Anna Burger, left and Earl Gohl walk in their "rewilded" garden. File photo/AFP
Retired union organizer Anna Burger lives by a busy road just a minute's walk from a metro station in the US capital Washington, but every morning she wakes up to a birdsong symphony.
Butterflies, squirrels and even the occasional deer also come to visit her tree-covered property that she has cultivated with a focus on native species that provide nesting space and nourishment for the local wildlife.
"We knew that... putting chemicals on grass to try to keep it green seemed to be a futile process that wasn't good for kids playing or for the environment.
Well-manicured grass lawns have long been associated with the suburban American Dream, but adherents of a growing "rewilding" movement are now reclaiming their yard space for nature.
"We knew that... putting chemicals on grass to try to keep it green seemed to be a futile process that wasn't good for kids playing or for the environment," she said.
A certified Wildlife Habitat sign is viewed on Jim Nichols' property. File photo/AFP
Burger and her husband bought the house in 1990, she explained, and "we've tried to make it friendly, making sure that we have water sources, making sure that there are food sources so these trees aren't the most colorful but have great berries."
My energy space
A few blocks away from Burger's house, Jim Nichols, a nurse consultant and massage therapist, shows off the "Certified Wildlife Habitat" sign he acquired from a local non-profit group after meeting requirements like feeding, nesting space and water supply.
Native plants planted by Professor Christopher Swan and his team. File photo/AFP
Nichols also eschews the use of pesticides in his yard, explaining: "We have a lot of insects and I try to work with the insects," adding that he is particularly proud of the honey bees that come to water.
"It's my energy space. It's where I get energy and feed off the energy from my garden," he added.
That tension speaks to the conflicting views that have emerged about rewilding efforts, said Chris Swan, an ecologist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Jim Nichols tends his "rewilded" garden, a type of garden aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes. File photo/AFP
"I don't think people mind having something that looks like... a wild place or prairie, or a meadow but they don't like to see too tall. Anything over three feet (one meter) starts to make people uncomfortable," said Swan.
Rewilding inner cities
Looking beyond relatively affluent suburbs, Swan argues that rewilding efforts can be even more transformative in the inner cities.
Anna Burger stands in her "rewilded" garden. File photo/AFP
From 2014-18, he oversaw an ambitious experiment in the city of Baltimore, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Washington, where decades of population decline have left around 17,000 vacant lots.
"The quality of the habitat changes, it attracts wildlife, the birds go crazy. And in the spring, we see an increase in pollinators," Swan says of the urban meadow project.
Another species that prospers: human beings.
"And so being near those spaces actually contributes to community well-being," concluded Swan.
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