The calendar may say that it’s spring, but the weather tells a different story. Today, April 9th, it actually snowed in Ottawa. While I wait for a chance to putter outside without my winter coat, I’m catching up on some reading.
Since Christmas, I bought a few new gardening books, all with a common message — plant gardens to help beleaguered wildlife. If many people add native plants to their yards, these efforts will add up to make a significant difference for pollinators, birds, and other creatures. I’m grateful that I read Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards, by Sarah Stein, four years ago. It’s a similar, older book that first piqued my interest in habitat gardening. Perhaps one of these new books will inspire you to help wildlife in your yard.
Note: Some of these books are at the Ottawa Public Library, but since the library is temporarily closed due to Coronavirus social distancing, I’ve also make links to the authors’ web sites.
Another note: None of these books are Canadian. American gardening guides usually cover the entire country with its vastly diverse climate regions; as a consequence there are only a few plant suggestions for each region, and most aren’t suitable for an Ottawa garden. Visit a local native plant nursery, virtually for now, to find native plant recommendations.
The Pollinator Victory Garden
I’m a fan of Kim Eierman’s informative EcoBeneficial website, so I was delighted to discover her book The Pollinator Victory Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening. It is an easy to understand, introductory how-to guide. I especially like the tables and charts that are useful for reference, such as the “Sample Bloom Inventory Chart” (p.75) that lists recommended plants by season, and the seasonal maintenance task list. The only things that are missing are sample garden plans for beginners, and maybe an extra pair of hands to help with the garden. I wish I had this book when I was getting started.
A discussion of pollinator gardening wouldn’t be complete without Heather Holm’s not-as-new books, Pollinators of Native Plants and Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide (at Ottawa Public Library). Both are full of close-up photos and in-depth information about native plants and the insects that visit them. Since Holm is from Minnesota, many of the plants and pollinators live here as well. You can find some handy PDF posters and plant lists on Bee and Pollinator Books by Heather Holm, or Google “Heather Holm Houzz” to some of her informative articles.
Nature’s Best Hope
I’ve been eagerly waiting for entomologist Douglas Tallamy’s latest book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, since I first heard about it. It’s at the Ottawa Public Library in print and as an ebook. His first book, Bringing Nature Home, solidified my commitment to adding native plants to my yard. It taught me how critical native trees are to moths, butterflies, and other insects, and in turn how important they are to the birds that eat them. Google “Bringing Nature Home” to find lots of interviews with Tallamy, and videos of his public lectures.
In Nature’s Best Hope, Tallamy argues that if enough homeowners replace some lawn with native plants, it will add up to an area as large as a national park. This ‘homegrown national park’ will make up for some of America’s lost natural habitat, and connect remaining wildlife areas. Like Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope is more of a manifesto than a how-to guide. The “Will It Work?” and “What Each of Us Can Do” chapters provide some examples and guidance. In his previous, beautifully illustrated book, The Living Landscape (at Ottawa Public Library), Tallamy collaborated with landscape designer Rick Darke to show in more detail how to create native plant gardens, especially shade gardens.
Planting Native to Attract Birds to Your Yard
For years, Sharon Sorenson has been sharing her observations of birds in her Indiana backyard in books and online. Her DIY bubble rock water feature inspired our backyard stream by demonstrating how well moving water attracts birds.
In Planting Native, Sorenson begins by explaining how native plants are critical to birds — because native plants attract and feed the insects that feed birds. There are chapters on how to choose plants for your specific conditions, tree and shrub recommendations for different-size yards, native perennials that offer seeds for birds, and ways to provide water for birds. My favourite table in the book lists shrubs by when they fruit (p. 109), so you can offer food for birds from spring to fall. I’m already planning some additions to my hedgerows.
The Garden Jungle
Dave Goulson is a bumblebee researcher and founder of the British Bumblebee Conservation Trust. He also is a gifted writer, able to clearly explain scientific concepts and tell gripping, humourous and touching stories. I thoroughly enjoyed his previous books, A Buzz in the Meadow (at the Ottawa Public Library), and A Sting in the Tale (at Ottawa Public Library), and learned a lot from them. Goulson’s latest book, The Garden Jungle: Gardening to Save the Planet (at Ottawa Public Library), encourages you to create a mini-ecosystem in your yard that welcomes all kinds of interesting creatures, such as earwigs, ants, bees, ladybugs, moths, and pond life. I now have a keen appreciation for these insects, and I look forward to observing them more closely in my garden this summer. Go to Dave Goulson’s YouTube channel to visit his garden, and watch a summary of Garden Jungle in the video Averting the Insect Apocalypse.
As a British book, some of the advice doesn’t apply here in Ottawa. For example, the plant recommendations should be substituted with local native plants, and earthworms are an introduced species that are eroding forest floors. If you’re a beginner to pollinator and wildlife gardening, read some North American books as well to help you distinguish which bits are relevant to your yard.
Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife
Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife is David Mizejewski’s expanded second edition, from the National Wildlife Federation in the States. It is a great beginner guide that explains how to add wildlife habitat elements — food, water, cover, and places to raise young — to your yard. Mizejewski also discusses the importance of using native plants, garden design approaches, bird feeders and houses, building brush piles, and much more. I particularly liked the projects for kids. I think this is a great all-round book if you’re starting your own habitat garden. To learn more, listen to the Joe Gardener podcast interview in episode 071-Gardening for Wildlife: How-to Create an Inviting Habitat, with NWF’s David Mizijewski.
Together, we can do it!
It’s depressing that our environment has continued to deteriorate since Sarah Stein wrote Noah’s Garden back in 1993. And now climate change and weakened environmental protections are added to the destructive mix of habitat loss, invasive plants, and pesticides.
However, this new crop of books gives me hope because they will inform and empower a new generation of readers. Whether you’re interested in helping bees, butterflies, or birds the solution is the same — plant native plants, and leave some messy areas in your garden while you’re at it. I continue to be amazed by how much life I now attract in my formerly-sterile, ornamental garden. I have made a small difference by changing my yard. Join me in making a bigger difference by planting for wildlife in your yard too.