clubs, am writing a book, and now am writing this blog.