Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day and books that inspired me to be more green in my life and in my gardens

Scott Hokunson of Blue Heron Landscape Designs here in Connecticut invited me to participate in the Earth Day Reading Project - Blog Meme, started by The Sage Butterfly blog.

The mission of the blog meme is to have bloggers review at least three books that have inspired them to live, garden and design green or practice sustainable living in some way.

So many books have inspired me in my everyday quest to live and design in a more sustainable way, but my three favorites are Noah's Garden by Sara Stein, Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy and Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines by William Cullina.

In Noah's Garden, Sara Stein inspired me most by documenting, in a very conversational and engaging way, her journey from a conventional, ornamental style gardener to a true ecologist whose life's mission was to help stop the homogeneous quality of America's subdivisions' landscapes.  In her book, she describes how she had an eventual epiphany while building her New England gardens that she had come "into gardening backward" and was an "illiterate gardener".   She gives vivid detail about how she converted her highly styled conventional gardens to ecologically sustainable havens in prose that reads so fluidly that I couldn't put the book down.   Just reading about how she abandoned dividing irises in her quest to create a naturalized and mostly native landscape inspires me to rid myself of this time consuming, dreaded chore and say "goodbye to German irises without regret" as she did.  "Our responsibility is to species, not to specimens, to communities, not to individuals".  I haven't even come close to the feat Sara and her husband accomplished in converting her ornamentals to mostly natives, but reading her book,  and referring to it again and again, continues to inspire me and give me hope.  I'm not sure if I can ever give up on my German irises as they have such meaning for me, but I can continue to bring natives into my gardens, as Sara did, to build the most sustainable landscapes I can.

William Cullina, the nursery manager and propagator at the Garden of the Woods of the New England Flower Society, wrote Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in 2002 as a guide to North American native woody plants.  Beautifully illustrated with over two hundred photographs, Cullina's writing gives us straightforward reference to over one thousand native woody plants. 

For the following insight alone, I recommend reading this treasure.  "Most plants are attacked by something, and we should thank God for that, as it is all that prevents them from running amok" and "I firmly believe there is no plant worth growing if it must be maintained by application of poisons".  Cullina advocates finding our level of tolerance for damage to a plant, and "if the plant exceeds that, pull it out, period".   I love this advice and have slowly come to realize -- after many, many years of coddling every plant -- that to sustain a happy, healthy garden and ecosystem, this is the only way to go.  I have found that William Cullina's endorsement of the right plant, right place principles makes for a more enjoyable, less stressful, experience in my gardens.  And a little leaf damage is just fine with me.  Those caterpillars have to eat, too, if we want the butterflies that they transform into.  

As reported by Scott Hokunson at Blue Heron Landscape Design, Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy is a wonder and a book that I continue to refer to over and over again as I learn how to best design gardens with native plants that will support our local bees, birds, butterflies and endless organisms in our soil that we need for a balanced ecosystem in our home gardens.  Recently written in 2007, Doug explains how we can all welcome more wildlife into our yards by thoughtfully planning our gardens with even a few native plants.  This approach and philosophy makes gardening with natives less mysterious and daunting and much more approachable for all of us.  He succinctly describes the difference in native and alien plants and which and how many insect species are supported by natives.  If I had to recommend one guide on how to create a backyard or home garden that will support your local wildlife and help sustain and support our food web, Bringing Nature Home is the one.  As Doug says, "we can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby" and "just as buildings need support structures...our gardens need native plants to support a diverse and balanced food web essential to all sustainable ecosystems".  

Thinking about Earth Day and these three books that always inspire me, I am reminded of the need for balance in all things.  I am reminded, as Sara Stein discovered and wrote about so beautifully, to be gentle and thoughtful with my garden designs and the plants I choose.  As Scott noted, Earth Day always falls at such a busy time, but I sincerely thank him for inviting me to participate in this project and giving me the opportunity to stop and think about how I can continue to do my part in living and gardening more sustainably.  Thank you Scott, and thank you to The Sage Butterfly, and happy Earth Day to all!

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  1. Cindy,

    A great trio of books! I also loved Noah's Garden and found it hard to put down. Bill Cullina's books have earned a prominent place on my office bookshelf, and I refer to them often. Wonderful post on your inspirations and how they affected you as a designer!


  2. Great choices. I loved Noah's Garden, and it's one of my picks for the earth day post too! I would have loved to see pictures of the author's garden to see what it evolved into.

  3. What thoughtful choices! All of these are useful and inspirational. I hope I can always remain thoughtful and gentle towards and in my garden. Thank you for participating in The Earth Day Reading Project and Happy Earth Day!

  4. Thanks everyone for your kind words. I loved reading all the choices everyone else made, too. Glad to know us "plant geeks" aren't alone! Happy Easter to all who celebrate! What a lovely gardening day...