Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Kids in Nature

Richard Louv's important book, Last Child in the Woods, was written in 2008 and brought attention to the reality that few children actually get to spend much time playing freely outdoors.   It sparked a subset of parents and other adults who have been trying to encourage families to get their kids outdoors in nature.  Unfortunately, it's seemed (from the outside, at least) like a bit of a slog, fighting through the mud that is the way our society is currently set up - barren yards full of chemicalized lawn and non-native plants, schedules jammed with activities that require all of our highly scheduled time and attention, parks given over to sports' fields rather than natural areas, and a general distrust of free time as "unproductive", the ultimate sin in the U.S.

When I was in elementary school, I spent days...weeks... months exploring the woods and creek near our home in College Park, Maryland.  There were tadpoles and crayfish to try to catch, minnows and frogs to watch, and many, many special places where my imagination could run wild.  The holly glade magically hid me, the tiny islands became my kingdoms, the paths (deer?) became trails leading me to new lands.....  When we moved to Massachusetts, I continued playing in the woods but I was getting a bit older.  Now I had a favorite log on a hillside overlooking a pond where my best friend and I would go after school to talk and just generally try to figure out life.  I led a band of neighborhood kids in catching toads and keeping them, naming them and "training" them to race in sandbox toad races such as high jump, long jump, and speed or distance trials.  (What can I say?  I knew I'd never have a horse;  maybe this was scratching that itch!)

In junior high, in the Panama Canal Zone, I tried my hand at gardening (I was awful at it) and explored the sea shore as much as I could, bringing home hermit crabs and other sea creatures to form my own attempt at a personal zoo.  Sadly, coming home with me was generally a death sentence for the poor animals, but I tried my best to provide good habitat and food for them.  Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, which my maternal uncle had introduced to me, was one of my favorite books - and a real inspiration.  More mundanely, I collected shells, too.  A lot of shells, which I carefully worked to identify and which I housed in cigar boxes, grouped by "type": moon shells, pen shells, scallops, whelks, cowries, etc.  I wanted so badly to be a marine biologist...but our next move was to Kansas and I didn't know any marine biologists.  How did you actually make a living as a marine biologist?  My courage and my imagination failed me in figuring out how to step in that direction, and life soon led me in other directions.

All of this is to say that playing outside, freely and with little oversight, was incredibly important to me and was influential in forming the person I became.  Greg and I were able to give our kids a taste of that freedom in the natural world, too, when they were in late elementary and middle school.

And now we're trying to give the gift of free play in nature to our grandsons as well.

It's a goal that seems to get harder with each generation.  If my parents worried about where I was while I was gone for most of each day, playing in the woods, I was unaware of it, and the wild area was right down the street from where we lived.  I walked there.  When our kids were playing outdoors, we lived in farm country and they were able to ramble through a wooded draw behind our house and through a neighbor's cow pasture.

Where do kids play now?  There are few natural areas left where they can roam and wander at will.  There's so much fear about "danger" that parents actually get prosecuted for letting their children roam freely.  (Or, at least, that's the story we're told.)

So I'm working to make our personal landscape an interesting natural area for our grandsons to explore and play in.  I've come across a wonderful book by Nancy Striniste, Nature Play at Home, which has a plethora of great ideas for changing your yard from bland to fascinating.   I highly recommend it if the topic interests you at all.

When dead wood was trimmed out of our trees last month, I had the tree service leave the major branches and trunks.  One of the things I've done with that dead wood is create play areas for the boys in our yard.

Good habitat for people AND animals.

Even their dad has gotten in on the action!

Bare feet are the norm for the boys, not the exception.  In fact, it's hard now to get them to wear shoes, even in cold weather.  Talk about "grounding"!

And imaginations run wild.

My heart truly swelled with happiness and pride the day that the boys came outside, on their own, with notebooks, guidebooks, binoculars, and pencils to "study nature".

They are not always successful in their endeavors - patience was not their strong suit as Connor tried to entice birds to eat out of his hand.  But that's part of the learning.

