It was not spectacular. It was not even remarkable. Just a standard city lot, chain link fence, some nandina hedges planted very close to the house. But I wanted it.
I noticed some things once I moved in. being in the middle of the city, it was not surprising that the wildlife I saw was limited. While deer are a problem everywhere in this region, my fenced yard and perimeter of paved road was quite the barrier. I put up a bird feeder, but saw only European house finches and the occasional cardinal. There were barely even squirrels. No one in my neighborhood had anything interesting happening in their yards.
I lived here for several years before I began to make any changes to the land. However, I had let the shrubs and trees between my fence line and the access road that ran along one side of my yard go a bit wild. Where the previous owners had planted neatly spaced dogwoods, crape myrtle and forsythia, I had a snarl of privet, honeysuckle, wild grasses, and mulberry that exhibited flushes of yellow in early spring and seemed supported by a few drowning dogwoods. Eventually, I decided that I would begin to do something intentional with the place. Since my only background in any of kind of gardening was what I had been shown years before in Latin America (on a permaculture farm, but I don't think anyone had used that term in my presence), I dug in with a lot of intent and very little skill.
To make a long story slightly less long, I will skip the ins and outs and various failures and measured successes and come closer to my point. In all my efforts, I increasingly applied the principles of permaculture. By that I mean that I ever attempted to work in harmony with what nature was already doing. I tried not to remove volunteer plants unless there was a good reason. I chose to put things into the system that served multiple purposes and provided some sort of yield to me or the limited local wildlife. I actively included plants to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. I disturbed the soil as little as possible, used no chemicals, and ended up with some big brush piles at the bottom of the yard (because that seemed like the best place to put the debris from annual prunings).
I often wondered if I was "doing it right." How can one tell if one is on the right path in one's mimicry of nature?
You know when you look around and realize that an ecosystem has developed around you. Where once there were a handful of only the most common urban birds, now there are dozens upon dozens of bird species that discernibly change through the seasons. Where once there were barely squirrels, now there are bees,skunks, opossum, moles, rabbits, groundhogs, and turtles. You know an ecosystem is functioning when the meat-eaters move in. We now have not just a fox, but a family of fox; the cries of the kits can be heard answering their parents in the evenings.
So yes, I have lost a chicken to either the foxes or the hawks...but only one so far ( we adapted). Those fox also took care of the booming groundhogs.
It would be presumptuous to say that my efforts at creating habitat and using sustainable gardening practices are the sole reason this little neighborhood in the heart of the city has such abounding natural life. But it sure didn't hurt!