Leave the Leaves, Turn Out the Lights

Most people are aware of the global biodiversity crisis, the shocking declines of insects, birds, and other animals, yet many don’t connect it with life in our comfortable suburbs. Because everything is connected, what we do at home is more important than you might think. Anyone with a house and yard can take two actions that will immediately increase biodiversity by helping the creatures that share our neighborhoods: leave the leaves and turn out the lights.  I’ve never understood why sensible people would remove autumn leaves from under their trees and bushes, only to then pay good money to add mulch and fertilizer. Fallen leaves are nature’s combination fertilizer and mulch, full of exactly the nutrients trees and shrubs need. And regarding “messiness,” nobody walks through the forest preserves in autumn wishing someone would clear out all those darn fallen leaves. Those leaves are what make the outdoors comfortable for many animals, providing shelter, food, and habitat. Fireflies d


Adrian Ayres Fisher

Gardening and the outdoors have always been important to me. Years ago, several life-altering events, coupled with my Quaker beliefs and concern for the environment led me towards an earthcare-centered life that includes learning about, practicing ecological, or regenerative gardening.

As a long-time volunteer with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, I am steward at National Grove, 54 acres of oak woodland, savanna, and floodplain forest. I also monitor rare plants for Plants of Concern. In addition I serve as a board member of West Cook Wild Ones, on the Park District of Oak Park Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee and on the core team of the Interfaith Green Network.

In the past, I was sustainability coordinator at a community college, trained and volunteered as a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener and worked at an independent garden center as a native plant buyer and gardening coach.

You can email me at info(at)ecologicalgardening.net

My garden:
My home is a 35x150-foot urban lot in an old neighborhood built at the turn of the twentieth century on a prairie in the Chicago Lake Plain. The soil is black silt loam. The garden is mostly in the backyard. What started as grass with narrow borders of annuals along the fences has evolved into a bird and pollinator-friendly polyculture of mostly indigenous species of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses, along with herbs, rhubarb and raspberries, and a small raised bed for vegetables, all surrounding a small polyculture lawn. Like most gardeners, I am always experimenting with new plants. The garden functions as a kind of lab and its aesthetic appeal arises out of its ecological functionality rather than adherence to conventional principles of visual design.

Ongoing collaborative projects:

Campus rain gardens and bioswales, with students and faculty

  • These were professionally installed as part of a LEED building site. Maintaining them is part of horticulture students' experiential learning.

Prairie Garden, with students and faculty
  • We started this project in 2009 by seeding into sod. We also propagated native plants from collected seed and plugged them in during Spring 2010. Maintenance is ongoing.
Landscape planning and maintenance, Friends Illinois Yearly Meeting/Clear Creek Meeting property, McNabb, Illinois
  • This project involves a twelve-acre property in central Illinois corn/soy country which is being made more sustainable. There is a restored pocket prairie and remnant hedgerows. We have planted many native trees and developed a plan to restore the hedgerows with native berry and nut-bearing species.
Talks and Workshops:
From time to time I give talks about garden-related subjects. Topics have included "Your Garden Is an Ecosystem," "Ecological Gardening," "Reconciliation Ecology," and "The Polyculture Lawn."

Native Plants, Healthy Soil and Carbon Sequestration
March 3, online presentation for the Eisenhower Public Library, Harwood Heights, Illinois

Native Gardens through the Seasons: A Virtual Walk
September 12, online presentation for West Cook Wild Ones

Native Bees in the Garden
June 14, online presentation for West Cook Wild Ones

Bees, Birds and Butterflies in the Garden
March 4, Mather’s—More Than a CafĂ©, Chicago

The Gurneys of Tower Grove Park
April 28, Tower Grove Park, St. Louis

Climate Change, Soil Carbon Sequestration and Regenerative Gardening
March 30, Chicago Community Gardeners Association conference

Native Shrubs and Why We Should Love Them
November 8, DuPage Organic Garden Club

Native Plants and Living Soil: The Joys of Complexity in the Garden
May 5, Chicagoland Daylily Association

Backyard Carbon Sequestration
March 7, Ecological Landscape Alliance Conference, UMass Amhurst
December 4, webinar of talk

Healthy Soil, Native Plants and Backyard Carbon Sequestration
September 12, Triton Community Gardening Club

Native Bees in the Garden
April 6, South Barrington Library

Healthy Soil, Native Plants and Backyard Carbon Sequestration
March 25DuPage Organic Gardening Club Conference, Carroll Stream Public Library

Monarch Conservation
March 23, IGEN Sustainability Conference, Heartland Community College, Bloomington

Native Bees in the Garden
January 2, DuPage Organic Gardening Club, Carroll Stream Public Library

Healthy Soil, Native Plants and Backyard Carbon Sequestration
May 3, Lake to Prairie Wild Ones, Fremont Library, Mundelein

Native Bees in the Garden
January 9, Barrington Village Hall

Do Three Shrubs Make a Hedgerow? Reflections on Hedgerow Structure and Usefulness in Several Contexts: as part of the symposium Life Along the Edges – A discussion of the value of field margins, hedgerows, and buffers in the modern landscape.

March 27, Society for Ecological Restoration - Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter Annual Meeting, Chicago Botanic Garden

Native Bees in the Garden
January 31, Chicago Wilderness Wild Things Conference, UIC

Native Bees in the Garden,
August 17, sponsored by West Cook Wild Ones, Dominican University, River Forest

The Polyculture Lawn, Oak Park Art League

Oak Park Friends Meeting, Oak Park
Washington Park Conservancy, Chicago
Triton Community Horticulture Club, River Grove
Friends MCGM Meeting, Oak Park
Proksa Park Garden Club, Berwyn

Friends Illinois Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions, McNabb
Trailside Museum, River Forest


Love your blog! I am also a garden writer and blogger and love your lawn posts and native bees ones. Have you ever gone to the Garden Bloggers Fling? It is a yearly conference where garden bloggers get together and tour gardens. And you meet fellow writers. It is in Madison this year.