Climate Change Connections: Thinking outside the box

Try rewilding your yard as a way to reduce mowing and to add native plant species.


The concept of rewilding is a broad subject, certainly thinking out of the box, and can take on many forms. To better understand and visualize this concept, I sought out a pair of Islanders who had rewilded their yard. Their interview was inspiring, and what they had done was creative and purposeful. Thaw Malin is an artist, and Cynthia Bloomquist was a member of the administration at MIT. They live in West Tisbury.

What prompted you to get serious about personally impacting climate change in your life? What is the most successful and satisfying personal climate change accomplishment you have made?

Malin and Bloomquist: We never wanted a swimming pool, because we avoid chemicals and prefer the beauty of nature. Ten years ago, we wanted to reduce the amount of lawn and mowing. A natural water garden where a lawn would be would provide more planting opportunities for native vegetation, and also a variety of natural habitat. It would benefit trees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife, so we began with all those expectations in mind. As it developed, the idea of a water garden evolved into a chemical-free natural pond that would be swimmable and benefit people, too.

This was the quantum leap we took to impact climate change, a form of rewilding our yard.

As we began pond construction, Thaw had the idea to create berms with the soil that had been dug. The berms turned the flat landscape into a variety of outdoor rooms, nooks, and crannies for planting and sitting. The berms also provided privacy, doubled planting opportunities, and provided north and south slopes for the sun, shade, and wind protection.

We left part of the property as it was. The back half contained raised vegetable beds, an orchard, and a wildflower bed. We added a meadow as a way to landscape the leach field of our new septic system, avoiding more grass to mow. We do mow the meadow once a year in the late winter, to keep woody plants from taking over.

Situated between our main vegetable garden and our oak grove, the meadow draws in birds for seeds and insects; the birds continue over to the vegetable garden and help keep insects off the plants.

Considering how satisfying this has been to create all this is the reward for us. Thaw and I have felt for years that we should do all we could do to reduce our daily environmental footprints, and we have found doing all we have done has enhanced our lives. Maintaining and enjoying our place has helped minimize our environmental impact in so many ways, some unexpected, like making us want to stay home more and enjoy all our creations.

Our home has also been “rewilded.” We have added solar PV panels, and now we produce all the electricity we need, including heating, lighting, cooling, cooking, and our pond pumps.

Malin and Bloomquist beautifully demonstrated thinking out of the box to create their own definition of impacting climate change.

And now here are some ways you can do the same:

Rewild your yard. You can learn more about that by Googling “rewilding your yard.” A resource example is a book called “Lawn Gone! Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard,” and there are more books on rewilding out there. Check out Yardzen, a leading online landscape design service.

Reduce your lawn size. Native plants and trees are easier to care for, increase biodiversity, and absorb storm and rainwater, and absorb carbon dioxide.

Reduce the size of hard surfaces like driveways and patios by replacing them with stones and shells, which create a permeable surface for water to pass through.

There is a Biodiversity Works program called Natural Neighbors. Experts come to your property and advise on more native plantings, less lawn, and other aspects. This could be a real help to getting started at rewilding.

Another help would be to consult with the Vineyard Conservation Society. Its program Vineyard Lawns advocates for less lawn, no chemical fertilizer, no pesticides, and other ideas.

As the world heats up, all of nature gets stressed, and so do we, but we find ways to comfort nature and ourselves as we opt for changes like rewilding our yards.

If you have ideas or information to share, contact Doris Ward at