Even meal times have an element of outside nature for all of us, as we watch our bird feeders from the table on the back porch.  The boys have become excellent birders.  For example, it was our older grandson who first noticed the immature male Baltimore oriole feeding on the bark butter feeder a few weeks ago.  I'm not sure I wouldn't have quickly glanced at the bird and dismissed it as the pine warbler that had been frequently visiting.  I never expected a Baltimore oriole in January!

In other interactions with animals, we and the boys watch fireflies at night in the summer - last summer we noticed 3 different waves of them: one in April, one in mid summer, and one in early fall.  The April fireflies seem to stay 30' or more above the ground.  I've even found the firefly larvae occasionally as I weed.  

We planted around 30 swamp milkweed last spring and we watched for monarch caterpillars all summer long;  we did find a few and we're hoping for more next summer.  Our plants are still young.  We've found large numbers of black swallowtail caterpillars on parsley, enough that we've had to hit the grocery store for organic parsley when the hungry hordes decimated the plants they were on.

Late this summer, a box turtle wandered through the front yard - the first one I've seen in our yard in 2 years.  We see skinks and a few baby toads.  The boys haven't shown any interest in toad races yet, though! 

I hope we're building happy memories for them, strongly grounded in the natural world, that will last the boys for a lifetime.  Most importantly, I hope we're helping to create a new generation that cares enough about the Earth to help care for it in the future.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A New Home, A New Yard, A New Challenge.....

 It's been almost 3 years since I last posted to this blog, for which I apologize.  Life has presented challenges for me, personally, during that time, as it has for all of us around the world.

We moved from Florida to southeast Virginia in August 2019, so I had to leave my Gulf Coast garden behind for others to tend and begin a new garden here in the Williamsburg area.  This is proving to be a real challenge.

For the first time in many years of gardening, I find myself floundering, even with the basic thoughts of what I want to do in this yard.  While I love trees and woodlands, I'm unsure how to proceed in our secondary growth, eastern deciduous forested yard.  My goals seem strong, yet confusingly nebulous:  use native plants and improve the habitat, while designing a yard that encourages others to WANT a native landscape and that fits in with the somewhat traditional neighborhood we live in.

This photo was taken today from the front of our house, looking towards the street.  I've started incorporating fallen wood and wood from having our trees trimmed, but that's a post for another time.  As always, during the winter, you can see the "bones" (which are rather bare), but there are perennials and ferns moving in... you can see from this photo, taken from the front porch taken in mid October.  So far, however, it's all very haphazard.

So, to give you an outline:  our yard is 2/3 acre, with 100' tall deciduous trees and understory trees.  The only shrubs present were planted by prior owners and are almost exclusively non-native ornamentals, while the ground layer was dominated by Japanese stilt grass and assorted other non-native weedy plants when we moved in.

I have spent the last 2 summers learning about and observing our yard.  Weeding has been my primary activity, pulling out stilt grass and other weeds like false strawberry, oriental hawksbeard, and ground ivy. While I've weeded, I've watched to see what plants I find buried within the weeds and seeding in.  There have been some fun finds along the way:

striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata),

cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor),

cutleaf grape fern (Sceptridium dissectum), 

and southern adder's tongue (Ophioglossum pycnostichum).  None of these plants are large or showy, but all 4 of these species are dependent on mycorrhizae in the soil, which tickles me because it means that our soil still has some serious life in it and is, presumably, fairly healthy.

Moss covers many areas of the soil - and I have quickly learned that it is a wonderful seedbed for other plants, desirable and otherwise.

Serendipitously, I am finding seedlings of wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and a few perennials like old field aster (Symphotrichum pilosum), mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) and golden ragwort (Packera aurea), a healthy clump of which showed up on its own.

Above is a clump of aster that self seeded into the front bed by our walkway.  I think it's an old field aster, but I'm not completely sure, since this one is taller and airier than the others.  That could, of course, simply be due to higher levels of shade.  If you look closely, you can see some mist flower in front of it - they make a nice combination, I think, blooming at essentially the same time.  The aster is much too large for this spot, though, and will be moved this spring.  I'm not sure if I'll be moving the mist flower along with it.

Several different kinds of ferns have shown up in the yard as well, including the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) you see to the left here, sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), and others that I'm still leery of naming with any certainty.

