Master Gardener’s Bookshelf: Nature’s Best Hope: Lessons for a Master Gardener

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy

Reviewed by Extension Master Gardener Susan Wilhelm

Extension Master Gardeners are all about promoting environmentally sound gardening practices, so I looked forward to reading Douglas W. Tallamy’s newest book Nature’s Best Hope:  A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. Tallamy, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, writes and speaks extensively on the interaction between insects and plants and the crucial role of native plants in building the healthy ecosystems upon which so much of life depends. His research informs the work of Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) (most recently Creating an Oasis for Pollinators), and others including Plant NOVA Natives and the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder.

In Nature’s Best Hope, Tallamy argues that homeowners have a tremendous opportunity to restore native habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, most significantly by replacing a portion of lawn with native trees, shrubs, and plants—an action which taken collectively would result in what he calls the “Home Grown National Park.”  He explains why this is important and lists specific actions homeowners—even non-gardeners—can take.

What did this EMG learn that will impact the way she gardens?

  • Every little bit helps. Even if you have a small yard like I do, adding native plants, especially plants that support a variety of pollinators and birds, makes a difference. Further, if my neighbors also include native plants in their landscapes, the impact can be even more significant.
  • Solidago (goldenrod) is one of the best plants for supporting local bee and other insect populations (and not the cause of seasonal allergies as some might believe.). Solidago is also the top-ranked genus for hosting caterpillars which feed breeding and migratory birds, and their roots “not only prevent erosion, but they actively build topsoil and encourage rainwater infiltration rather than stormwater runoff.” Wow!
  • Other good plants for supporting local bee populations are Helianthus (perennial sunflowers), Symphyotrichum spp. (fall blooming native asters), and Vaccinium spp. (blueberries).

 

  • If I plant lots of native plants, especially those that support a wide variety of insects such as the Solidago mentioned above, I can keep some non-invasive introduced plants, such as my special daylilies, without reducing the overall ecological impact of my yard.
  • Bees tend to ignore people when they are busy gathering pollen, so adding plants that attract bees is not a threat to me or my neighbors (all of whom have small children) or those walking along the sidewalk bordering my yard.
  • There are ways to support wildlife that have nothing to do with gardening, such as installing a bubbler (small water feature with gentle gurgling sounds) to attract birds or covering window wells to keep out frogs or other small animals.

Earlier this spring I replaced a portion of my front lawn with native plants including Liatris spicata (gayfeather or blazing star) and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed). Based on what I now know, I am going to add Solidago. I have never had much luck growing Symphyotrichum, but I am going to give those a try too. Additionally, once the COVID-19 situation permits, I plan on taking advantage of any scheduled EMGs Neighborhood Champions open houses in my neighborhood so I can learn about native plants other EMGs are successfully growing. (Neighborhood Champions is an initiative through which Extension Master Gardeners share their horticultural knowledge with neighbors through events and activities such as open houses, presentations at neighborhood civic associations, or neighborhood projects such as native plant gardens in common spaces or expanding the tree canopy.)

Bringing Nature Home gave me hope that what I do can make a difference, and that working collectively with my neighbors can make that difference significant.

Natures Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard (Timber Press, 2020) is available at the Alexandria Public Library, the Arlington Public Library, and national booksellers.


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