Douglas W. Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, sparked a national conversation about the link between healthy local ecosystems and human well-being. In Nature's Best Hope, he takes the next step and outlines his vision for a grassroots, home-grown approach to conservation.
Nature's Best Hope advocates for homeowners everywhere to turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. This home-based approach doesn’t rely on the federal government and protects the environment from the whims of politics. It is also easy to do, and readers will walk away with specific suggestions they can incorporate into their own yards.
Nature's Best Hope is nature writing at its best—rooted in history, progressive in its advocacy, and above all, actionable and hopeful. By proposing practical measures that ordinary people can easily do, Tallamy gives us reason to believe that the planet can be preserved for future generations.
Doug Tallamy is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 88 research publications and has taught Insect Taxonomy, Behavioral Ecology, Humans and Nature, Insect Ecology, and other courses for 36 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens was published by Timber Press in 2007 and was awarded the 2008 Silver Medal by the Garden Writers' Association. The Living Landscape, co-authored with Rick Darke, was published in 2014. Among his awards are the Garden Club of America Margaret Douglas Medal for Conservation and the Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence.
I loved this book as I started to read it because the author made a convincing point that our wild places like parks are no longer enough to sustain nature and that we must learn to adapt our yards to be a large, somewhat connected habitat for the birds (and thus, bugs that feed them) and pollinators and other wildlife that we need, and we need to stock them with native plants or they're worthless. Tallamy argues well that lawns are a horrible waste of resources and space, and that we need native plants to stave off ecological disaster.
The problem I had with the book is that he convinced me again and again, and then just kind of left it there instead of giving me a good idea of how to do it. He mentions a few species of trees and plants that are great for birds because they feed so many caterpillars that birds need. Oak and cherry are some of the best. And he mentions a few plants, and the fact that putting in a bubbler (a water source that bubbles up) brings in lots of birds.
For the most part, though, there are almost no pictures at all of yards that do anything Tallamy proposes and there are no lists or other resources that would make it easy to implement. Instead, he says things like to go to various websites and plug in your location. I'm sorry, but a short blog entry could have given me that. Otherwise, the rest of the book just goes into how much birds need various caterpillars and how awful invasive plants and non-native plants are because they don't actually feed any caterpillars which means they don't actually feed any birds or become moths or butterflies. So you have neighborhoods and parks that look green and full of nature, but they're bankrupt of actual food for wildlife. There, that's the main point of the book (also, leave some nature year-round through winter because pollinators and wildlife needs that too). It's a good read -- and that is an important message that should be shouted from the rooftops -- but it REALLY needed the second half to be "here's the relatively easy way to do that." Apparently, he has already written a book that tells how to do that or something similar, so perhaps I should have just read that one.
I read a temporary digital ARC of this book for the purpose of review.
My thanks to NetGalley and Timber Press for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.
I was hoping more for each chapter to be "step X, do this", with the chapter then delving into what to do and how to do it. What I got was that information integrated into a mini history lesson (which basically talked about how humans suck and ruined things) and then some stories of how the ideas to fix things were implemented by others. No real "how to" with a step by step guide, it was interwoven into the entirety of the chapter. Not a bad way to get the information across, but I was expecting more of a list of steps with examples, so this didn't work for me so well.
Personally, I have to be careful with the non-fiction I read, especially the stuff that deals with the ecology or politics. Both upset me and make me hate humanity, because usually the books go out of their way to make humans look like a bi-pedal cancer to the planet and others.
We are, but I don't want to have to read about the problem, I want to read how to solve the problems this bi-pedal cancer makes.
The last chapter goes into the solution, but very, very briefly. There are some common Q&As listed in the back and a few of them were really quite good, but it didn't make up for what I wanted from this book.
The positives, this book was detailed in how things went bad and steps made by others to fix things. The pictures were really quite stunningly beautiful. Lots of notes and he did list out solutions that are manageable on a personal scale, just not enough for my taste.
This is a good book, just not what I was looking for. It seems his first book might be more along the lines of what I want, so I will be checking that one out definitely. While I wasn't feeling this book, I can see that it is a 4 star. Recommended for ecology conscience people who want to make a difference and can stomach reading about how we right and proper messed things up to begin with.
If you haven't given much thought to how your yard/ landscaping habits interact with the fate of the planet, this is a great informative introduction. If you HAVE thought a lot about native plants and pollinators and microfauna this book doesn't have a whole lot new to add. It's nicely argued for newbies. The notion of treating your yard as a little slice of National Park conservation is good shorthand for a lot of things he wants to communicate.
But if you are already converted, you don't need to buy the book. Here are the three main things he advocates: Planting plants that support a wide variety of moth and butterfly larvae, making your yard welcoming to pollinators (not just with plants, but also by leaving up dead plants through winter, so they have a place to nest), and dimming the artificial light you place outside your house so it doesn't interfere with insect and moth night life.