Now that I'm ready to change from focusing on weeding and discovery to planning and planting, I'm stuck on dead center.  The best I've come up with so far is to create a path through a "woodland garden", then plant the garden alongside it that will make the path enjoyable.  I also dearly want some sort of screen between the front of the house and the road. 

Meanwhile, I'm "leaving the leaves" and hoping to encourage a healthier soil microbiome and more invertebrate life.  So far I've seen few invertebrates at ground level, which worries me.

So wish me luck, please.  On this project, I can use all the luck and good wishes that I can get!

And help me, please, to keep perspective about my fellow "gardeners" here: the deer, the voles, and the Asiatic garden beetles.  They, too, are an integral part of the challenge of gardening in this beautiful area.

At least they don't seem to like ferns.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Insects Using Gaillardia in My Gardens

Another staple of my (native) pollinator plants is Indian blanket or Gaillardia, Gaillardia pulchella to be precise.   This widespread, short-lived perennial blooms for months and months;  the colorful blossoms almost always seem to have some sort of insect on them. 

Interestingly, though, as I went through my photos, the variety of insects utilizing Gaillardia was not as great as it was for fogfruit.  For 2018, I have photos of only 6 different species using Gaillardia in my gardens. 

By far the most frequent visitor to my Indian blanket flowers was Poey's Furrow Bee (Halictus poeyi), one of the small, somewhat nondescript, native bees. 

I saw this little bee a lot, from early June through the end of October, and it could well have been present before or after I have it documented photographically.  As I understand it, the hook on the back, lower corner of the head, which you can see in this photo, is "diagnostic" of this species.  Even in photographs, though, it can be hard to see this feature due to the diminutive size of this bee and the fact that it tends to round its back and tuck its head a bit as it feeds.

This is typical of what I usually see, even through the camera lens, when looking at Poey's Furrow Bee.

Throughout the summer months, the Brown-winged Striped Sweat Bees (Agapostemon splendens) visited regularly.  I love these vivid little green jewels.  The females are solid green, while the males have black and yellow striped abdomens and a green "jacket" on the thorax. 

In the photo above, the male is probably more interested in the female than in the flower.

Here is a closer view of a different female, giving you a bit more of a feel for the vivid coloration of these little sweethearts.  What a disappointment the common name of this bee is - "Brown-Winged Striped Sweat Bee".  The "A. splendens" of the Latin name much more closely describes how I feel about them!

An insect that I've seen on several different plants around the yard, this Camouflaged Looper, a.k.a. the caterpillar of the Wavy Emerald Moth (Synchlora aerata), looks a bit different depending on which bloom it's raiding for its wardrobe.

What looks like a large, brightly colored piece of debris hanging from the underside of the flower is, in fact, the caterpillar with bits of petal attached.   

Yes, the bloom this little guy raided looks rather tattered, but I personally think it's well worth the less than perfect blossom to see how the flower finery has been used!  In 2018, I photographed camouflaged loopers on Gaillardia blooms on June 23 and again on August 5.

Getting back to native bees, one of my favorite groups is the leafcutter bees.   Females in this group are easy to recognize because they carry pollen in hairs on the underside of their abdomen, giving them a potbellied appearance.
This cute little female (Megachile sp.) demonstrates that trait perfectly.

The only insect I photographed utilizing something besides the bloom of Gaillardia was this paper wasp, which I saw on July 18th.

Truthfully, I don't know if I just didn't notice other insects on the stems and leaves, or if few insects actually utilize the foliage of this plant.

The final insect in my Gaillardia roundup is this flower beetle, the Pygmy Chafer (Strigoderma pygmaea).

