I went to hear Doug Tallamy speak, recently. An entomologist and wildlife ecologist, his reputation first came about in 2007 when he published Bringing Nature Home.
In this seminal work on backyard wildlife ecology, Tallamy impressed on his readers the interdependency of plants, insects, butterflies, and birds. He made a call to arms asking gardeners to take on the challenge of becoming important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife by judiciously selecting local native plants for their gardens.
In 2014, Tallamy collaborated with gardening guru Rick Darke on another ecologically principled work entitled The Living Landscape. This book embodies what I hope will be an enduring trend in gardening. It is an upscale gardening book featuring gorgeous images that catapult you into another realm. Embedded in the gloss and glitter is informative, well-written content that educated and elucidates. The enduring trend which I am hopeful of is the celebration of the association between gardening and nature at large. It is a hope that the trend toward gardening with natives is imbued with a strong sense of stewardship and based on sound ecological principles.
When walking in the woodland area of the Native Plant Garden this time of year, you will meet up with the native fern Polystichum acrostichoides, commonly known as the Christmas fern. These ferns can form large, one- to two-foot clumps; are easy to grow; and are standouts in winter due to their evergreen leaves.
The individual leaves on each frond are stocking-shaped, reminiscent of Christmas stockings, which some people claim is the origin of the plant’s common name. But, in fact, the name “Christmas” fern comes from its having deep green fronds at Christmas time, says NYBG fern expert Robbin C. Moran.
Dr. Moran’s entertaining and enlightening book, A Natural History of Ferns, (available in the NYBG shop or by print-on-demand from Timber Press), explains how these amazing plants reproduce by actually “shooting” their very tiny spores. “The spores leap more than an inch into the air and arch downward,” Moran observes. “It is like watching popcorn popping.”
In the book, Tallamy, known as the “guru” of native plant gardening for his earlier, award-winning book, Bringing Nature Home, actually recorded as many as 20 different bird species—many beautifully photographed in the book—eating berries and insects from an alternate-leaf dogwood tree planted outside his bathroom window.
“So many birds visit this tree during the summer that our bathroom has become the hottest birding destination in our house,” he jokes. But the serious message of this story and one of most important points of his entire new book is that “our plants are our bird feeders!”
Doug Tallamy’s lecture started from a basic and logical premise: if you take away the places for wildlife to live and feed, you will lose your wildlife. We are all aware that habitat destruction leads to a loss of species, but very few of us believe that we can make a difference or that we are directly linked to the process. I mean this in a non-judgmental way and from a place of empowerment.
Some of you may think that this is an early case of ‘election fever,’ but alas it is not. Last month I sat in an auditorium and listened to a very convincing and lucid proponent for environmental restoration and species diversity. Regardless of his own political views, with respect to the biome Tallamy is definitely not a democrat. “All plants,” he asserts, “are not created equal in their ability to support wildlife.”
Joyce H. Newman is the editor of Consumer Reports GreenerChoices.org, and has been a Garden Tour Guide with The New York Botanical Garden for the past six years.
Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. — January 19, February 16, March 15
The New York Botanical Garden invites you to come in from the cold and warm up at the 2012 Winter Lecture Series, featuring three distinguished experts at the forefront of ecology and sustainable practices. Each will be sharing insights and practical advice on crucial challenges confronting today’s gardeners.
January 19 —BREAKING THE RULES: Ecological Design for the Real World
Larry Weaner has been creating native landscapes throughout the eastern U.S. since 1977. His firm, Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, has received several top design awards and has a national reputation for combining ecological and traditional garden design.
In this lecture Weaner shows us new and alternative gardening techniques that can yield richer, more easily maintained landscapes.
Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education. Join her each weekend for home gardening demonstrations on a variety of topics in the Home Gardening Center.
The lovely title of Douglas Tallamy’s acclaimed book Bringing Nature Home implies that as gardeners and environmentally minded citizens, one of our directives is to invite nature—birds, bees, butterflies, and other critters—into our landscapes.
As I wrote about in the past few weeks, invasive plants change face of our natural landscape, and so do pollution and urban sprawl. In his book, an outstanding homage to biodiversity, Tallamy looks at two other destructive forces: habitat destruction and the loss of species.
Biodiversity is synonymous with a balanced ecological community. Plants, insects, and other animals have all co-evolved in communities with complex, interconnected lives that are dependent on one another.
Many insects are specialists, meaning that they feed on specific plants. This is nature’s way of ensuring that species are not decimated by predators. How do plants do this?