If you aren't sure how to do the first thing, my advice would be to visit the Wildlife Federation's Native Plant Finder here:
(Tallamy's lab was instrumental in putting this together). Enter your zip code and you'll pull up a list of plants that are native to your area, and that host the most native butterflies and moths. Then do some research on the plants that appeal to you the most (Missouri Botanical Gardens have a fabulous internet-based Plant Finder that gives the scoop on how to grow most native plants, for instance) and make some decisions about what to plant.
You can access the book's argument in any number of interviews he's done (there's a nice one on Mary Roach's A Way to Garden blog), and skip paying for the book. It's ok -- he has a day job. He's not going to starve. What you're going to miss by not buying the book is some clunky writing and also some weird tin-eared anecdotes involving his own family. He reports having an argument with his adult son about whether to allow a fox to live in the yard which makes his son look bad and gives Tallamy the last word in the argument. Halfway through the book he mentions that his wife weeds their yard, and then told a story that presented her as if she had no idea that native plants might be useful for the environment. Um, really? This is at least Tallamy's third book on the subject. There's good reason to think his wife is on to the general idea. Also, I'll confess -- my interest in reading the book waned considerably once he presented himself as an ecologist offering advice on how to landscape, who was too busy -- or sexist? -- to actually weed his own yard.
The author wants to present a positive, action-oriented argument for contributing positively to the environment, and focuses on insects, pollinators, butterflies and moths as important to supporting the bird population. All good -- I'm on board. But his elementary lessons in ecology don't entirely make sense. The book has very little vision for imagining how this ecosystem of what you plant in your yard and the winged things that live in and on them aligns with a larger eco-system of foxes, box-turtles, toads, deer, etc. who occasionally surface in his book. He mentions early in the book that he wants yards to increase their "carrying capacity," by which he means the number of species they can support, but he also mentions that there are too many deer, and deer numbers need to decrease. Ok, I can see that argument, but that also means that planting our yards with natives to support micro-fauna is not really a restoration project: we're not going back to the same level of mega-fauna that the area once supported. So what sort of ecology are we creating? Tallamy's book too often implies that as long as we use our yards to support bugs and birds and humans, everything will be just fine. Except for that one moment where he suggests that humans need to have only two children per couple, and put an end to the Ponzi scheme of social security, which requires us to have more children. That was a distraction, not an illuminating moment of ecological clarity.
Again, I get that he wants to support positive action rather than hand-wringing without any change in behavior. And I'm on board. But I would have found the book a lot more interesting if it had engaged more comprehensively with precisely what we are "conserving" and why. In the end, the book doesn't quite feel aimed at grown-ups -- it's a bit too fake-folksy condescending, with anecdotes that can often flirt with true wince-worthiness. I guess I would have preferred a book that treated me more like a grown-up and maybe presented the author himself as treating grown-ups as if they were grown-ups.
There are some interesting points made in the book: most of them are best laid out in chapters ten and eleven, where we are given better information and some interesting ideas, along with a summary of, really, the entire book. This makes me wish the book had opened with those chapters, and collected essays and vignettes related to the different points.
What irked me about this book was the author's condescending, paternalistic, patronizing tone. In the book he speaks not to his audience (which will be at least 90% liberal, eco-conscious gardeners with some knowledge of the issues), but rather at a bunch of idiots who have no clue. I cringed when he related an "I said she said" exchange with his wife, where he mainsplains her and she replies: "I wish more people knew this. You have to tell them." Really?
In the same vein, the introduction is just a long, insulting put-down of the ignorant masses, and at the end there's a "frequently asked questions" section that is a hilariously pretentious line-up of straw men. For example, one of the FAQs is: "Why should I care if birds are disappearing? I don't even like birds." Exactly how frequent is that question? Either the author has been giving talks at white nationalist rallies, or he just doesn't understand the kind of person who will buy a book with A BIRD ON THE COVER. Other questions are super-specific elaborations on the points in the book, and belong within the text rather than at the end.
Because he is on the East Coast, he tends to use common names for East Coast organisms and more specific names for other organisms or broad groups. I thought Timber Press (generally an excellent publisher) would have stopped that before publication, but hopefully that was only the advance copy.
I have an advance-reader's copy so I won't go into typos (not many), but there are many times where the author uses specific terminology when it's not appropriate, or layman's terms when specific terminology is called for. There are also times when he gives citations when it's inappropriate (for example, after giving the date and place of birth of Aldo Leopold), but does not cite some pretty wild assertions that could use a little bit of an intellectual foundation. Mostly, this applies to his sociological exegesis where he generalizes the US population in order to, again, talk at dumb people as the self-professed luminary he thinks he is.
