Seeking a Balance
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Seeking a Balance

By Maria Daddino

I grew up on the cement streets of East New York, Brooklyn, a place where the only flowers grew through cracks in the sidewalks. I lived in a row house with a tiny garden, both front and back, encased in cement. So, how I developed into the nature person that I am defies all logic.

I first experienced the pleasures of gardening in the late 1960s in the years of DDT and other chemicals. Eventually, I stopped spraying, felt better, read everything that I could get my hands on about natural gardening and began to “cultivate” my own style of gardening.

By the 1990s, I had no need for fertilizers or sprays. Visiting ducks were avid bug hunters and kept my garden relatively pest-free. And, as an added benefit, my plants grew exponentially from all of the duck droppings. I learned all about “beneficials” and the balance of nature.

In 2003, I thought I had finally found my dream community in a sleepy little hamlet on the East End. Covenants and restrictions and natural conservation buffers, between 25 and 50 feet deep, not only protected the natural beauty of the land, but also ensured that there would be food and shelter for all native wildlife. I was thrilled to be part of a cutting-edge community that cherished the bounty of the land and the opulence of its wildlife. I just couldn’t fathom that anyone who chose to live in this community, with all its forward-thinking “balance of nature” restrictions, would think differently or, worse, not abide by those restrictions.

My very first look at this land told me that local naturalists must have fought hard to keep this beautiful area from being developed. I eased my conscience by telling myself that the land was already cleared, someone would live here anyway, and it might as well be me since, for the past 40 years—long before it was popular—my gardens have always been wildlife habitats, the last two certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

As I look around today, my heart breaks as I sadly realize that there are fewer and fewer buffers that conform to the town requirements for “natural conservation buffers.” Decaying leaves that, incidentally, make the best nutrient-rich mulch, are carried out of the buffers by the truckload. The undergrowth, the northern bayberries, the low-growing blueberry bushes and the wintergreen groundcover are ripped up and discarded as “garbage,” replaced primarily with non-native plants. Not a thought is given to the fact that bayberries are an important constituent for revegetation because they replenish nitrogen in the soil, which greatly encourages regeneration.

And not a thought is given to the wildlife that depends upon these plants and their berries for food and survival. No one seems to care that they are destroying the habitat of the eastern box turtle, the eastern towhee or the northern red salamander. How can anyone living in “deer country” plant arborvitae and impatiens and a host of other plants that are delicacies for the deer and then complain of their nightly visits? With a little forethought, deer-resistant native species can be planted that will provide not only beauty and fragrance for our senses, but also food and shelter for our magnificent migrating and native species of songbirds, as well as foxes and pheasants, opossums and raccoons.

Finally, why do people move here because of the pristine beauty of the land and then intentionally destroy that very same beauty, changing it into something that doesn’t belong here, something that belongs in the crowded confines of up-island homes. There has to be a balance in nature. If we live in harmony with the land, with nature and her creatures, plants will grow, wildlife will flourish, and we will have all the natural beauty we can imagine.

But, I guess, there are some things that I just cannot understand.

Maria Daddino writes the community column “From Fourth Neck” for the Western Edition of The Southampton Press.

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