In conclusion, I enjoy having Gaillardia in my gardens a lot, finding that it brings in a reasonable number of insects and provides a nice pop of color throughout most of the growing season.  Loving full sun and tolerating pretty dry conditions, it's usually very easy to grow.  The only downside I've found to Gaillardia pulchella is that each individual plant lasts for 2-3 years at most.  It will reseed a bit and, if I watch for seedlings, I can usually keep it as a garden presence without having to buy it again each year.  If you live within its (wide) native range, I'd definitely recommend it for your pollinator garden.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Turkey Tangle Fogfruit Community

Certain plants seem to create large communities of insects and other wildlife within my garden.  I thought I'd do a series on a couple of these species, starting with Turkey Tangle Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora).  As I've gone through my photos from last year, I realized I've got pictures from at least 23 different species of animals using this species in 2018 alone - and that's just the number I captured with my camera.  I know there were animals using it that I wasn't able to capture on film (like swallowtail butterflies).  I'm equally certain there were animals using it that I simply didn't see.

Fogfruit is not a showy species to my eye.  Although some people really like its dainty flowers, to be honest, I find this plant rather blah visually.  It is, however, a powerhouse for supporting pollinators and other insects and, as such, has earned a place in my yard whenever possible.

Essentially a groundcover, fogfruit grows around 8" tall.  About 3 years ago, I started out with 2 plants in gallon containers, planted 2' apart.  The fogfruit now covers an area that is about 6' X 8' - and it would be happy to be out in the driveway and into the street, too, if we didn't keep it trimmed back.  On the plus side, fogfruit manages to hold its space fairly well, once established, and doesn't need much of any care.

The first photos I have of the animals it harbored last year are from mid-May.

Here is a small spider that I saw on May 15th, then didn't see again all year.  It's a pretty little thing which the great folks at Antman's Hill on Facebook helped me to identify as an orbweaver, Gea heptagon.

On the same day, I captured a photo of this little syrphid fly (Toxomerus sp.) nectaring at one of the fogfruit blossoms.

Like others in this genus, the larvae of this fly feed on aphids, thrips, and small caterpillars throughout the garden, so it's nice to see the adult visiting.

By June 10th, the action was heating up.  There was this cute little orange "teddy bear" nectaring, a bee fly (Chrysanthrax cypris).

Cute as this guy is, its life cycle is less cuddly.  Flies in the Chrysanthrax genus are external parasitoids on the cocoons of some solitary bees and on the cocoons of tiphiid wasps, which are themselves predators of beetle larvae.  The "balance of nature" is sometimes hard for me to feel comfortable with and gracefully accept, but I do my best.

Throughout June and again in August, I have photos of another bee fly (Exoprosopa fascipennis) nectaring at the fogfruit.

Again, I find this an attractive little creature, but again its life cycle is rather fearsome.  The bee flies in Exoprosopa feed on the cocoons of many different kinds of wasps, including the tiphiid wasps mentioned above, spider wasps, and a group of solitary wasps known as sphecid wasps.

Speaking of wasps, in mid June, this scoliid wasp (Scolia nobilitata) was enjoying the fogfruit nectar, too.

Scoliid wasps are parasitoids of beetle grubs, especially the grubs of May beetles.  The females dig down to the grub, sting it to paralyze it, and deposit on egg. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva eats the perfectly preserved beetle grub.  I like my grub control to be natural (even if it is rather gruesome that way)!

Since both the bee flies and the scoliid wasp were nectaring at the same time on the same plant, it is possible that one or the other of the bee fly species parasitizes this scoliid wasp species, following females as they leave their feeding ground and search for beetle grubs to parasitize.  There is so much about these little guys that we simply don't know, even things as basic as which bee fly species parasitizes which wasp species.  Often these predator/prey relationships with parasitoids are very specific, confined to just one or two species, or perhaps between two particular genuses.

Moving back to less gory lifecycles, a couple days after photographing the pretty wasp above, I started capturing images of butterflies and skippers.  First was this Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on June 16th.

 Since the larvae of fiery skippers dine on grasses such as St. Augustine, this species is relatively common.

On June 22nd, I photographed the first Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon) of the year, although these photos are from later in the summer.

These cute little orange butterflies utilize fogfruit as their larval plant, as well as obviously nectaring on it.  Since I see quite a few of them, I'm pretty sure that my little patch of fogfruit is producing phaon crescents, but I've never actutally found one of the caterpillars.

Something sure likes to eat the fogfruit leaves, though!