Finally and possibly most damning, he cherry-picks evidence and makes broad assumptions to draw his conclusions, that are based on a narrow East Coast experience. The entire urban and suburban areas of the country are not in fact covered in lawns, as a quick trip to any trailer park, Indian reservation, desert city, or depressed Deep South area will show him.
In the end, this has the strengths and weaknesses of a manifesto: it makes a strong point, but at the expense of an open mind and the spirit of inquiry.
It is so easy to be pessimistic about our planet’s future when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is vowing to criminalize climate change boycotts and “radical protests” and Trump withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement. Bees are dying and butterflies are disappearing and our recycling is ending up in landfills. So, reading Nature’s Best Hope was a breath of fresh air. Tallamy doesn’t just tell us the problem, he tells us what we can do, how to do it, and assures us that we can make a difference.
The thing is, even if governments are resistant to doing what is necessary, people are eager to act. Change is possible. Look how quickly people switched from aerosol to pump spray. Only the belligerent continue to use incandescent bulbs. People would do more if they knew what to do and Tallamy explains something they can do that would be transformative if enough folks did it.
You see, those of us who have yards could create a “Homegrown National Park” with native plants that are friendly to bugs and birds, we could make sure there is loose enough soil for burrowing and enough mess for nesting. He points to the High Line planting in the middle of Manhattan and the amazing diversity of life it sustains.
Nature’s Best Hope is a book every single person should read. Most books about the problems the world faces are 95% problem and 5% solution, usually they have a solution that requires a political maturity unknown in this country. Nature’s Best Hope is the opposite of this; it is all about solutions and far easier solutions than people might think. Tallamy is a realist, he explains how to work with homeowner associations and not upset the neighbors, yet still foster the resurgence of many species of birds and insects.
He writes with a comfortable tone, serious, but not hectoring. He shares his own mistakes and does an extraordinary job of crediting the work of others, even his own students. It is so rare to read a hopeful book, that it makes me want to read again and again. He makes changing our horrible trajectory seem so possible and plausible that I want to get started yesterday.
Nature’s Best Hope will be released February 4th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.
Nature’s Best Hope at Timber Press | Workman Publishing
Douglas W. Tallamy Bringing Nature Home author site
An important book that provides information about what we can do as individuals to conserve nature and how we can network with others through a "Homegrown National Park." In a nutshell, we can begin by reducing the size our lawns, growing native plants, planting trees, and not using chemicals and fertilizers. We have the ability to change our world one yard at a time.
The author leaves us with the following appeal to our better natures: "Restoring ecosystem function can become a goal that unites rather than divides us; Homegrown National Park will have no political, ideological, religious, cultural or geographic boundaries because everyone - every human being on this planet - needs diverse, highly productive ecosystems to survive. We must replace our current "humans or nature" mentality with a new "humans and nature" ethic."
I'm already a believer in landscaping with native plants and thinking about how my yard can be a steward for insects and wildlife. I picked up this book looking for new ideas about what more I can do with my corner of the world. Unfortunately, this book reads like a string of angry rants on Facebook, posted after a frustrating conversation with a distant relative and few too many drinks. A book with a title about nature wasn't where I was expecting to read about how the world is full of idiots and we're all doomed because of them.
I put down this book and went for a walk in my backyard instead.
“Ninety-five percent of the country has been logged, tilled, drained, grazed, paved, or otherwise developed. Our rivers have been straightened and dammed (damned?), and several no longer reach the sea. Our air has been polluted, our aquifers pumped nearly dry, and our climate changed for centuries to come.”
DOUGLAS W. TALLAMY Nature’s Best Hope is the third book that I have read by Douglas W. Tallamy. And as always, I felt very inspired by it. Like, Bringing Nature Home, this book tackles how we can utilize our own yards to help our surrounding ecosystems. He thoroughly discusses why it is important to change the way we look at our yards. In many places in America, particularly the suburbs, we see tracked home with large green yards with maybe a tree or two. Tallamy tells readers that large yards with shrubs and trees were actually quite famous in Europe, particularly among those with wealth, and the inspiration was brought back by Thomas Jefferson himself. However, grass does not help local ecosystems. In fact, it inhibits the ecosystem’s survival. The best thing we can do is research what plants are natural to the area, plants that will support animal and insect life. If we support these ecosystems, we can give the Earth a fighting chance.
“Our privately owned land and the ecosystems upon it are essential to everyone’s well-being, not just our own. Abusing land anywhere has negative ramifications for people everywhere.”
