CFAES Give Today
Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Inviting Nature

Feb. 13, 2020

Inviting natureKirtland's Warbler

Newspaper February 9, 2020

Columbus Dispatch, The (OH)

Diana Lockwood

For gardeners and nature lovers, the headlines can be pretty depressing.
Invasive plants are spreading; butterflies, songbirds and other creatures are declining; habitats around the globe are under threat.                                             

Many folks desperately want to help, to do something, anything -- but they wonder whether one gardener can make much difference.                                             

Douglas W. Tallamy, author of the new book "Nature's Best Hope," answers with an emphatic yes.

Through thoughtful plant choices, eco-friendly gardening techniques and an awareness of nature, even gardeners with small yards can make a huge impact.

"Nature's Best Hope" "is not a book about the pox we have delivered upon the environment and thus upon all of our houses," writes Tallamy, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife

Ecology at the University of Delaware.

"It is a book about a cure for that pox -- a cure that will require small efforts by many people but that will deliver enormous physical, psychological, and environmental benefits to all."

His message is both welcome and empowering.

"There's urgency to the things I'm talking about," Tallamy, 68, said by phone. People are hearing the alarming news about the decline of the natural world and are ready to take action.

What he recommends, among other steps, is using native plants.

Not only are they beautiful and low-maintenance, but they also serve as food for native insects.

Native insects, in turn, are crucial food for birds. Chickadees, for instance, need thousands of caterpillars to produce just one clutch of young.

"The best birdfeeders are the plants in your yard," Tallamy said.

Native oak trees, one of his favorites, support hundreds of species of caterpillar; ginkgos, which are native to Asia, support none.

Insects, birds, watersheds and beyond benefit from Tallamy's approach. And so do gardeners.

"You get to experience the restoration of the ecosystem," he said.

Sure, gardeners who follow his advice can feel proud of themselves, but they also can look out their window and be amazed.

"What these books are saying is you can do something about it and you can see the results," said Tallamy, who previously wrote the acclaimed "Bringing Nature Home," upon whose theme "Nature's Best Hope" builds.

"Regular" people -- not professional botanists, not wealthy landowners with hired help -- can run with his ideas and succeed, he emphasizes.

He envisions what he calls a "Homegrown National Park," an informal network of thousands and millions of nature-oriented yards and landscapes. For example:

• A couple who became avid bird lovers, starting with removing invasive plants, adding natives and installing a small DIY water feature. So far, they have observed 149 bird species on their two-thirds-acre lot!

• A homeowner for whom "the ideal landscape looked just like his neighbor's yard: beautiful, pruned and mowed, always perfect, and inanimate." He underwent a change of heart, though, after learning about monarch butterflies and now raises milkweed, which is essential for monarch caterpillars, along with native plants for other wildlife.

• A Chicago gardener with an airport and a freeway literally in her backyard. By adding native plants, she has converted her tiny lot to a wildlife haven, attracting more than 100 species of birds.

Although using native plants is a keystone of Tallamy's philosophy, he also recommends:

• "Shrink the lawn." He is not on a crusade to have you eliminate your lawn. But he is suggesting that it doesn't need to dominate your landscape.

• "Do not spray or fertilize." Most fertilizers are unnecessary and may even be harmful.

And spraying insects kills all of them, not just the ones you deem undesirable.

• "Educate your neighborhood civic association." Wherever you live, spread the word about natives to your neighbors, local government or condo board.

By the way, Tallamy doesn't insist that you purge your yard of all non-natives.

"There is room for compromise," he writes.

The absence of natives, more than the presence of a few non-natives, is what really throws things off.

Diana Lockwood, a freelance writer covering gardening topics, posts on Facebook at

• "Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard" (Timber, $29.95) by Douglas W. Tallamy