Going Native: Saving nature one backyard at a time

Bringing Nature Home: Sustaining wildlife with Native Plants

There is plenty to be optimistic about in Douglas Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home and it all begins with the importance of planting native plants, trees and shrubs in our gardens.

But finding this optimism is not easy.

For my extensive article on why using native plants in your garden is important, go here.

Tallamy tells the truth and it’s a truth that will make most gardeners very uncomfortable about what we’ve planted in the past and what is now happily growing in our gardens right now.

The must-have ornamentals, the pest-resistant perennials and the trees and shrubs we probably never suspected were problematic in the landscape are creating the conditions for the slow but steady decline not only of native plants but the entire ecosystem that depend on them for survival.

Scary stuff for sure, but critical reading for anyone who cares about the environment and what awaits future generations.

Remember, I said there’s lots to be optimistic about in the book. It’s important to note that the its full title is “Bringing Nature Home. How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.” The book proves to be a rich resource for combating the incredible damage we have inflicted on our land and the wilder places that surround us.

Douglas Tallamy strikes the perfect compromise between fear and optimism in “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. It’s a must read for anyone who cares about the future of our environment at both a global and local …

Douglas Tallamy strikes the perfect compromise between fear and optimism in “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. It’s a must read for anyone who cares about the future of our environment at both a global and local level.

For more on the importance of oak trees in our garden and natural landscapes take a few moments to check out my other posts on Oak trees:

This recent book release is an updated and expanded version of the same book that was first published in 2007.

Tallamy goes to great lengths in the opening chapters to explain the enormous problems we face following the slow and steady introductions of exotic, alien plants, pests and disease brought to North America – sometimes by mistake but often through the nursery trade. The problem these exotic ornamentals bring are twofold: One, they fail to deliver the same nutritional benefits to our insects as native plants, and; Two: many of these alien plants have displaced once dominant native plants in our gardens and in the wild.

The result is devastating to a host of native insects, reptiles, animals and birds.

How we can restore native habitats

Tallamy concludes that all the points in his book converge in a common theme: “we humans have disrupted natural habitats in so many ways that the future of our nation’s biodiversity is dim unless we start to share the places in which we live – our cities and, to an even greater extent, our suburbs – with the plants and animals that evolved there. Because life is fuelled by the energy captured by the sun by plants, it will be the plants that we use in our gardens that determine what nature will be like 10, 20, and 50 years from now.”

He goes on to explain that if gardeners continue to “landscape predominantly with alien plants that are toxic to insects…. We may witness extinction on a scale that exceeds” anything ever experienced on this earth.

Tallamy recognizes that it is probably too late to turn back time and completely eliminate the alien plants either from our gardens or from wild places, but it’s not too late to use our gardens – big or small – to create islands of native-plant sanctuaries to give native fauna a chance to recover. One small island in suburbia will not solve the problem, so Tallamy encourages readers to recruit neighbours, maybe even entire neighbourhoods to transition from exotic to native plantings.

He goes into great detail to help readers recognize the benefits of using natives over exotics, even listing the best native trees and plants to use in the garden (broken down by zones). Not only does he list the trees and plants, but he includes scientific numbers on how many Lepidoptera species benefit from individual trees. For example, Oak trees rank first supporting 534 species, willows are second supporting 456, followed by Cherry/plum at 456 and birch at 413.

Tallamy speaks with great authority. He is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 97 research publications and has taught insect related courses for more than 40 years. Using this knowledge, he provides valuable information on every insect and spider you might come across in the garden.

It would be easy to think this is a book for environmentalists, but it really is a book for gardeners. There are even sketches on how to use native plants in the garden to benefit our native wildlife.

For woodland gardeners, many of whom already recognize the importance of using native trees, shrubs and plants, the book helps to validate what you are already doing. For those who have not given a lot of thought to the potential damage exotics create in the environment, the book will get you to question many of your existing beliefs and garden aesthetics.

No matter where you stand, this book – not unlike Mary Reynolds’ book “The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves – will force you to rethink how you garden. Together, they form a powerful voice calling for major changes to suburban gardens away from landscapes dominated by large swaths of non-native grass and exotics, to mass planting of native trees, shrubs, plants and grasses.

It’s a voice gardeners and garden designers need to listen to, need to act on and need to convince others to act on.

Our children deserve a chance to enjoy the birds, butterflies and insects as much as we did growing up.

In addition to Mary Reynold’s book, The Garden Awakening” mentioned above, I have written a number of posts that relate to the subject of native plants. Here are just a few readers may want to explore further. Woodland Nurseries gardeners need to know about . So You Got Perfect Grass: That Don’t Impress me much.

This beautiful, 358-page soft-cover book was provided to me by the good folks at Timber Press for review. It is an outstanding resource for any gardener intent on creating a healthy backyard habitat for birds, butterflies, insects and mammals. The New York Times best seller has been praised by all who take the time to explore it. Writes The New York Tmes: “Tallamy’s message is loud and clear: gardeners could slow the rate of extinction by planting natives in their yards.”

William Cullinar, Director of Horticultural Research for the New England Wild Flower Society, writes “We all hear that insects and animals depend on plants, but in Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy presents a powerful and compelling illustration of how the choices we make as gardeners can profoundly impact the diversity of life in our yards, towns and on our planet. This important work should be required reading for anyone who ever put shovel to earth.

• If you are considering creating a meadow in your front or backyard, be sure to check out The Making of a Meadow post for a landscape designer’s take on making a meadow in her own front yard.

More links to my articles on native plants

Why picking native wildflowers is wrong

Serviceberry the perfect native tree for the garden

The Mayapple: Native plant worth exploring

Three spring native wildflowers for the garden

A western source for native plants

Native plants source in Ontario

The Eastern columbine native plant for spring

Three native understory trees for Carolinian zone gardeners

Ecological gardening and native plants

Eastern White Pine is for the birds

Native viburnums are ideal to attract birds

The perfect Redbud

The Carolinian Zone in Canada and the United States

Dogwoods for the woodland wildlife garden

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tellamy

A little Love for the Black-Eyed Susan

Native moss in our gardens

Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.


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