‘Nature Will Come to You’: Native Plants Take Root in Suburban Chicago

In Joliet, The Nature Foundation of Will County helps to boost backyard birds, bees and butterflies
May 8, 2024 10:50 AM ET
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A bee collects pollen from a milkweed plant.

About 10 years ago, Tara Neff decided to include native plants in her yard to help infiltrate rainwater.

The unexpected results opened her eyes—and captured her heart.

“Beautiful creatures, including butterflies, bees and birds, will come to your yard if you plant native species,” Neff explains. “My plants are providing something good for nature, and I deeply appreciate that.”

Since her foray into native plants, Neff has become the executive director of The Nature Foundation of Will County in Joliet, Illinois, southwest of Chicago and the southern tip of Lake Michigan. The non-profit supports the county forest preserve district’s education, recreation, and conservation priorities that protect nature, inspire discovery, and bring people and nature together.

An online plant sale is currently running through the month of April, and in May the foundation will hold one of its major in-person native plant sales, giving Neff the opportunity to meet the community and share her fervent support of the transformative power of native plants.

Each year, the organization holds about eight native plant sales, all part of the Bringing Nature Home initiative. In 2023, the foundation sold more than 30,000 native plants including flowering plants, grasses and sedges, as well as more than 575 native trees and shrubs, with funds raised being reinvested into community programming.

As a complement to the plant sales, the foundation invites the public to view free, online learning webinars that feature authors, landscape designers and pollinator conservationists. New this year, the foundation will host a native plant garden walk in July, a tour of home landscapes made beautiful through sustainable gardening practices.

Every year on April 22, the world marks Earth Day, an annual celebration of environmental protection around the globe. At Enbridge, sustainability is central to everything we do. We also support community sustainability projects that help improve, grow and nurture our environment, and we're a proud supporter of the foundation’s environmental education efforts in Illinois.

Since the spring of 2022, we’ve awarded the Nature Foundation and its sister organization, the Forest Preserve District of Will County, Fueling Futures grants totaling $37,500 in support of both native plant initiatives and community programming—such as eagle and pelican watching events, meet-the-mammals experiences, and an animal migration celebration.

These free events draw thousands of attendees, united by the desire to connect with nature and learn about how they can support their natural Illinois environment.

Other recent Fueling Futures-supported community initiatives in the U.S. Upper Midwest to advance sustainability include:

  • The City of Marshall’s dual Power of Produce programs for seniors and kids in Michigan, which encourages healthy eating, food education and incentives to shop at the Marshall Area Farmers’ Market.
  • The Penokee Rangers Trail Corps’ goal of purchasing an electric UTV to help maintain ski trail systems in the Iron County Forest of northern Wisconsin.

Providing opportunities for people to interact with nature and learn something new inspires people to want to learn even more, Neff says. “It helps them to care about nature.”

Neff knows as well as anyone that sustainability can start with a few small steps in your backyard.

“It's about shifting what people see when they look at the landscapes they’re responsible for, the landscapes they can make decisions about,” she explains.

“On your little parcel of land, even if you only have a balcony, if you provide something that nature needs, nature will come to you.”