I spotted this dainty damselfly hanging out around the fogfruit several times last summer. It's the only damselfly or dragonfly species that I photographed on the fogfruit last year, and the folks at Antman's Hill identified it for me as a male Rambur's Forktail (Ischnura ramburii).  That makes sense, as I've seen the (orange) female Rambur's Forktail in the yard multiple times, although I've never photographed one on the fogfruit.

There were several more wasps and bees over the course of the summer, including this potter or mason wasp on July 20th, .....

...and this paper wasp (Polistes metricus) on August 10th.

I actually don't see many paper wasps in the yard - which is fine with me.  Instead, I see lots of solitary wasps, who are generally much easier to share space with. 

One of my favorite finds was this cute little black leafcutter bee, the Carpenter Mimic Leafcutter Bee (Megachile xylocopoides).  As the name suggests, this stunning black bee with the fluorescent blue shimmer is considered a mimic of larger carpenter bees, specifically the Southern Carpenter Bee, which I also saw in my yard last summer.

Note the long hairs on the underside of the abdomen?  That's how you can tell it's a leafcutter bee - at least if it's a female.  Female leafcutter bees carry pollen in those hairs, often giving them a potbellied appearance.  This gal was apparently feeding herself, not gathering pollen for future offspring.

On August 8th, I was able to capture photos of a Barred Sulfur (Eurema daira) visiting...

...and if you look closely at the stem a few inches below the blossom, you'll see the wad of spittle that signifies a spittlebug nymph feeding - yet another insect species utilizing the fogfruit.

A few days later, I photographed this crisp Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus sp.).

Apparently, most skipper larvae fold and sew leaves together to make tent shelters for themselves, so don't be too quick to destroy any such structures you might come across in your garden.

Of the 23 species I photographed on my Turkey Tangle Fogfruit in 2018, the above photos were the most interesting and/or the insects were the most photogenic.  Rounding out my 23 species were 4 more species of flies, 2-3 species of small beetles, a honeybee, and two other bees I haven't been able to identify yet.

Like the plant they were visiting, most of these animals aren't large or particularly beautiful.  They are the everyday denizens of our gardens, busily living their lives and often feeding other animals in the process.  To me, each of these species has the right to exist, the right to its place on this Earth, just as much as any other species has that same right.  I hope that, someday soon, we humans can learn to coexist with the other plants and animals on this planet, instead of needlessly and carelessly destroying them.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


After reading this review, you can heave a big sigh of relief -I will have caught up with all my gardening related book reviews!

Having just finished Climate-Wise Landscaping, I feel very au courant in writing this review!

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but somehow this book seemed different from what the title suggested it was going to be - different in a good way, more important, filling a gap that's been existing in gardening literature.

Climate-Wise Landscaping:  Practical Actions for a Sustainable Future, by Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt, New Society Publishers, British Columbia, Canada, 2018, is a perfect guide for people who are worried about our planet's future and are looking for something that they, personally, can do to help lessen climate change and to make our ecosystems healthier.

Every single piece of land can help heal our planet.

There are ten sections in this book, each section dealing with an area of the landscape around a typical home, wherever it is located, starting with the lawn.  Why do Reed and Stibolt begin with the lawn?  As they put it, "...[C]hanging the way we think about and deal with our lawns might be the easiest and most significant step we can take to help the planet."  How much lawn do you think there is in the continental U.S.?  According to the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, as quoted in this book, there is about 63,000 square miles of lawn, an area approximately the size of the state of West Virginia.  That's a lot of lawn - and most of it gets mowed weekly, inundated with fertilizers and pesticides, and irrigated.  Despite all those inputs, lawn produces no food, for people or even for wildlife.  It's essentially a sterile wasteland.

Reed and Stibolt go on to cover many other ways we can help the climate by changing the way we use our landscape.  For example, planting trees sequesters a lot of carbon, as does, surprisingly to me, increasing the health of soils and decreasing the disturbance to them.  Did you know that soils sequester more than 4 times the amount of carbon as forests?  I didn't.  Apparently they are the second largest carbon dioxide absorbing system on our planet, after oceans.  I also didn't know that every time you disturb the soil - through digging, for example - you release carbon dioxide.  So switching from planting annuals, which have to be replanted regularly, to planting perennials actually helps the planet by sequestering carbon!

