Book Review: Bringing Nature Home

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a book that tells me exactly what I need to know. Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy has been the book of the year for me. I ordered five copies and gave them away as gifts (well, one I kept) and I expect I'll continue telling people about it until everyone gets the message or pours a bucket of cold water over me.
Tallamy is a professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware. In his book, he writes about research that shows conclusively that native American species are critically dependent on native American plants. But this is not a dry and boring research review. Tallamy writes from his own experience, and uses many examples. In 14 chapters that cover such topics as "The Vital New Role of the Suburban Garden", "Who Cares About Biodiversity?", and "Answers to Tough Questions", he educates and entertains. The book also includes photos of native insects and birds, and, sadly, of landscapes invated by multiflora rose and bittersweet. Californians who live along the middle coast could add their own photos of the new coastline with Pampas grass, which did now grow here even ten years ago and is now rampant, displacing natives and looking out of place.
Like many gardeners, I'm often on the fence about how native I want to be. You usually can't quite get the stunning color combinations or just the right shape for a spot using natives. The plants you can buy in the nursery are usually tough, easy to take care of, and pretty. Natives are harder to find and may need more attention when they're small. But Tallamy makes very clear that natives are important. "We have allowed alien plants to replace natives all over the country. Our native animals and plants cannot adapt to this gross and completely unnatural manipulation of the environment in time to negate the consequences. Their only hope for a sustainable future is for us to intervene to right the wrongs that we have perpetrated. In order to let nature creat its course, we must first recreate nature."
Tallamy also includes some stories about the landscaping industry that just want to make you cry. I had not known that the sudden oak death fungus was imported on rhododendrons from Germany and identified in 1995. He says "Unbelievably, in May of 2005, infected nursery stock was shipped from California and Origon to 23 other states. Georgia alone received 59,000 infected plants..." What is so sad is that the gardeners that planted the infected rhododendron only wanted to create beauty. But problems of such diseases that kill natives can be avoided completely if we stick with natives.
So, what makes sense to me is to focus on natives, and to create a garden that is appealing to both the critters and the people. Too many people think of natives as weeds, and there's only one way to show them they can be colorful, have interesting shapes, and delight by being unusual.
So, do yourself a favor and buy the book. I had trouble ordering it from my local bookstore, so I got my copies from You can also have a look at the book's site and from Timber Press, which offers free shipping and has a tempting array of other gardening books on their site.


lostlandscape said…
Sounds like a cool book--definitely worth seeking out. Thanks for the recommendation.
Linda said…
i agree, this is one of the best, most informative books i have read this year. it makes one pause to think seriously before squishing or running for a spray when you realize it may be the insect that feeds the hatchling or a future, beloved butterfly. i would consider it a must read for every gardener, native or traditional. [i also bought about 5 of them to give as gifts.] ls