Book Review – Bringing Nature Home!

Several years ago, one of the larger insecticide companies, I believe Ortho, ran a commercial for one of its new products. In this commercial, a homeowner wields his spray bottle of lethal insecticide as if he were Wyatt Earp ridding Tombstone of its hooligans. In the background, a score reminiscent of an old spaghetti western sets the mood, as fewer and fewer bug noises emanate from the owners yard until all falls silent. The final scene: our now satisfied homeowner standing tall amidst the solitude, when suddenly a cricket chirps, he reaches for his “revolver”, the cricket goes silent, seemingly in fear for its life. The homeowner smiles.

I’m sure on some level we can all relate to this homeowner, after all no one likes mosquitoes, gnats, black flies, and other various and sundry pests, yet I felt a disconnect with the message.  I was confused (read: annoyed), that this “hero” would target a cricket, in his blanket approach to eradicating all insects from his property.  I knew nature provided many beneficial insects, as well as pests, but I could never really express my concerns to anyone in a way that made sense to them.

“Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Doug Tallamy, has provided me with the answers I have been searching for. Published in 2007 by Timber Press, and already in its third printing in 2009, Mr. Tallamy’s book explores native plant communities, and the insect populations that have evolved in relationship to them. We learn through Mr. Tallamy’s research that over time insects develop relationships with plants, based on the chemical makeup of the plant’s tissue. Some insects develop exclusive relationships, such as the Monarch Butterfly and Milkweed, while other insects have evolved to feed on and reproduce with various species of plants. An interesting point made in this book is that our native insect populations will gather nourishments from alien plant material, generally in the form of nectar, as adults, but do not reproduce on alien plant material. They have not developed the ability to process the secondary chemical compounds in alien species, therefore younger stages of native insects, cannot feed on aliens. As native plant populations disappear from our backyards, and as invasive species continue to overrun our natural areas, we are left with healthy adult populations of native insects, but fewer places for them to reproduce. All the wonderful plants brought back to our gardens from all over the world, prized by collectors, garden clubs and hybridizers, are unavailable as a source of nutrition, to the larval stages of our native insect populations.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Who wouldn’t want fewer bugs around? That is a question best answered by reading “Brining Nature Home”. Insects play an important role in the health of our ecosystems, and declining populations will have devastating effects on these fragile communities. Leaning about these complex relationships is something I highly recommend to any gardener who cares about our environment. “Bringing Home Nature” is an important tool to be used towards the reestablishment of out native ecosystems. No longer acceptable to simply turn our back on nature as we garden, we now have the power to affect positive change on a “grass roots” level, and Mr. Tallamy’s book is a great place to learn how.

Oh, as for our Earp-like hero referenced above; the natural answer to our bug problem, is to allow and even promote insect populations. That’s right, and as they grow, so will the predators of those populations grow, until balance is restored, and nature keeps everything in check.

See you out in the Garden,

Scott

www.blueheronlandscapes.com

10 thoughts on “Book Review – Bringing Nature Home!

  1. Scott,

    Great review. Bringing Nature Home is a favorite book of mine too and one that many native plant enthusiasts credit with getting them involved in using more natives in their designs.

    I saw Tallamy speak at CT College in the fall and he was very inspiring. I think he will be lecturing in the area again in April and I may go to see him again. He’s the kind of speaker you can always learn something new from.

    • Thanks Debbie! Glad I finally got one under my belt. I really enjoyed this book. Doug Tallamy is speaking at the UCONN Perennial Plant Conference on March 11. Any plans on attending?

      • Possibly. He is in Fairfield in April which is much closer for me. I need to look over the roster of speakers at UCONN to make a decision about whether or not it’s worth the trip.

  2. Scott, this is on my urgent Must Read list. Thanks for such a great review and for reminding me of that Ortho commercial – I totally remember laughing at it and then going silent, like – I hope everyone else realizes this is a joke and not the goal! Sheesh.

    • Gen, I glad not to be the only one who thought that commercial was so strange! Thanks for the kind words, and thank you very much for the shout out on your blog. P.S. It is a great read, get it soon!

  3. Pingback: Podcast on Natives with Doug Tallamy | North Coast Gardening

  4. I totally remember that commercial! Gardening and I were on the outs at that point, and certainly I didn’t know what I later learned in the NOFA course, but it makes complete sense. Reminds me of a story someone told in that course, where a lady came into a store looking for something to treat her lawn. The store people asked what pests she was targeting, and she just threw her hands up and said, “I want to kill it all!” Um… Well… That’s a REALLY BAD idea.

    This book has been on my list for a while — glad to know you enjoyed it!

    • I wasn’t sure if that commercial would be remembered, as I don’t think it lasted very long. I also wonder if they new it would be used as a teaching tool against chemicals. What a faux pas! The book is great, and it will either alter your thinking about plants form far away places, or strengthen your knowledge base of natives. Thanks for the comments!

  5. Great review, Scott. I too saw Tallamy at Connecticut College last November. Like you, I found his research supports my first-hand observations that nature has a balance that gardeners should encourage rather than attack. I urge others to take the opportunity to hear one of his presentations.

    • Thank you Joene! I am looking forward to seeing Doug Tallamy at the UCONN Perennial Plant Conference next week. Hopefully more people will hear the message he is delivering and start to add more natives to their landscapes. Thanks for the comments! Scott

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