I'm all for minimizing digging, so that's what I call a win-win.

There's a section on how good planning and design of a landscape can help decrease energy use (and thus carbon dioxide emissions), as well as a section specifically devoted to urban issues.  Each section contains an introductory explanation, followed by a series of "Action Topics", specific ways you can make your landscape work to help stabilize Earth's climate and often to help yourself and other living things at the same time.

Last, but hardly least, the final section covers materials that are commonly used in landscaping and evaluates their carbon footprint, helping us choose rationally among such options as concrete, brick, stone, even asphalt.  This is the first time I've ever seen a carbon analysis of landscaping materials and I really appreciate finding it included in this book.

This is an excellent resource to start with if you're interested in personally doing something specific to help the future of our species and of our planet.  It's a broad overview of the topics covered;  for specific details, you will probably want to explore the areas that interest you further, with further reading or study.  Most of all, Climate-Wise Landscaping examines a broad array of possibilities - and possibilities are a great starting point for building a better future. 

Friday, October 26, 2018


I don't know about you, but I have a perplexing habit of buying books and then getting distracted before I actually read them.  Thus my shelves are full of books that look awesome, but that I haven't read yet.

The Inward Garden:Creating a Place of Beauty and Meaning, by Julie Moir Messervy, Little, Brown and Company, 1995, is a book that has been a victim of my book hoarding habit, but this spring I finally read it - cover to cover - and  I fell in love.  I truly don't remember when I found and bought this book.  I'm hoping it wasn't shortly after it was published, in 1995, because that would mean that I've been unnecessarily missing the wisdom found within its pages for over 20 years.

Unlike the last 3 books I've reviewed, which have focused on native plants and gardening for wildlife, this book is more of a classic garden design book.  And yet it's so much more than just that.....

The Inward Garden encourages us to make gardens more than just pretty places.  In the beginning of this book, Moir Messervy describes a garden in this way, "...[A] garden means far more than just a planted place.  It is a touchstone;  a repository of memories that forms a place of joy in your life.  A garden exists not only as part of your backyard landscape, but as a site that resides in your imagination, a collection of personally satisfying images that can be expressed upon your land."

Do you remember your favorite outdoor places to be as a child?   Are you drawn to enclosures or promontories?  What's your personal image of paradise?  Moir Messervy guides us through these sorts of questions, showing us how our gardens can reflect our own personal histories and memories, our own personal inspirations.  First, though, we have to THINK about these sorts of questions - and then we have to take the answers we've come up with and help them take shape within the parameters of our actual physical space.

There are so many components we can draw upon to create our own touchstone gardens:  color, form, sound, light, plants, geometric vs. natural order, uniformity vs. variety.  It's hard to keep track of all of the different possibilities, but Moir Messervy helps us think about each one in turn without dictating what is "right" or "better".

To a great extent, this book is a combination of psychological concepts and gardening, examining such classic themes as the sacred forest, a classic hut, the need for enclosure, thresholds, bridges, and gateways.   Moir Messervy talks about journeys through our gardens, both mental and physical, with starting points, pathways, and destinations.  

 "...[P]eople garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark.  Through gardening, we feel whole as we make our personal work of art upon our land."

The Inward Garden is a book to aid us in making our gardens into true personal works of art upon our own land.  With ideas and passions to inspire us, this is a book that gives us a serious look at the kinds of gardens we can to aspire to create.  The richness in this book is many layered and it invites us to return for refreshment and new inspiration again and again and again.  I highly recommend finding a copy of this classic work and immersing yourself within it.  You'll be so glad that you did.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Quite a few years ago now, I started "talking" with my books by underlining passages that spoke to me and by writing comments in the margins.  It was hard to do at first, but once I got over my good-girl habits of keeping my books pristine, I found that it really helps when I go back to a book to review and refresh myself about what it said.  Most importantly, doing this provides a conversation to join when I reread the book.  I can see what captured my attention originally and compare those ideas to what strikes me now, making my understanding of the book deeper with each reading.  Occasionally I've even shared a book with a friend and invited her to comment (in a different color ink), which adds yet another level of interaction with the written words.

