Rambunctious Garden, a Book Review

By Glenn Steinberg

Rambunctious Garden is not a gardening book.  It’s more a book about the philosophy of conservation, written for a popular audience.  As such, it’s very thought-provoking and deep.

The book begins by tracing how our concept of nature in America developed.  We tend to define nature as separate from humans – as pristine, wild, untouched.  But as Marris points out, there is little (if any) nature that hasn’t been touched by humans, and trying to undo human influences (and guard against future incursions) is costly and, ultimately, futile.  Humans are also themselves part of nature – a species like other species, not a separate category of being.  So, the way that we think about nature and the ways that we’ve generally thought about the conservation of nature are flawed.  Marris contrasts the “conservation movement’s persistent focus on wilderness” in America with the traditional European approach, which has instead “focused on sustainable human use and avoiding extinction” (p. 18).

So, if Americans give up our way of thinking about nature (as pristine wilderness), what happens?  How does our view of nature and conservation change?  Marris provides several interesting examples of how we might think anew about preserving and supporting nature.  Basically, if we stop trying to halt time (by seeking to preserve pristine wildernesses perpetually in their “original” or “natural” state) and instead try to do something else (such as support the greatest biodiversity possible or slow the rate of extinctions), our approach to conservation changes too.  Rather than focus only on preserving pristine wildernesses, for example, we might engage in assisted migration of plants that are threatened by climate change, introducing species that might otherwise go extinct (as global temperatures rise) into new regions further north or at higher elevations.  Such assisted migration flies in the face of traditional ideas of conservation, because it isn’t about preserving pristine ecosystems in their “original” or “natural” state but about preserving individual species from extinction, even if preserving the species means disrupting pristine ecosystems by introducing an endangered new, foreign species into them.

Marris also discusses other new approaches to conservation, including rewilding, designer ecosystems, and reconciliation ecology.

So, what does all this philosophizing about new approaches to conservation have to do with wildlife gardening?  Well, basically, when we garden for wildlife, we are participating in these new approaches to conservation.  We are engaging in reconciliation ecology – “inventing, establishing and maintaining new habitats to conserve species diversity in places where people live, work, or play” (p. 145).  We are rewilding our back yard and assisting in the migration of species to new habitats.  We are part of a movement to transform lands that used to be thought of as unnatural and lost to conservation into lands that serve human needs but also preserve nature in the background:  “This background nature comes in different flavors, to be sure, from vast fields of genetically identical corn to city parks to the last hectares of South America’s Atlantic Forest, where tiny golden lion tamarins swing from the trees.  Not all this land is equally valuable to most conservation goals, but all of it can be improved.  Those cornfields can grow strips of native plants on their edges; those city parks can provide food for migrating butterflies.  Thus the project of conservation is not just defending what we have, but adding lands to our portfolio and deepening value of the lands in play” (p. 135).  Our back yards can be part of that project too.

Emma Marris.  Rambunctious Garden:  Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World.  New York:  Bloomsbury, 2011.

100 Plants to Feed to the Bees – a Book Review

by Glenn Steinberg

Available at the Mercer County Library system

The Xerces Society.  100 Plants to Feed to the Bees:  Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive.  North Adams, MA:  Storey Publishing, 2016.

The Xerces Society’s guide to 100 Plants to Feed to the Bees, like Gardening for Butterflies (another Xerces Society book), is basic, reliable, and straightforward – a compilation of 100 types of plants that support bees and other insect pollinators.  From plants that almost everyone will recognize (such as Purple Coneflower and Goldenrod) to obscure species that only the most stalwart, veteran gardeners may know (such as Wood Mint or Gumweed), the list of 100 plants is interesting and informative.  I’m familiar with a lot of garden plant species, but there were new plants here for me to explore in the future.