DOUGLAS W. TALLAMY I absolutely love this book and I am so glad I purchased a physical copy, I don’t think the kindle or audiobook version would have done it justice. This book is filled with gloriously beautiful, colorful pictures and graphs! I feel that it only helps feed the inspiration of Tallamy’s words. As I have said in previous reviews, we are currently moving to the mountains. Because of these books, I have been researching the local plants and trees in where I will be living. One of the reasons I read The Nature of Oaks, is because Oak trees are everywhere on our property. –I am not kidding, you should see the size of the gray squirrels in the area! We will not be cutting down any trees for the construction of our house and are designing our house to benefit the land. But my research about plant life is also very complex. I want to make sure the ecosystem thrives where we live.
This book is extremely informative and can also confront the norms of how we “design” our yards. People who read this book really need to open their minds to understand and learn how to make a difference. Overall, another amazing book by Tallamy! I rate it 5 out of 5 stars!
CN: erasure of Indigenous people and minimizing of their effect on the land.
This book felt like it could have been a blog post. There was useful and interesting information in it, and some really good perspective-shifting ideas, but it seemed to me that the author wasn’t sure which audience to write for: those who are new to the idea of conservationism at home and need plenty of statistics to win them over plus generous repetition of central ideas, or folks who have already bought in and therefore are already broadly familiar with many of the concepts. I think Tallamy doesn’t quite get in-depth enough to help the first group on their journey; I’m in the second group and I felt irritated by the repetition and disappointed that there weren’t more sections like those on caterpillars and bees, which I found very interesting and think will enrich my practice. I can understand how it is difficult for a single, medium-size book to have information that’s relevant to all the biomes of the continent, but I can see some sections that could reasonably have been expanded: how about more discussion of techniques for making a native garden that looks well kept?
I also found the whole book really, really American. As a Canadian, I’m used to that, but also...hey, we’re here on the continent with you, hi??? And speaking of “We’re Right Here!” there were two or three mentions of Indigenous people that really made it seem like they were long gone. I know it’s not an unusual problem for North American writers, and I can appreciate that it’s challenging to find a way to write about a culture’s practices centuries or millennia ago in a way that simultaneously acknowledges their continuing existence, but it is possible and it should be our default. I think one way this could have been accomplished is to have expanded the discussion of Indigenous land stewardship beyond two sentences in the paragraph explaining why our goal is not to recreate a mythic pristine ecosystem as though untouched by humans. Indigenous land use has shaped our ecosystems much more than many of us settlers have been taught, and the way in which many Indigenous cultures worked with the food web instead of eating through it can be inspirational. There could also have been a modern connection with the many Indigenous-led and Indigenous culture-informed land stewardship initiatives across the continent.
I read the author's earlier book, Bringing Nature Home, about the importance of native plants in the garden, so I was excited to read his latest book on the topic.
In this book, Tallamy continues his efforts to change how we view our private and public spaces by creating "Homegrown National Parks". According to the author 83% of the US is privately owned. Conservation must happen on private property.
Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act has quite often resulted in pre-emptive habitat destruction to protect property rights. As a plant or animal is considered threatened, many homeowners destroy the habitat, just in case they will be restricted at a later date. Tallamy states that this and the flaw of focusing on saving a single species rather than the ecosystem that supports the at-risk are major drawbacks of the ESA. While protecting isolated pockets of habitat is worthwhile, without connected corridors across private lands, species will continue to struggle to survive. If most landowners do a little to bring back natives, overall we can have a dramatic impact.
The book starts by sharing interesting findings of two preeminent scientists - Aldo Leopold and E.O. Wilson - which is interesting. He continues by writing about how human impacts have contribute to lack of habitat and diversity of our once robust ecosystem. I began to tire of the gloom and doom by the time he finally began to share his idea for recovery. I do wish he had focused on the "best hope" earlier and in more detail. Less-committed readers may not get to the part where a rescue is possible.
I did enjoy the book and will be looking for additional ways to make my yard part of the "Homegrown National Park" system. I hope others will find their way through the dark to get to the ray of hope in the end.
I received an eARC from #Netgalley and #Timberpress for my unbiased opinion of #naturesbesthope
Loved the ideas around transforming private land to habitat and I definitely got a lot of ideas for my own backyard restoration projects. My criticism of this book is (1) it is very American focused and hard to apply for non-Americans, which isn’t that big of a deal (2) no meaningful discussion of Indigenous peoples as it relates to land management. The few mentions of Native Americans he says they’re GONE FROM THE LAND (what??!!) and how some Indigenous people were destructive to the land. Why is the limited discussion on Indigenous peoples relationship with the land focused on how they harmed the land? There is SO much missing to that story… (3) the entire discussion of the pioneers and heroes of conservation started and ended with Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Teddy Roosevelt… 🤦🏻♀️ All pretty problematic and very old school conservation dudes whose style of western conservation is probably not what we should be emulating going forward.