Because of this habit I have of physically talking with my books in written form, one of my easiest "sorts" for which books I want to keep and which ones just need to be passed along is a simple look to see whether or not I've underlined and commented in the book in question.  If it wasn't interesting enough to mark up, it's not interesting enough to keep.  Maybe someone else needs that book more than I do.

A New Garden Ethic, by Benjamin Vogt, New Society Publishers, BC Canada, 2017, passed my "Do I keep this?" sorting question with flying colors.  It's marked up all over the place.  It's marked up so much that my big question for this post is, "How can I possibly do this book justice in a simple, short review of it?"

As I sat down this afternoon to start thinking about writing this review, I began to thumb through the pages.  An entire paragraph highlighted here.  Exclamation point there.  "Great series of questions...." on one page.  Lots of "Wow!" and "Yes!" comments in the margin.  Ideas for blog posts.  Books to read.  More underlining.  Asterisks.  Occasional notes asking about sources for certain claims.  There is so much to digest here that I've become convinced A New Garden Ethic would make a wonderful book for a gardening book club to read and discuss - probably over a long weekend, as a single hour or two wouldn't be nearly long enough.

One interesting twist to this ecological gardening book is its author, Benjamin Vogt.  Dr. Vogt has a PhD, but it's in creative writing, not in biology or ecology or horticulture or landscape architecture or any of the myriad fields that one would normally associate with a book of this nature.  That said, prairie and ecological garden design are obviously deep passions for Vogt and he's educated himself accordingly.  Coming from a creative background, his writing has a vibrancy that can sometimes be lacking in more scientific tomes.

I'll be up front, though:  to me, Vogt's lack of scientific training shows up rather glaringly here as a lack of citations for some of his specific facts.  It is not enough to say Scientist Y did a study in which she found xyz.  I want to know where to find that study - what journal was it published in?  when and where was the study performed?  what were the parameters?  I want to be able to delve into some of those studies more closely to see if the findings are being accurately reported in what was written.  I may want to use those statistics in something I write, too, but I'm not going to quote statistics without knowing where they come from, even in a simple blog post.  A revised edition with this major flaw remedied would strengthen this book significantly, in my opinion.

Beyond that flaw, though, there's an incredible amount of substance in this book that captures my spirit and that doesn't rely on specific studies or individual facts.  Take this wonderful passage that I've seen others pull from the book as a quote, "We live in a world of perfectly spaced plants that mimic headstones aligned in exact intervals.  Wood mulch is more important to us than flowers.  We clean up our gardens like they are living rooms after the children have gone to bed."  With 3 lines, Vogt has given us several iconic images that capture the lack of real life in so many modern gardens.

In the first chapter of this book, Vogt gives us a basic framework about what he sees as being right and wrong about most gardens, yards, and natural areas in our current day and age.  This framework leads him to a statement of a new garden ethic that he believes we need to live by if we want to have our gardens function as more than just a pretty fashion accessory...and Vogt is compelling as he shows us why we want our gardens to function so richly.

With native plants being integral to ecological function in any landscape, Chapter 2 is generally a discussion of native plants, their importance, and the pushback against their use in many circles.  There's a small, fascinating section on the politics and culture of using native plants:  is it "fair" or "democratic" to say that gardeners should only use native plants?  "When we step in and impose our ideals of democracy on a landscape, we disrupt and destroy the landscape, altering life processes that have worked long before we created human democracy...."  Vogt notes that plant culture should not be mistaken for human culture, that nature and ecosystem function have little to do with patriotism or freedom or other political concepts.

In the remaining 3 chapters of the book, Vogt discusses a wide variety of topics ranging from cognitive dissonance and the value of anger and hopelessness to the impact of the Enlightenment on where we are today, all with the object of moving us towards developing and being willing to utilize the defiant compassion that he believes we need to bring to our relationship with our landscapes and gardens.

A New Garden Ethic is a call to action, a call to enrich our own lives and the world immediately around us by connecting deeply to our specific physical environs.  By answering this call, Vogt believes we can each help to save the planet's living fabric, one garden at a time.