But again, like Gardening for Butterflies, this is a very basic guide – almost too basic.  Information about each kind of plant is minimal – with spare, vague notations about preferred sun exposure and soil moisture for growing.  Each plant gets more (and more useful) information about “notable flower visitors,” including lists of bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, fireflies, and beetles that frequent the plant or use it as a larval host.  An indication of honey yields and flavor are also often included.  But plants are generally listed not by individual species but by genus, with all species within a genus lumped together.  For a small or uniform genus, this might not be a problem, but for a genus like Coreopsis, Rudbeckia, Asclepias, and others, the genus is so broad that trying to generalize about all its species together just isn’t terribly helpful.  While the authors claim to value “an emphasis on regionally native species” (p. 19), listing plants by genus makes knowing which species might be best in a particular region difficult (although examples of local species broadly for East and West are sometimes included).

Overall, this is an interesting, dependable book, but it’s not as detailed or thorough as most aspiring bee gardeners will want or need.

Book Review: Xerces Society’s Gardening for Butterflies

by Glenn Steinberg

Xerces Society.  Gardening for Butterflies:  How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects.  Portland, OR:  Timber Press, 2016.  ISBN 9781604695984.

Gardening for Butterflies is an excellent – though basic – book about gardening for butterflies and moths.  As someone who has been gardening with native plants for many years now, I found most of the information about garden design, plant selection, and seeding/plant installation to be pretty rudimentary – although even I learned of a new native species that I’d like to investigate for my garden.  For me, the sections on different families of butterflies and moths were the most interesting and informative parts of the book, since I knew very little previously about anything but monarch and swallowtail butterflies (and, frankly, not a lot about them).  There was also a very basic but informative section on observing, photographing, and raising butterflies.

What makes this beginner’s guide stand out is that it gives good, solid information, divided up into short, digestible sections with lots and lots of first-rate photographs.  Eventually, you’ll probably want to get other, more detailed books about native plants and more comprehensive guides of the members of the order Lepidoptera.  But as an introductory book on butterfly gardening, Gardening for Butterflies is hard to beat.

The Forest Unseen, a Book Review by Glenn Steinberg

Our thanks to Wild About Ewing‘s Glenn Steinberg for his latest book review which we are sure will galvanize the citizen scientists among us into noting more closely the habits and forms of the many wild inhabitants in our gardens.

Haskell, David George.  The Forest Unseen:  A Year’s Watch in Nature.  New York:  Penguin, 2012.  ISBN 9780143122944.

David George Haskell returned to the same square meter of Tennessee forest every couple days for an entire year, observing the living creatures, big and small.  The record of his observations is an interesting compilation of facts and reflections about the kinds of creatures that you may expect to find in your garden if you garden for wildlife – moths, salamanders, snails, bees, songbirds, mosquitoes, deer, caterpillars, ticks, fireflies, coyotes, katydids, vultures, squirrels, ants, raccoons, springtails, bacteria, fungi, hawks, and more.  You’ll learn that Eastern coyotes, a relatively new population that moved into Eastern forests for the first time in the 1930s and 1940s, are larger on average than their Western counterparts and often have traces of wolf DNA in their genes.  You’ll learn that sharp-shinned hawks in northern forests (including those in New Jersey) used to migrate south for the winter but that human bird feeders have increased the wintertime success of bird populations in the north and resulted in a greater supply of food for the hawks, ending their need to migrate south for the winter.  You’ll learn that slugs of the Philomycid family have beautiful markings on their backs that mystify sight with disruptive patterns that make distinguishing where the slug’s body begins and ends difficult – a form of concealment that works no matter what color background the slug traverses.

