Gardening books come and go, offering much of the same about container gardening, multi-season landscapes, and weed and pest control.
Doug Tallarmy’s books, however, strike a different chord and grab the gardener’s attention, especially anyone who wants to garden close to nature.
His newest book, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, is no exception. Co-authored with Rick Darke, the book follows Tallamy’s earlier publication, Bringing Home Nature, which is all about native planting and biodiversity. It promotes less lawn and more native species, and includes recommendations.
The Living Landscape is not about native plants, although it certainly includes them. Instead, it’s a lesson in the layers of wild landscapes and how they can be incorporated into urban living. The 400-page hardback is attractively priced at $25.
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In the new book, the authors guide you through the layers of a wild landscape — ground layer, tall canopy trees, smaller understory trees, shrubs, wet edges and wetlands, meadows and grasslands — and birds in every layer.
Hundreds of full-color photos, mostly of wildlife and plants common to everyday life — a great blue heron perched on a branch fallen across water and tiger swallowtails “puddling” at the edge of a wet woodland — take you on a guided walk through habitats that make nature work like it should. The hope is that you will be motivated to incorporate at least some of those settings into your own yard, so home landscapes become part of the solution, not part of the problem.
“Our yards are part of local ecosystems,” says Tallamy, who uses photos of private and public gardens, as well as his own 10-acre property, as examples in the book.
“In the past, we thought nature operated someplace else, and that was good enough. So we designed our yards for beauty, but not for ecological function. Today, there is not enough nature left to create the ecosystem services that support humans, so we now have to produce ecosystem services at home.”
Fortunately, more homeowners are realizing the need to establish functioning landscapes, adds Tallamy, but developers are dragging behind. And, it doesn’t take much to make a living landscape successful at what it needs to accomplish, he says.
“Cement does not have to be the default landscaping in cities,” he says.
“Look at how successful the highline in Manhattan has been. A thin strip of vegetation is supporting monarchs and several species of native bees. Flowering plants on rooftop gardens can do the same. Even tiny city lots can support trees, provide shade, help the watershed and lower the heat island effect.”
The book uses lots of photos and captions to show and explain how a walk in the woods demonstrates the different layers that can be duplicated on a smaller scale in a yard. Look for caterpillars, Tallamy suggests, because they are the most important component of food webs. Or just look for plant diversity, and you should hear lots of birds.
Go home and attempt to achieve what you have seen, felt and heard.
“We will probably design our landscapes more as edge habitat than deep woods,” he says.
“But we can bring lots of life into our landscapes even if we keep them manicured and well designed. We just have to use productive plants.
“If you convince your neighbors to add plants as you are doing, you now have a much larger patch of habitat to work with. But even a small garden can be productive. A small patch of milkweed in Dover, Del., produced 150 monarchs in one summer.”
Why should gardeners and non-gardeners care about biodiversity anywhere?
“It is the species in an ecosystem that produce the ecosystem services that keep humans alive,” says Tallamy.
“For example, if we lose our pollinators, we will lose not just many of our crops, but 80 percent of all plant species and 90 percent of all flowering plants. Not an option if we want to remain on this planet. Shopping centers won’t do it for us. We need ecosystem function everywhere, and the more species in an ecosystem the more ecosystem function we will get. Since we occupy nearly the entire planet, we must share the entire planet with the things that keep us alive. Creating living landscapes is not a fad; it is an essential part of our future.”