How to transform your yard into a biodiverse plant and animal habitat
Imagine your backyard filled with fruit, vegetables, bees, birds, butterflies, flowers, fresh teas, and herbs. Justin West, CEO of Thrive Lot, has dedicated his life to turning these “green” dreams into reality and changing how people live with their land.
“Typical gardening and landscaping are costly, labor-intensive, and sustainable only with harmful chemicals,” explains Justin. “Incorporating indigenous knowledge, modern agroecology, and technology can transform yards into natural habitats filled with biodiversity, beauty, and bounty.”
Ever wonder why a forest or a meadow looks perfect while a garden demands arduous hours of labor? The secret is hidden in agroecological systems design, aimed to revitalize sources of energy and restore the natural cycles that have been broken by conventional home construction and landscaping.
With his passionate team, Justin launched Thrive Lot, a web platform that connects agroecologists with landscape professionals to design and install beautiful and biodiverse systems.
“These ecosystems use native plants and a higher diversity of species, meaning they have more color, texture, and food for pollinators. The right plant is always in the right place to feed and protect its plant neighbors,” explains Justin.
Thrive Lot uses ecological design principles to develop soil in the way nature would, only faster. This increases productivity, removes the need for chemicals and makes your garden efficient and healthy.
Every project starts with a 3-minute interactive form where you provide your zip code and answer questions about outdoor space. Then a specialist schedules an in-person site assessment to gather information about soil, sunlight, existing plants, climate patterns, wildlife patterns. The outcome is a project blueprint for landscape design that’s visually stunning, naturally bountiful, and ecologically diverse to serve humans and wildlife.
“Landscaping today is an industry that utilizes a few hardy but often invasive species of plants. Landscapers choose these plants for their aesthetic appeal,” Justin adds. “But they have no real benefit otherwise and actually ‘get loose’ into the wild and kill native species.”
The same problem exists in traditional gardening, which pushes gardeners to replenish the soil’s nutrients with chemical fertilizers and fight pests with poisons. These tactics bring temporary success and ultimately come with collateral damage.
“Nature fills niches,” he continues. “Whenever you plant large amounts of the same foods, something besides you eats it and multiplies to fill that niche. To protect your investment, you douse the vegetables you intend to eat with poisonous herbicides and pesticides.”
Forest Gardens & Edible Landscapes
Thrive Lot’s designs are inspired by forest gardens where native species naturally build organic and sustainable plant habitats.
Forest gardens are a low-maintenance method for sustainable food production for a single or multi-family community. Edible plants as ground cover keep weeds under control and cultivate hard-to-use areas of your yard.
A mature forest garden makes use of space at every level. Fruit trees produce high in the canopy while smaller nut and fruit trees fill the space below. Bushes sprout currants and berries above herbs and perennial vegetables on the forest floor. Leafy greens cover the ground, and fruiting vines climb the trees. Edible roots grow in the soil beneath it all.
"Forest gardens have been around for a long time, and sometimes, the native plants to cultivate them are closer than you might think. For example, I live on a hillside in Knoxville, Tennessee, covered in chickweed and purple deadnettle,” says Justin.
“The indigenous people of the area have been cultivating these and other edible herbs for thousands of years. There’s food everywhere, but we’ve been working to eradicate it with technology and chemicals. At Thrive Lot, we connect you to the people with the indigenous knowledge to bring ecosystems and perennial native plants back."
Thrive Lot also works with community organizations to educate locals on sustainability, biodiversity, and environmental science. Last year, they collaborated with educator and community forest expert Megan Kelley and the Museum of Discovery & Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to teach kids about regenerative practices through a sensory approach.
“When I started Thrive Lot, I felt that selling biodiversity was going to be a challenge. But I discovered most customers come to us because they understand the value of regenerative systems,” concludes Justin. “They care about their carbon footprint and want to create a habitat for wildlife. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs are icing on the cake.”