You’ll learn lots and lots and lots of other interesting facts about wildlife.  Late in the book, you’ll also learn Haskell’s purpose (and hope) in writing his meditations on all these forest creatures:  “I hope this book will encourage others to start their own explorations.  I was fortunate to be able to watch a small patch of old-growth forest.  This is a rare privilege; old growth covers less than one-half of a percent of the land in the eastern United States.  But old forests are not the only windows into the ecology of the world…. Gardens, urban trees, the sky, fields, young forests, a flock of suburban sparrows…. Watching them closely is as fruitful as watching an ancient woodland” (p. 244).  Personally, I love to sit and silently watch wildlife in my garden – from the bumblebee visiting my Comfrey’s flowers and the swallowtail caterpillars on my Fennel to the squirrel successfully getting seeds out of my “squirrel-proof” bird feeder and the pesky deer sauntering around my back yard, eating my Hosta and Daylilies.

BEE a Part of the Million Pollinator Gardens Challenge!

Did you know that June is National Pollinator Month? In celebration of the many contributions that are made by our pollinators, the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge was initiated by the National Wildlife Federation to recognize and encourage the planting of pollinator gardens. Wild About Ewing, a joint program of Ewing’s Green Team and Environmental Commission, asks all Ewing gardeners to “Bee” Part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and answer this call to action. Help preserve the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators and create wildlife friendly gardens and landscapes.

To answer the challenge and BEEcome a part of the solution, just follow these three simple steps.

Plant something for pollinators

  • Plant NATIVE plants that provide nectar and pollen sources
  • Provide a water source
  • Situate gardens in sunny areas with wind breaks
  • Create large “pollinator targets” of native or non-invasive plants
  • Establish continuous bloom throughout the growing season
  • Eliminate or minimize the impact of pesticides.

If you have followed these simple principles in your garden then, take the next step and

Register Your Garden at MillionPollinatorGardens.org

Register your Garden to BEE Counted. BEE sure to add a photo of your garden or landscape to the S.H.A.R.E map. Anyone and any size garden can join in the campaign to reach one million sites for pollinators!

Don’t forget the next step because we need to encourage every property owner to help sustain pollinators and all wildlife on their properties.

Spread the Word and get others to join in!

Keep the Challenge Growing! Invite others to your garden and talk to everyone about the importance of pollinators and how you can help.

Certify Your Garden

To learn more and join with us, we encourage Ewing gardeners to follow the steps listed above to create a wildlife friendly garden and then certify your garden or yard in the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program. Browse this site to learn more about Ewing’s Community Wildlife Habitat project and BEEcome a part of the solution!

Planting: A New Perspective – A Book Review

By Glenn Steinberg


Piet Oudolf & Noël Kingsbury’s Planting:  A New Perspective

This book has several drawbacks:

  1. It isn’t specifically about gardening for wildlife.
  2. It’s written by Europeans about (mostly) European gardens.
  3. It’s really more for professional landscapers than for individual, private gardeners.

At the same time, it’s an interesting book about garden design, a topic that most of us who seek to plant gardens that are welcoming to wildlife often know little about.

Once you’ve decided to garden for wildlife, you still have to decide what you want your garden to look like.  You have to decide how wild you want it to look and how aesthetically pleasing it should be to you, your neighbors, and the world at large.  Planting:  A New Perspective offers some advice about how to design the look of your garden – both abstract philosophical foundations and concrete, practical strategies.

Late in the book, Kingsbury lays out his philosophy of garden design:  “My own gardening is very much about planting and then allowing natural processes of growth, birth and death to take over, or at least to proceed under the eagle eye of my management.  The result is a far denser canopy than is considered normal for perennials…. [A] density approaching that found in natural plant communities is far more resilient than traditional ones with spaces between plants.  Maintenance will be also reduced” (p. 236).  Kingsbury, Oudolf, and designers like them “stress ecological process and dynamism – the idea that plantings will change over time and that the role of the gardener or manager is to direct these processes in a way which preserves or enhances their visual qualities and other desired features, such as species diversity” (p. 237).

So, if you’re rethinking the look of your garden (especially in the direction of a wilder, more natural appearance), Planting:  A New Perspective will give you much food for thought.