I agree with Tallamy's premise. I will implement several of his suggestions, and was appropriately stung by some of his commentary. However, I found that the ratio of preachiness to information was too high.
"You want a lawn! I totally understand. I understand that you might want to satisfy your social obligations and that your lawn is how you like to compare yourself to your neighbors! Totally get that you'd want to justify your existence with some grass, even if it destroys that natural world!" Or maybe it's just hard to kick a soccer ball through a field of goldenrod sometimes.
If there were less straw man polemic with the same amount of information, this would work well as a long form essay. In fact, if you find his interviews at the Washington Post or elsewhere, you've been exposed to almost all of his arguments. Nonetheless, do what he says!
Thank you, Timber Press, for the advance reading copy.
I love the cover so much!
And I do find the contents young reader friendly. However, I would suggest the contents have more colours with more illustrations/pictures as it would be less distracting for the target audience while reading this book.
Presentation wise, chapters are short, easy to read and follow. However, I was expecting to see some pictures or some form of art in each chapter.
The information given is good. You will enjoy this.
If you are already evangelized to native plant landscaping, there is not much new to gain here. However, it is a good book to help spread the gospel to those around you who express interest in gardening and our environment.
Reading the book from an ecologists perspective though brings about a harsher critique. Tallamy’s argument centers on land-use change by private homeowners to stem our extinction crisis. However, he only flirts with scholarly work here, selectively providing citations in some places and relying upon his credentials as an academic to seemingly carry him through the rest.
In terms of his actual proposal, if you are a common plant, insect, or generalist bird/small mammal, then Tallamy’s conservation plan will be great for you. The argument falls short for a large contingent of wildlife, especially apex predators. Tallamy sort of acknowledges this shortcoming in this line: “Thank goodness the things that run the world are little. If we needed to share are neighborhoods with big things like tigers, elephants, bison and giraffes, we would be challenged, indeed” (Pg 128). No, we do need to share our landscape with big things, and once upon a time we did have abundant macrofauna in “our” landscape. It’s in part because we have converted wild places to yards that these species face extinction.
Tallamy’s conservation plan also does not address aquatic life, which can not benefit from his benevolent view of private land ownership to the same extent terrestrial flora and fauna can. As a marine ecologist, I was left wondering how these ideas could transfer to a marine or freshwater realm where submerged lands are owned by the public. I guess if you are the Florida manatee you are S.O.L. and are doomed by the “shortsightedness of government policy.” (back cover).
Overall, the book is more right than wrong, and factual than unsubstantiated. The book sits oddly in-between a work clearly intended for the everyday reader and that of a serious proposal for conservation science. I would like to see a serious academic attempt by Tallamy in a future book to support his idea for conservation on private lands if he truly believes it is the only way forward.
The more I think about it the more I like the idea of having read Natures Best Hope as my first book of 2022. As I start the year and think about resolutions and themes of the year I wish to set for myself the more I learn towards ideas of giving back, or just actioning the knowledge gained from reading nonfiction books in general.
Climate Change and the 6th extinction is a funny thing right? It almost causes inaction in and of itself. We read reports about how corporations cause 80% of pollution and greenhouse gases and it all feels a bit moot when it comes to taking personal action.
Ending 2021 I felt some hopelessness while marinating on the above thought. In this regard I think reading Natures Best Hope is a nice response to the climate hopelessness I think many of us feel. Tallamay’s book focuses on one key point, in the US over 90% of land is private and on these lands we are either planting nothing, lawns, or non native plants that do not give back to our local ecosystems and are leading to the degradation of the native insects, fauna, and ecosystem as a whole.
If we as individual actors can come together and reintroduce native plants to our gardens we can rebuild these systems. It may be a lofty goal but I think It is worth trying.
If you follow me you may know I am partial to some anarchist philosophy or namely Solar punk solutions to many of our social and economic solutions. On a personal level I think that building community and participating in mutual aid is key to bridging the divides In our world and leading to a better life. And hey getting hands on with nature has been proven to improve mental health in and of itself. So what’s the harm In planting some native plants in our gardens this spring?
I would encourage others to read this book as well. It paints a hopeful picture going into 2022 and I hope we can go on this journey together. Thanks for reading friends.
This book gets 5 stars not because it is a great book, but because it is a book everyone should read -it offers measured, tangible steps you can take (besides recycling) on your own property to support wildlife and biodiversity.
We can do a little to prevent the so called Sixth Extinction by promoting biodiversity. Biodiversity needs space - and lots of land is in the hands of private owners in suburbia. These spaces are frequently given over to sterile lawns that, requiring fungicides and herbicides, don't support insects, birds or animals.
