Most mornings, Green Oaks resident Louise Wood is joined by a skittish visitor attracted by the purple cone and swamp milk flowers just off the back deck.
These native plants, like hundreds of others surrounding her prairie-style home, provide food for birds and a home for butterflies, among other benefits, she said.
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"These native plants are special because they give," said Wood, whose yard was recognized Tuesday by the Liberty Prairie Conservancy as the first private property in Lake County to be certified in the Conservation@Home program.
"I plant natives because they make my yard rich and beautiful so the hummingbird comes for coffee."
To a reception of environmentally minded officials from a variety of groups involved with the program, Wood outlined how her ordinary yard has been transformed from one with a few native plants to a landscape of mostly native trees, shrubs and gardens.
That's a good thing, organizers say, because it reduces the size of the lawn and helps create rich, healthy soil; reduces the use of water and synthetic chemicals; and attracts songbirds, butterflies and other wildlife.
Yard by yard, the intent of the program, introduced in Lake County over the summer, is to strengthen the connection with nature.
More than 120 people have signed up for a free, one-on-one consultation regarding sustainable lawn and garden practices.
"It's started to create a community around the values she has," explained Steve Barg, executive director of Liberty Prairie Conservancy. "They can do something that makes a difference."
Officials say Lake County is particularly suited to such a program because it has the most diverse and rarest plant and animal communities in Illinois.
"Most of the land is in private hands," said Ann Maine, president of the Lake County Forest Preserve District. "That's where we really need to make a big change."
The program here is funded with a $260,000 grant from the Grand Victoria Foundation.
It was introduced about seven years ago in DuPage County by The Conservation Foundation and has about 5,000 members in DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties, according to Brook McDonald, president and CEO.
A partnership also operates in Cook County; the city of Chicago has expressed interest. Talks are ongoing to expand throughout the region, he said.
"It's about connecting people, particularly families with kids, with nature," he said.
Wood spent her working days in the pharmaceutical and market research fields and most recently owned a bookstore in Lake Forest. But a degree in biological science was the basis of a lifelong passion for plantings.
She always dabbled but recently kicked the effort into high gear, expanding her native landscape this year with nearly 1,000 plants.
Wood and her husband, Dennis Leu, needed a cumulative 100 points in nine categories to earn the free certification showing they used eco-friendly lawn and garden practices. They scored 393.
Wood said it's nice to be connected to an organized effort.
"It was lonely for a few years," she said of her interest in native plantings. "I would get excited about something and their eyes would glaze over."