Other similar books to consider include Noël Kingsbury’s Natural Gardening in Small Spaces (Portland, OR:  Timber Press, 2003) and Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World:  Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (Portland, OR:  Timber Press, 2015).

Interestingly, all these books have come out of Europe rather than the U.S.  I’m hoping that a good book or two on natural garden design by and for American gardeners will follow soon.

Bibliographic Overview

Authors: Piet Oudolf & Noël Kingsbury
Title: Planting:  A New Perspective
Publisher: Timber Press, Portland, OR
Publication Date:  2013
ISBN: 9781604693706

Identify Common Backyard Birds

Check out this wonderful YouTube video on identifying common backyard birds.  It helps you to identify common wintertime backyard feeder birds and was designed for use by both new and amateur birders.  Visual characteristics and bird calls are provided to enable identification.  Suggested feeder food is provided for some species.

Plant List from Gardens with Buzz Presentation

Wild About Ewing was extremely fortunate to have naturalist, writer, photographer, and educator Mary Anne Borge present to Ewing gardeners. Mary Anne is the Associate Editor for Butterfly Gardener magazine, a publication of the North American Butterfly Association; an instructor and naturalist at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania; a Pennsylvania Master Naturalist, and the team leader for Lambertville Goes Wild. Her photographs have been featured in numerous publications.  She shares her love of nature through her writing and photography at the-natural-web.org

On March 25th she gave a presentation at the Ewing Library to a filled room entitled Gardens with Buzz.   Her plant recommendations for gardening for wildlife follows:

Perennials
Common Name Latin Name
Aromatic Aster Symphyotricum oblongifolium
Bee-balm Monarda didyma
Blue False Indigo Baptisia australis
Blue Wood Aster Symphyotricum cordifolium
Bluets Houstonia caerulea
Boneset Eupatorium species
Butterflyweed Asclepias tuberosa
Canada Anemone Anemone canadensis
Canada Violet Viola canadensis
Cardinal-flower Lobelia cardinalis
Cinnamon Fern Osmunda cinnamomea
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
Downy Yellow Violet Viola pubescens
Golden Alexander Zizia aurea
Grass-leaved Goldenrod Euthamia graminifolia
Grass-leaved Goldenrod Euthamia graminifolia
Green-headed Coneflower Rudbeckia laciniata
Helen’s Flower Helenium autumnale
Highbush Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Hoary Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum incanum
Indian Hemp Apocynum cannabinum
Jacob’s Ladder Polemonium reptans
Joe-pye-weed Eutrochium purpureum
Lowbush Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium
New England Aster Symphyotricum novae-angliae
New York Ironweed Vernonia noveboracensis
Purple Giant Hyssop Agastache scrophulariifolia
Shooting Star Dodecatheon meadia
Short-toothed Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum muticum
Short-toothed Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum muticum
Showy Coneflower Rudbeckia fulgida
Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica
Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
Viola pubescens Viola sororia
Virginia Bluebells Mertensia virginica
Virginia Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum virginianum
Virginia Spiderwort Tradescantia virginiana
Water Hemlock Cicuta bulbifera
White Beardtongue Penstemon digitalis
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis
Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum
Shrubs
Common Name Latin Name
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida
Gray Dogwood Cornus racemosa
Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius
Spicebush Lindera benzoin
Wild Black Cherry Prunus serotina
Vines
Common Name Latin Name
Dutchman’s Pipevine Aristolochia macrophylla
Trumpet Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens

Gardens with Buzz

Part II of Our Gardening for Wildlife Series

Wild About Ewing! is extremely excited to announce that they will sponsor Part II of an introductory series to the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat Project and how gardeners in Ewing are providing much needed wildlife habitat while getting credit for both themselves and their community at the Ewing Branch Library, 61 Scotch Road, Ewing on Monday, March 25th at 7 pm. Mary Anne Borge, a local naturalist, writer, photographer and educator, will tell you what you can you do to attract birds to your garden and which plants are best to entice bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to make their homes with you. She will also share maintenance techniques that are the most hospitable for these garden visitors and residents.

