Something is missing. Something very important. And I'll bet most people who look at these photos or stroll along a zillion different streets and parks in this country will even realize what is absent in these landscapes.
Shrubs. Rather, the lack of shrubs.
Why is this a problem? Habitat. Ecosystem health. Succession. Many reasons, really. But mostly because shrubs add beauty as well as provide food and shelter to wildlife and humans.
Why are shrubs missing from the landscape? I, for one, was never much of a shrub-lover. I always associated them with hedges and needing to be trimmed. Several years ago I heard a conservationist extole the virtues of shrubs, and gradually I've grown to love and appreciate them.
So, hassle is one reason they are missing. But here is another, much more sinister cause for their exclusion:
The Almighty Rider Mower
Yes, friends, the lawn mower, especially the "Almighty Rider Mower" is partially responsible for disappearing shrubs! Why? Because if a shrub is in the way, a lawn mower cannot get right up to the bark of a tree!
We Americans have grown accustomed to the look of the "Bowling Green" style lawn: all grass. Wide, sweeping vistas of grass, grass, grass... Our love affair with long stretches of lawn comes at a price, especially for wildlife. The first problem is most of the grasses we plant are not native to our region. Beyond that, the serious issue is "levels". There are no levels in our yards. It is either the ground, or trees, with nothing in between.
Wildlife depends on many different levels, or "stories" for food, shelter, and places to raise their young. Cornell's Ornithology Lab has an excellent visual graphic of The Story of Stories, about the different levels birds utilize. This is about more than birds. All wildlife, from insects to mammals depend on complex layers of vegetation. Shrubs provide an excellent mid-story height for wildlife to use.
These shrubs can be short, such as New Jersey Tea, which grows to about 3-4 feet in height. A shrub can also be a small tree, such as a Gray Dogwood which reaches about 15 feet.
So, when you plan your landscape, please consider the beauty shrubs offer, and the many uses they provide not only for humans, with food (elderberries, currants, and gooseberries), medicine (witchhazel), and beauty (wild hydrangea, Buttonbush), but think of the wildlife who will call those shrubs "home".
And wouldn't you know, as I composed this I heard a familiar sound, in December... yes - the Almighty Rider Mower, along with the Almighty Weed Whacker and the Almighty Leaf Blower, busy at work in the Ozarks.