The author, Tallamy explains how we can - AND SHOULD - participate in building a Homegrown National Park by planting native species. We can give birds a chance, whether nesting, or stopping over during migration... in our yards. We can let insects breed. We can enjoy spaces with biodiverse life.
Lots of books great books out there available now. This book offers each of us a chance to do something.
1. shrink your lawn 2. get rid of non native plants 3. plant native species that support wildlife 4. place tiny bee hotels! ....
Extensive species notation is all a blur, but the point is to get us to local sources of know how.
In Bringing Nature Home, Douglas W. Tallamy discusses importance of planting native plants that feed many insect species. He gives us an introduction to specific plant and insect families. Without this foundation, vertebrates like birds, amphibians and mammals won’t have the resources they need to survive.
Nature’s Best Hope adds ecosystem-level Biology into the mix. We discover the big picture and learn how organisms work together to form functional food webs. The overarching message is that when we plant species that support native insects, they will effectively pass energy on to other organisms. Our small yards combine to form a huge area in which nature will thrive or perish. We can make a difference.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think about the environment and so many of the things that you see recommended feel removed from being able to see the impact of the change in your daily life. It can feel like one person can’t make a difference. What I liked about Nature’s Best Hope: An New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard is that the steps recommended impact your immediate area and that you can personally see the change. It’s not that the steps you take that don’t impact your neighborhood or community aren’t important or necessary, but it’s easier to stay motivated and take action with a more global view when you are changing the world around you at the same time. In this book, Tallamy focuses on making small changes within your own yard that increase the biodiversity of the plants and starts a cycle that better supports the environment in numerous ways. There is plenty of science in here, but it’s written for a someone without a scientific background - easy to understand and implement. I’ve seen some criticisms that said it felt preachy at times - that wasn’t my impression. I’ve been on various social media groups where it felt that there was no middle ground. Tallamy speaks to using native plants but also talks about the different between non-native plants and invasive plants. He talks about converting some of your lawn or yard to native plantings, trees, etc — but also acknowledges that people want lawns to walk through and for children to play. One of the other things I appreciated about the book is the discussion on how do you make the biggest impact - he gives resources that speak to which plants support the most species so you can make informed choices. Spoiler alert - in 84% of the US counties, oaks support the most species. This is a great book if you want to learn more about how you can impact your local environment in concrete steps. You can learn about the idea of a “Homegrown National Park” and gain an understanding about how the work you do in your lawn or on your balcony or patio can contribute to conservation on a larger scale. Highly recommend.
This is Nonfiction/Nature. I found the subtitle misleading and that, for some reason, always bothers me. Because of that, this was probably 2 stars for me....but....I liked the overall message so I added a star for that.
I would have liked this more if the there was more info on backyard reformation...and not just "rip out your lawn". Some specific advice would have been nice. So only 3 stars for this one.
If you plant it, they will come. That is, if you plant native trees and shrubs, insects that make caterpillars will eat their leaves. Then birds will come to eat the caterpillars, and biodiversity will flourish, and life, including human life, will thrive. If you plant introduced species, the native insects and birds, who have not developed a relationship with those plants, will not eat them. They will move away, or die. Remove enough species of plant, insect, and animal, and the complex ecological web can collapse.
This is already happening, as suburban lawns, being expanses that provide almost no food for wildlife, are nearly lifeless. Even worse, some introduced plant species become invasive, and spread out into the woods and fields, turning them into lifeless monocultures as well.
Until recently, most people have thought we could save nature by setting aside parks. But, Douglas Tallamy says, as human populations grow, and parks shrink, there is not enough pristine nature left. The parks are too small, and too isolated. We need connectivity, so that wildlife populations can find each other and mate. What we need is for nature to not just be in parks, but everywhere, even in the places humans call home.
For ages, people have thought of themselves as separate from nature. Nature is something that is out there somewhere. And that’s the way most people like it. People do not really want bugs, squirrels, or other animals where they live. The author says his own son called him, saying, “Dad, what do I do? I have foxes living under my porch.” Tallamy told him to rejoice. The son said, “But they might eat my kid.” If the naturalist’s own son doesn’t want to live with wildlife, imagine what a hard sell it will be with the home owner’s association.
Tallamy believes this will change. He believes even people who don’t care about plants or animals will come to realize that in saving nature we will save ourselves. I hope he’s right. Change can be hard, and people can cling pretty hard to “the way we’ve always done things.”
But Tallamy’s hope is infectious. He has hope because what he proposes is easy and it works. He says he has seen with his own eyes rare species of birds nesting in yards, when they were thought to only live in the deep woods, as long as they are provided with the right plants. He recommends people shrink the size of their lawns by half. The rest should be planted in native trees and shrubs. He says oak and cherry are the best, but refers readers to the websites of the National Wildlife Foundation and the Audubon Society for lists of species for your specific area.
