Our Origins: A Letter from Our Founder

For almost two decades, I have been transforming the landscape of my two-family home in West Cambridge— from a neglected site into a predominantly native woodland garden that is a joy to sit in and share with friends. It took many iterations to get it to its present state, with, no doubt, more changes to come. Gardens are not constants.

During these years of gardening and transforming this small parcel of urban land, I have been rewarded with a wonderful array of avian visitors and wildlife— in large part because we have planted an oasis of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses that they need. Robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, Blue jays, goldfinches, Carolina wrens, and Red-tailed hawks are regular visitors. But we also see Sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and on even more rare occasions, an American kestrel. The spring migration is always exciting as it brings Hermit thrushes, a wide array of warblers, White-throated sparrows, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, an occasional Ovenbird, and sometimes even an American woodcock stopping to rest on its way to a quieter and wetter locale. Sitting on my own porch and watching such an array is pretty darn fun.

As a naturalist and ecologist, I have worked throughout my career for environmental and conservation organizations. Curiously, as I worked actively to increase the biodiversity of my home landscape, I began to feel “a disconnect” between a prevailing cultural concept that envisions the natural world as out there, and my own conviction that we humans are integral to nature wherever we live, including in our built environment.

Some of my friends and colleagues would advocate for an emphasis on the conservation of “special places” in preference to the city or the suburbs, clearly convinced these places represented an important priority for environmental focus. I, on the other hand, do not see how conservation in the 21st century will ever be successful, if it does not begin at home. We humans now occupy so much of what was not long ago an undeveloped landscape, that we must commit to stewarding the lands we use for ourselves. Otherwise, we will continue to tear apart the food web and ecosystem that underpins all life.

So, I am certain that we need a new ethic that sees conservation as important everywhere, and that it a false dichotomy to think we must chose it for one place over another. And at the most basic level, why in the world would we not first want to care for our own “nests” or most immediate places of habitation— regardless of whether they are big or small, urban or rural?

With this framework in mind, I began to gather some friends and neighbors together in the spring and summer of 2009 to explore their views. Many of them resonated with my concern. Together, we began a series of gatherings and workshops about native plants, invasive plants, and gardening for habitat and biodiversity. As a group, we embraced a commitment to work on our gardens and green spaces with an awareness of their collective importance, because together, they are our common ecosystem. We have no other.

So, our organization was born. At our end-of-season pot luck dinner in our first year, we chose the name Grow Native Cambridge. Then, as we kicked our efforts into a higher gear in 2010— launching our website and more public programs, bringing Doug Tallamy to town to speak, and working with school and community groups— we quickly began to draw interest and participation from a larger constituency in the Metro Boston region and even across the state. That is a very good thing.

With this enthusiasm and support, we have chosen to incorporate as a nonprofit organization under the name Grow Native Massachusetts. We strive to sustain the community activism and local neighbor-to-neighbor networks that have made our first two years successful. We will continue them in Cambridge as well as in surrounding communities. And we intend to link these efforts with others across the Commonwealth, to achieve a much broader scale of impact.

Our premise for acting is clear. We desire a future that supports continued biodiversity with birds, butterflies, and a rich natural heritage, so we advocate treating all land as conservation land—whether it is at your home or in a neighboring park. There is no shortage of open space to benefit from having us remember and understand what was once here, the native ecosystem that sustained life in this part of New England not so long ago. So we hope you will join with us. At the end of the day, our gardening decisions matter. Our advocacy for native plants in all landscapes matters. And each of us has tremendous potential to make a positive difference.

Claudia Thompson
Founder & Director