In honor of Earth Day 2020, we’re posting this book review from our May/June 2020 issue of Northern Gardener. We share author Douglas Tallamy’s belief that home gardens are “nature’s best hope,” and that gardeners will play a significant role in conserving the Earth, one garden at a time.
In Nature’s Best Hope (Timber Press, 2019), Douglas Tallamy urges homeowners to take conservation into their own hands—and yards. He advocates steps that any homeowner can take now to improve the ecosystem around their home and to make their landscape more alive with creatures we depend on, particularly insects. Tallamy is inspired in part by noted conservationists Aldo Leopold and E.O. Wilson, who argues that half of the Earth must be left human-free to preserve biodiversity. But Tallamy offers an alternative to setting aside vast expanses of land exclusively for conservation—turning private property into mini-nature preserves.
The concrete steps Tallamy suggests are not new or difficult, but they work best if lots of gardeners take them. Shrink the size of your lawn; plant lots of native trees, shrubs and perennials; stop using pesticides; remove invasive species and plant fewer (if any) exotic plants. One recommendation really worth thinking about as you design your landscape is to plant what Tallamy calls “keystone genera.” These are the native plants that serve an abundance of insects, birds and other animals. Oaks support more than 900 types of caterpillars in the United States, for example, and are probably the best tree any conservation-minded gardener could plant. But don’t forget about cherries, willows, cottonwoods, goldenrods, asters and sunflowers. You can find a list of local superstar plants for your area via the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder.
Nature’s Best Hope outlines clearly the environmental and climate problems we are facing, but it also offers hope—and it’s a hope you can implement at home on Earth Day and all the days afterward..