He says not to be afraid of planting trees too close together. They grow close together in the forest, and when their roots entangle with each other, they hold each other up. There should be loose soil or low-growing plants under the trees, where the insects can pupate, to complete their life cycle. It’s also important to grow flowers for the pollinators, and provide homes for them. A source of bubbling water is a magnet for birds.
Tallamy says that if even one person plants their yard this way, it will help. But if a few do it, and a few more, and a few more, it will be the equivalent of a national park. He calls it Homegrown National Park. I was halfway there already. I call my own yard my Backyard Nature Preserve. I have fruit trees and berry bushes. I let the milkweed and the goldenrod grow. The dawn chorus is deafening on summer mornings. But I didn’t know about the importance of caterpillars in the food web. I didn’t know about the importance of pupation sites.
Tallamy says his idea of a Homegrown National Park is “Nature’s Best Hope.” I hope as well. I hope he’s right, and I hope it works, and I hope the lovers of neatly manicured lawns can be convinced to try something new.
I'm a left leaning, college educated, middle class mom of two. It goes without saying that I'm concerned about environmental wellness and climate change.
This book's appeal is in its accessibility. Its vocabulary and scope make it clear that it was written by a career conservationist, but the author is firm on his main point: conservation belongs to each and every one of us who owns property. He backs up this point with down-to-earth science describing conservation success in terms of an area's biological productivity. In short: how many birds and caterpillars can complete reproductive cycles in the area?
As well, the author includes some powerful anecdotes revealing successful habitat restoration amid the unlikely concrete jungles of Chicago and New York. How much better, then, are my chances with my suburban quarter-acre?
Action items are as simple as reducing the percentage of lawn (there are tips included on how to maintain an attractive, well cared for appearance) and adding native plant species that can support caterpillars. We aren't being asked to stop using paper towels or buy electric cars, here. Once we help facilitate our corner's wildlife restoration, nature is handy at filling in the blanks. Still, it's urgent that more of us do so immediately -- like, yesterday.
I'm leaving off a star from my rating, despite how effective this book was at inspiring me to take action, because it left me wanting for resources. I don't know what species to acquire for my yard, or where to source them, or how to plant them. The one website included as a resource suggests oak, willow, wild strawberry, and goldenrod. The trees are way too big for my property, and the plants are almost impossible to source because most people consider them a weed. So I'm a bit stymied. I have considerable Internet search skills, and I was able to find some native plant resources close to me from which I can source some other native flora, but many people will close the book frustrated in this.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me an advance copy of this book at no cost.
Nothing Wrong with this, but it's not really a New approach, and I chose it expecting something different. Biodiversity, native plants, wildlife corridors, leave the leaves, reduce the lawn... the usual. His tone early on was very condescending, stating that his readers probably had cookie cutter yards and constantly worried about impressing the neighbors, but this obnoxiousness eased up as the book moved forward. I did find his descriptions of the very limited ranges of some insects interesting. My main takeaway, though, was that asters and goldenrods give you the best bang for your buck in terms of supporting a wide variety of critters. And that IS the sort of thing I wanted to learn
The patio behind my new apartment is kind of depressing right now. Most of it is paving stones being slowly pushed up by the roots of a nearby maple tree. But I have big plans. Well, vague plans. I'd like something private and green year-round, but it also needs to be wildlife-friendly. Save the bees! After reading this book, my plans are now a little less vague, and I have a clearer idea of what to aim for. I've also been encouraged that I can have a wildlife-friendly space even if it is a mini-garden watched over by the HOA.
Why build your own wildlife garden? -Individual gardens can make a difference. Even if your yard/garden can't be a year-round habitat for wildlife, even if it's in the middle of a dense city, it can still support migratory birds and insect life. Tallamy asks you to think of it less as its own ecosystem and more "as one small piece of a giant puzzle." -What's more, we have a responsibility to be good stewards, as owners/residents of land that was probably a lot more wildlife-friendly before people started developing it. -Asking people to do something for the environment through deprivation (e.g. sell your SUV!) or for long-term benefit goes against human nature. We don't want to sacrifice and we aren't motivated by rewards 30 years down the road. But wildlife-friendly gardening is rewarding and lets you see a quick benefit. -"Parks and preserves are central to any large-scale conservation effort, but they will never be enough, because they are not large enough and they are not connected to one another."
