Four Questions with Carole Brown

by Wendy Gabriel

Carole Brown is a Conservation Biologist with a passion for Ecosystem Carole BrownGardening–giving a little back to wildlife by creating welcoming habitats in our gardens, conserving natural resources, and choosing sustainable landscaping practices. Carole has worked as a wildlife habitat landscaper for almost twenty years, designing, installing and maintaining Ecosystem Gardens for wildlife for homeowners, businesses, and other property managers. She is a consultant, educator, and author of Ecosystem Gardening. Avid birder, butterfly watcher, and lover of all wildlife.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

I try to do this in as many ways as possible. We belong to a local CSA for produce as well as a local food co-op, and try to get as much of our food as we can from local sources. I’ve installed CFL light bulbs throughout the house, low-flow adapters on all of the faucets and shower and low-flow toilets.

My next project inside the house is to install a hot water on demand system, which only uses energy when we need hot water as opposed to a traditional hot water heater which is constantly running.

We recycle everything that we can and attempt to find new owners for the stuff that we no longer need, usually by donating it to people in need or to charities who can locate people who need what we have.

I installed a programmable thermostat and keep the temperature as low as possible during the winter. This means wearing wool socks and sweaters through the cold times, but I’ve found that I much prefer that to an overheated house.

I’m always looking for new ways to “green” my life, which is why I so enjoy your “Four Questions” series because I’ve learned a lot from the other people you have interviewed.

You are a Conservation Biologist who teaches people to manage their properties sustainably, in an environmentally friendly and conscious way. How do you educate people to be aware of the impact they are making on the environment?

One backyard at a time. For almost 20 years I have worked as a wildlife habitat landscaper designing, installing and maintaining ecosystem gardens for my clients who included homeowners, businesses, and other property managers.

I’m now continuing this work as a consultant and educator to larger audiences, trying to stress how critical our gardens are to the survival of wildlife and the health of our environment.

We humans have made some pretty bad choices for the environment and we’ve destroyed a lot of habitat in the process. In fact, habitat loss is the number one reason why so many species are in such trouble. Do we really need one more Walmart, Starbucks, or Home Depot?

I try to show people that we can choose to make much healthier decisions, we can give a little back in the form of creating welcoming habitats for wildlife, using more sustainable practices, conserving natural resources, and eliminating our use of toxic chemicals.

I really enjoyed a recent post on your site entitled, Why Your Ecosystem Garden Matters, Even When We Already Have Protected Lands. Can you explain how our gardens can have a huge impact on the health of the wildlife around us?

We have taken so much habitat away from wildlife, either by destroying it outright, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller pieces, or poisoning or otherwise degrading it, that many species simply have nowhere left to go.

This is where our gardens come in: if we can learn to share our space with wildlife, to provide for their needs, we can create habitats that will support many species of wildlife and bring nature right up to our back doors.

By removing invasive species from our gardens and incorporating more native plants we can create beautiful gardens for us to enjoy that also support a wide variety of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and amphibians, native pollinators and other insects, and bats and other mammals.

All of these species are dependent, either directly or indirectly, on native plants. When we choose to add more native plants to our gardens we are giving something back wildlife instead of driving them away.

Our gardens can be stepping stones between larger natural areas. When neighbors band together, larger habitats can be created which can become safe corridors for wildlife to use.

You say on your site that you have been saying for years that if every one of us did one small thing for wildlife, the cumulative effect would be enormous, and can contribute to the ecological health of our neighborhoods, regions, country, and even have a global impact. What are some examples of one small thing we could do for wildlife?

• Plant a tree. Oak trees support over 500 species of butterflies and moths, plus many birds and mammals. Many other native tree species also support many butterflies and moths.

• Make a Monarch waystation by planting milkweed and a variety of nectar plants.

• Install a wildlife pond and watch dragonflies, frogs, toads, and birds almost immediately move in. This is truly a “if you build it, they will come” activity.

• Find out which butterflies are native to your area and plant a patch of their host plant. Each species of butterfly is dependent on a particular plant on which to lay their eggs.

• Reduce your lawn. Lawns are a monoculture of (usually) non-native species which support very few species of wildlife. A wildflower meadow with native grasses would be much better for wildlife.

• Fill in that bare spot in your garden with a native plant.

The possibilities are endless, but it’s so important that each of us start with just one thing that will help wildlife. All of us doing this will mean that there’s a lot more places for wildlife to go. It’s the actions of one multiplied by the power of many, and that can only be a good thing!

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  1. Alison Kerr’s avatar

    Carole, I’m glad to hear that you use low flow shower heads. Those make a BIG difference. All my friends tell me they run out of hot water. My home has low flow shower heads and we’ve never run out of hot water even when there were 6 people showering.

    Just be aware though that instant hot water heaters may not actually save enough energy to pay for themselves. With the low flow fittings my water heating costs are very low, nothing like the standard figures given to justify on-demand hot water.

  2. Carole’s avatar

    Alison,
    Your statements are correct about low-flow shower heads and sink aerators. The thing I like about a hot water on demand system is that it only uses energy when you turn on hot water, as opposed to a traditional hot water heater that is always using energy. Besides, I bought the unit several years ago, so it is already paid for. Just haven’t managed to put in in yet (I’m a little behind in my chores….)

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