Good news from the New York Times

The Victorian-era illustration above is from the Full Color Decorative Bird Illustrations CD-Rom and Book. This example was kindly provided by the publisher, Dover Publications.

HAVING WORKED AT THIS FOR SO LONG, I'm always a little amazed, and a lot thrilled, when mainstream publications start to promote ideas I've been talking about for at least a decade. So you can imagine how pleased I was when the New York Times "Home and Garden" section recently published an article titled, "To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs."


For the article, writer Ann Ravner visited the home of Doug Tallamy, author of a new book that has been gaining a lot of attention for naturalistic gardening: Bringing Nature Home was published by Timber Press last November. Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware. You can see his academic resume (and a nice photo) at the university's website. His book has its own website, which includes a couple of items that appear to be excerpts from the book:
  • "Gardening for Life" makes the argument for why it is so important for us to use native plants in our gardens and otherwise try to make these spaces wildlife and environmentally friendly.

  • "Gardening for Biodiversity" is a list of what Tallamy considers to be "the 20 best native woody and perennial plant genera for supporting biodiversity in East Coast suburban landscapes."

The latter illustrates why books such as these are often a disappointment to anyone who is beyond the beginner level of native-plant gardening. Because books such as Tallamy's have to appeal to a wide audience, they are often too general to be of much help once you are actually trying to create a native plant garden in a specific region. For instance, Tallamy lists all the usual suspects of the native plant world. And because he lists genera rather than species, you will still have to find out which plants are appropriate for your region.

To be honest, I'm not all that interested in Tallamy's book (which I hasten to admit I have not read--so if I'm wrong about it, please tell me). I'm very glad he wrote it, but my initial investigation suggests that it's another in a growing list of books that cover more or less the same ground. Probably the first of them, or at least the first to get a lot of attention, was Sarah Stein's Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards, which was published in 1995. In the late 1990s, I bought a lot of these books. But eventually I tired of reading the same information over and over again. Now I spend my money on reference works that are specific to my region.

That isn't to say that these books should not be published! On the contrary, every time one of them comes out there is a chance it will catch a wave of publicity, as Tallamy's has. Each wave of publicity attracts new people to native-plant gardening. Many people who are avid native-plant gardeners today caught the bug by reading Stein. Ten years from now, it looks like we'll have another batch who were inspired by Tallamy's work.

Witness the article in the New York Times, which allows us to pay a vicarious visit to Tallamy's garden in Pennsylvania, where he and his wife have removed non-native, invasive plants such as Oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, and multiflora rose, and replaced them with natives such as white pine, black cherry, and goldenrod. The best part of the article is Tallamy's argument in favor of encouraging insects in the garden. He is quoted as saying that 96% of North American birds other than seabirds feed their young on insects.

None of this is exactly new, but it probably is new to a lot of New York Times readers. So let's celebrate. With its lovely pictures of native plants and the insects that depend on them, the New York Times article is a great advertisement for native plant gardening.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to learn more about Tallamy's book, I recommend the following:


Benjamin Vogt said...

I recently read, and discussed on my blog, Tallamy's book. As a newbie and passionate naturalist, I found the book invigorating--the first I've read on such a topic. In the back he has lists by corner regions of the U.S.--sadly, nothing for me here in the middle, so I have to research a lot--and lists plants (tree, shrubs, vines etc) for specific moth and butterfly species. Looking at the northeast, he suggests plants like mapleleaf vuburnum, arrowood, smooth witherod, and blackhaw. He maybe doesn't say "buy blue muffin" or something, but if a gardener is reading this book I'd assume they will WANT to research the various viburnum(s), for example, in order to get the right thing in the right place. What he did for me was help me welcome bugs into my garden, not see them as a menace (not like I completely have, of course, but I can now identify stuff I thought was bad and realize I should just let them be). I'm gonna head over to your link--thanks for posting.

Wild Flora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wild Flora said...

Thanks for setting me straight, Benjamin. It sounds as though the plant lists in the book are a lot more specific than the one at the website. I agree that that Tallamy's emphasis on insects is also refreshing. I'm really delighted that the book has been getting so much attention; my comments are just meant to explain why, as someone who has been working on this stuff for a long time, I am not rushing out to buy it.

You have a very good summary of the book at your blog, too:

Benjamin Vogt said...

Oh yes, if I'd been gardening like this for many years, I too would probably not have picked it up, but it's meant a lot to me as I begin the first full year of my garden. He does also include photographs in one chapter--quite a lot of photos--that show beneficial native bugs you want to see in your garden, as well as some you don't want to see, but it's mostly the good guys. Thanks for plugging my post--that's really quite humbling!!

Teli said...

Thanks for writing this.