Mary Anne Borge is a naturalist, writer, photographer, and educator. She is the Associate Editor for Butterfly Gardener magazine, a publication of the North American Butterfly Association; an instructor and naturalist at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania; a Pennsylvania Master Naturalist, and the team leader for Lambertville Goes Wild. Her photographs have been featured in numerous publications. She shares her love of nature through her writing and photography at the-natural-web.org.

Part 1 of the series, entitled Gardening for Wildlife in the Suburban Landscape, was presented to the community on February 25th and we were thrilled to see so many interested Ewing gardeners. We hope that this will be start of a great gardening season for wildlife this spring and for the future!

Date: Monday, March 25th
Time: 7pm
Location: Ewing Branch Library, 61 Scotch Road
Cost: Free and open to the public

Wild About Ewing! Gardening for Wildlife in the Suburban Landscape

Wild About Ewing! will sponsor an introduction to the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Wildlife Habitat Project and how gardeners in Ewing are providing much needed wildlife habitat while getting credit for both themselves and their community at the Mercer County Library, Ewing Branch, 61 Scotch Road, Ewing on Monday, February 25th at 7 pm. Joanne Mullowney, Chair of the Ewing Green Team and lifetime gardener, and Glenn Steinberg, Chair of the English Department at TCNJ and long-term wildlife gardener, will introduce the National Wildlife Federation’s program, explain how to work the program to certify your garden, as well as how Ewing as a community is working the program.

Why We Need to Bring Nature Home to Our Own Backyards

Sixty percent of the world’s wildlife populations have been lost in just over the last forty years. SIXTY percent! That is the estimate from the latest Living Planet Report[1] published recently by the World Wildlife Fund. We have also personally taken note of the loss of local wildlife. Where are the boundless flocks of migrating birds that filled the autumn skies of our youth, the omnipresent lightning bugs that lit up our backyard summer evenings, the bug-splattered windshields from our driving trips, the butterflies, the bees, the bats…?

Habitat loss from suburban expansion and industrial agriculture are key. Suburban neighborhoods have exchanged healthy native habitats for vast stretches of manicured lawns which contribute little of ecological value. Industrial agriculture also plays a heavy role in unsustainable loss of habitat while also promoting synthetic chemicals and monocropping. We depend upon wildlife for critical ecosystem services and we wonder if we are destroying our planet’ s ability to support our way of life.

Joanne Mullowney states: “As a life-long gardener, my garden has always brought me a great deal of enjoyment and peace. Since I’ve started “re-wildling” my garden, I’ve realized what a sterile environment I’ve provided in the past. Gardening for wildlife has given me a truer enjoyment of the natural world and created a deeper connection to nature.”

How You Can Help

If you too are alarmed about the extent of this crisis and wonder what you can do to ensure that your children and grandchildren will be able enjoy the natural world as we did, we invite you to follow the example of members of Wild About Ewing, volunteers from Ewing’s Green Team and Environmental Commission who work to promote wider use of native plants and sustainable gardening practices, key components required to certify Ewing as a Community Wildlife Habitat recognized by the National Wildlife Federation. To become certified in the program, Ewing needs to accumulate 250 points in certified gardens from private properties, public spaces and schools. Each garden should support our native birds, insects, small mammals… by providing the essential life sustaining requirements of food, water, cover and places to raise young.

Members of Wild About Ewing are taking action for vanishing wildlife species and all Ewing property owners are encouraged to “bring nature home” on their own properties and join them in making a difference.

Wild About Ewing is conducting a public outreach campaign to property owners in Ewing to encourage them and assist them in certifying their properties. More information is available on the group’s website, https://ewingwildlifegardens.com/ and the Ewing Green Team and Environmental Commission’s Facebook pages.

[1] Living Planet Report – 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). World Wildlife Federation, Gland, Switzerland. 2018.