Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Living Landscape (the book)

Almost from the moment Doug Tallamy’s seminal book Bringing Nature Home was published in 2007, people were clamoring for a follow up. His initial book ignited a passion to bring nature to their home by using more native plants in the landscape. In particular, they were looking for some guidance on incorporating native plants in such a way that curb appeal was considered, for native plant gardens were long considered messy and weedy (even when they weren’t).

The second book is now a reality and it arrived on my doorstep this week. Dr. Tallamy has partnered with Rick Darke to create The Living Landscape, self-described as a “roadmap to a richer, more satisfying garden.” In order to do this, the authors provide inspiring examples and strategies for “making and maintaining a diverse, layered landscape – one that offers beauty on many levels, provides outdoor rooms and turf areas for children and pets, incorporates fragrance and edible plants, and provides cover, shelter and sustenance for wildlife.”

This collaboration is beautifully executed. Rick’s luscious photos bring to life the beautiful potential of our Eastern native plants. From picturesque views of natural settings to professionally executed landscapes, he captures the feeling many of us seek to create. You’ll find yourself longing to seek out many of these plants and bring them home. After you fall in love with this book, be sure to check out his earlier work, The American Woodland Garden, if you haven't already.
Eastern tailed blue butterfly

Doug’s contributions to the work remind us of the urgency of acting to change our landscaping mindset. A story of a blue grosbeak pair that nested in his yard hooks you right from the preface. How magical to play host to such gorgeous birds simply by making the right choices in your landscape. The reader is at once energized to take the steps needed to attract all the creatures that contribute to this story. The choices start simply with native plants.

For those hoping for a quick recipe on how to create the perfect blend of native and non-native plants for the suburban/urban residential landscape, this book will disappoint you. This book is meant to be explored and savored while it teases at your creative juices. Your mind is inspired while your understanding of our contribution to the local ecosystem broadens.

The book starts off with a thorough treatment of the concept of “layers.” We’re all familiar with the concept of vertical layers (canopy-understory-shrub-herbaceous) but here they cover horizontal layers too. Studying the layers helps to understand the need to replicate them to create healthy residential gardens.

Chapter 2 explores why communities and interrelationships matter. It’s an important concept to understand. The more we know, the more we realize why everything has a role to play in its ecosystem.

Chapter 3 offers a key message to residential gardeners in terms of what role our landscapes can play. Each small piece can contribute by providing ecosystem services even at the sub-quarter acre level: water and air filtration, carbon sequestration, support for pollinators, even just a single milkweed plant for a monarch to lay her eggs.

After Chapter 4 awakens our powers of observation, Chapter 5 takes us into application. A number of practical topics are covered, interspersed with pictures that illustrate the concepts. 

This native azalea is beautiful, fragrant and attracts butterflies
Throughout the book the real story is the plant and wildlife interaction. Many of the photos are of plants with birds, butterflies, caterpillars, bees, turtles and more. I hope this book is as inspiring to the average gardener as Dr. Tallamy's first book was. The practical selected plant lists for all regions provide guidance for both ecological and landscape functions. The beautiful pictures and success stories instill a longing to contribute, to give back to those that share this planet with us.

You'll enjoy the grosbeak story. And, if you're like me, you'll be hoping to find a snakeskin lined-nest in your own yard one day. When I do, then I'll know I did something right.

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