Tallamy hates lawns. Me, too. Big waste of resources, and not very wildlife-friendly. However, he does see a couple benefits to turfgrass: -It's hardy enough to look good after being walked on, so it's still nice for paths. -Having some lawn as paths or borders for your wildlife plantings can signal to wary neighbors and HOAs that your potentially unconventional gardening does look good and is carefully maintained. As a rule of thumb, "think of lawn as an area rug, not wall-to-wall carpeting." And when mowing what lawn you do keep, "Set your mower height no lower than 3" (4" is better). ... There is a good chance you will be able to mow right over a box turtle without killing it. And try not to mow in the evening. As dusk approaches, many nocturnal species leave their hiding places and are vulnerable to being pulverized by your mower."
Insects need to love your plants as much as you do. It's not enough to have a lot of plants in your yard. Your plants need to promote diverse and plentiful native insect life. The most important for a healthy ecosystem are "caterpillars, [moth larvae], butterflies, and ... sawflies, plus the 4000 species of bees native to North America." Caterpillars in particular are important as a major source of food for birds, and birds often don't want to have to fly too far from the nest to find food because their chicks like to eat pretty much NON-STOP. Think hundreds of flights to and from the nest every day. It's worth picking out plants that will foster many different species of caterpillar. (I was especially impressed to learn just how many caterpillars a bird can eat, especially right after hatching as it grows big enough to leave the nest. I guess it makes sense, given how fast baby birds have to grow up.) The tl;dr is, however many caterpillars you think you need in your yard, you're probably underestimating it. One source Tallamy recommends for researching caterpillar-friendly plants is this one.
Plant for specialist bees. Tallamy recommends perennial sunflowers, goldenrods, native willows, asters, and blueberries. Blueberries are my personal favorite for obvious reasons. I really don't understand why more people don't have them in their yards. I've been so spoiled by the taste of homegrown blueberries that I can't even eat store-bought.
Choose the right native plants. Not all native plants are created equal. Some are much better than others at promoting a healthy ecosystem/food web. Tallamy calls these keystone plants and warns that your yard will be a sad disappointment without them. His favorite example is the oak tree, which is apparently a caterpillar haven, as long as you have some underbrush planted around the base rather than a lawn. This is because caterpillars often drop down to the ground to make a chrysalis; they look for fallen leaves, loose earth, or rotting logs, not turf grass and compacted dirt.
Native "weeds" are friends. Tallamy complains at all the nice plants we've labeled weeds just because we don't want them growing next to an imported Asian ornamental. "I am not asking that we share our prettiest plantings with anything that wants to grow there, or that we tolerate introduced pests such as chickweed and Johnson grass in our gardens. I am suggesting that we consider giving the many native species we have labeled weeds a place of their own somewhere in our landscapes so they can help us be better stewards of local ecosystems." And while we're at it, diversity is more bee-friendly. Even if your monoculture flowers for the bees, it's still a monoculture.
Plant trees. Tallamy makes a couple of good points: 1) trees provide shade in the summer and a windbreak in the winter, and 2) if you plant 2-3 trees close to each other, as they grow their roots will intertwine and make each tree less likely to uproot in a storm.
Install a bird bath. Nuff said.
Also a bee hotel. Even better, "build several small ones with only 4-5 holes each. Then disperse these smaller units throughout your yard. This will make it more difficult for bee predators, parasites, and diseases" to do their damage.
Stop fertilizing the daylights out of your garden. Also nuff said.
Critiques. If I had been this book's editor, I would have converted all the distracting in-line citations to endnotes. I'd have cut out some of the more tangential sections, like pondering where humanity's love of lawns might have come from, evolutionarily speaking. I also might have taken out a few of the many, many photos. A few seemed like filler, such as one photo of some unnamed wildflowers with the rather obvious caption, "Animal life simply would not exist without plants." I also occasionally disagreed with Tallamy's views. For example, he's pro-deer-cull, and he believes the global population size needs to shrink pretty drastically (he praises the aging populations of Japan and Italy as what the rest of the world should aim for).
Still, this is overall a fast and handy read for any American gardener looking to have a greener yard in more ways than one. Not all of his ideas are realistic or will be carried out to anywhere near the degree he calls for, but it didn't bother me. Much more of the book is him sharing plenty of practical advice with immediate results. It also really inspired me to start working on my patio.
It seems so obvious now, but if you believe in sustainability and want more bird watching, the answer is literally in your backyard. I’m definitely rethinking our plans for our yard remodel after reading this.
A compelling idea, persuasively told. As with many popular non-fiction books, the most important point is captured in the first few chapters with the rest of the book feeling somewhat repetitious. Do check out at least that chapter (or online summary!).
In many ways I am the choir for this book because we don’t fetishize the yard, already know not to use chemicals, and value the impact of insects much to our chagrin! However, I need more help knowing what plants to put in our yard to build our “home grown national park.” I will check out the inventories that Tallamy mentions (particularly interested in nurturing our caterpillar population(s) because of this book) but wish more resources were included in the actual book. While I get that they are climate and geography specific, some guidance could have been provided.