Crow’s Nest: On my night table (or rather my coffee table)

February 23, 2015

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


I have been enjoying the text and photographs of a recent book, The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy. I have enjoyed books by both authors—separately—before and think this new collaboration is just great. We have a copy of Rick Darke’s The American Woodland Garden (2002) and also Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (2007). Both of these books celebrate the native landscape, both as it occurs in nature and how we can recreate it in our yards to benefit wildlife.

Rick Darke is a landscape consultant, lecturer, and photographer who has also been Curator of Plants at Longwood Gardens. Darke’s earlier book noted above is a study of patterns in nature and seasonal change and how we might apply these principals to our planted landscapes. This creates beautiful landscapes that are also functioning ecosystems. The second part of that book contains profiles of the many native plants we could be using—but historically were not as available in nurseries.

Dr. Tallamy is a professor in Entomology at University of Delaware (and member of Natural Lands Trust’s Board of Trustees). His 2007 book turned horticulture on its head: up until then plant lovers would seek out ornamental plants—often non-native—that were least prone to insect damage so as to avoid tattered and chewed leaves. Tallamy points out that insects are the base of the food web and that if we want to attract and support wildlife we need to plant and grow those species that support the insects that feed the rest of the wildlife. There’s no point planting something that attracts butterflies with its flowers unless we also have something to feed their young: caterpillars eating leaves. And if we want to attract birds to the garden, it isn’t enough to plant something that seasonally might have fruit that they eat—we need to grow plants which support the insects that feed them during their growing and mating seasons. So plant a diversity of native plants to support those herbivores, Tallamy writes, so that damage on any one species isn’t so noticeable.

Darke and Tallamy had already contributed to a renaissance in native landscaping. Compare the availability of native plants in garden centers today with just ten to fifteen years ago.

Honestly, almost any book on landscape design will have parts that interest me. But when the focus is on native plants and naturalistic plantings, all of it interests me. The Living Landscape covers communities—what plants tend to grow in association with each other, as well as landscape layers, timing and opportunity. It is filled with photos that inspire and stories that explain why these landscape choices are important. A guide in the back details includes the ecological and landscape functions for many native species.

Over the years I enjoyed landscaping with native plants around the visitor center barn and tenant house at Crow’s Nest. There were successes and failures, and some of my first choice native plants were not widely available at the time I started planting. As I have recently moved to another home on the preserve that is largely a blank slate, I will turn to this book to inform my planting choices. And as the preserve itself is a managed landscape (but not landscaped) this book helps show what natural areas should look like—with low-maintenance transitions from meadow to woods, free from invasive plants and supporting a diversity of wildlife.

I’m also looking forward to attending a lecture by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, The Living Landscape Lecture and Book Signing on March 12 at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Jointly sponsored by the Academy and Natural Lands Trust the evening promises to be entertaining. I’ve heard each of these writers speak individually and am excited to hear them lecture together.