Loudoun County Master Gardeners’ My Backyard program offers local property owners the chance for help planning a landscape that will conserve natural resources, save time and money, and reduce runoff to local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.
“The self directed program involves 10 basic principles and a number of ‘yard actions’ that homeowners can take to conserve natural resources and make sure we’re preserving our landscape for the future,” says Barb Bailey, a Loudoun County Master Gardener who helped develop the program.
These 10 principles serve as a guide for building a smart landscape. Homeowners can choose to implement just a few actions, or they can choose to pursue certification as a Watershed Partner by undertaking actions related to all 10 principles and completing a My Backyard scorecard.
“Some principles, like ‘right plant right place’ actually help save homeowners time and money because they won’t have to replace a tree or shrub that was planted in an inappropriate location,” says Bailey.
Other principles help property owners take steps to directly reduce stormwater runoff, fertilize lawns responsibly, and recycle yard waste.
“The program is self directed, so interested community members can go to our website and select topics that are important to them, like maintaining healthy soil or reducing runoff to see information and steps they can take to improve their landscape,” says Bailey. For additional guidance, homeowners can call in to the Loudoun County Master Gardener help desk or send emails to a special My Backyard help account.
Homeowners interested in achieving “Watershed Partner” status will need to complete tasks equivalent to 36 points on the My Backyard scorecard and submit the card for certification by Loudoun Master Gardeners. In addition to receiving a special certificate, Watershed Partners are also eligible to purchase a yard flag advertising their achievement.
Now nearing its one year anniversary, Bailey and a team of Master Gardeners, along with Jim Hilleary, Loudoun ANR agent, developed the program after seeing similar efforts in other states.
“We thought it was a great idea and we were able to transform it to focus more on natural resources conservation and incorporate more of an education component for homeowners,” says Bailey.
“So far people have responded to the program in a very positive way,” says Hilleary. “The program’s focus on water quality helps people feel a sense of ownership and being a stakeholder in the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay.”
Meeting Loudoun’s Unique Needs
The My Backyard program was designed with Loudoun County’s unique needs and very diverse population in mind.
“In Loudoun, we have two categorically different population demographics: the residents who live in rural, Western Loudoun and the residents who live in densely populated Eastern Loudoun,” says Hilleary. “We’re trying to meet the learning needs of all the residents and figure out issues common to farmers in the western half of the county and homeowners in the eastern part. The My Backyard program allows us to develop programming relevant to both communities.”
“For our contemporaries in gateway counties, this is a great program for reaching dual audiences with the same inputs,” says Hilleary. “The same concepts that apply for homeowners fertilizing lawns work for farmers practicing good pasture management.”
Bailey adds that knowing your audience is very important when developing this type of program.
“You need to understand what residents want and need. [A program like this] needs to meet what people are asking for,” she says. Elements like the Watershed Partner yard flag were designed to appeal to Loudoun residents.
In addition to catering to Loudoun’s unique audiences, the My Backyard program is also consistent with the county government’s goal of improving water quality.
“We’re striving to make our program relevant and nest both with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the vision and values communicated by our county board of supervisors,” says Hilleary. “Our board of supervisors values natural resources conservation and water quality. The My Backyard program allows us to support county residents, our local government, and Virginia Cooperative Extension.”
By listening to the local audience and the needs of Loudoun county government, the My Backyard program fills a valuable niche as it helps property owners learn to conserve natural resources and improve water quality for the future.