My copy of The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy is seldom far from my desk these days. It’s the time of year I start envisioning all the larrapin shrubs and trees I hope to plant this season. “Larrapin,” (an old expression meaning delicious and yummy) is the guiding star for my gardening wherever I live now: a landscape overflowing with plants, shrubs and trees that benefit all kinds of pollinators and songbirds as well as the gardeners.
I’d longed for a book like this one ever since reading Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home opened my eyes to how much our landscaping choices affect the natural world. Once I fully understood that all those winged creatures I adore need native plants and trees to reproduce it forever altered the way I plant. By winged creatures I’m including my honey bees but am mainly referring to native bees, butterflies and songbirds.
Knowing this, if I’m choosing a shade tree for a suburban yard suddenly a White Oak (Quercus alba) suddenly looks far more attractive and worth tracking one down versus picking up something just labeled “shade” at the big box store. In an article titled The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening Tallamy describes the 500+ types of native caterpillars that co-exist with a White Oak versus the 1 inchworm he found on a nearby Bradford Pear.
But do we want native caterpillars—plant eaters—in the home landscape? YES! If you love having sweet birdsong in your garden then ironically you also want caterpillars because that’s what baby songbirds are built of, caterpillars and other insects, not birdseed! (Around here the baby bluebirds appear to be built mostly of honeybees judging from the time the parents spend hanging out in the bee field. My goal then, is raising enough honeybees to keep the hives healthy, make honey, AND build baby bluebirds!)
While pollinators need the blooms and parent birds need the berries and fruit found on many native shrubs and trees, the little ones are built mostly of bugs.
Native plants and native bugs have worked out a balance over the eons so that they can live well with each other, unlike the ravages caused by imported pest bugs and unlike the imported plants filling up urban and suburban space that provide little if anything to the wild creatures. While I’m not a native-plants-only purist, I weigh every planting on a scale of generosity as well as beauty and function.
I could go on and on, but if you are interested in this please buy these two books. If you can only buy one, go for The Living Landscape. It summarizes some of the in-depth findings in Bringing Nature Home but also has extensive photography of the native plants in wild settings as well as in garden settings. Better yet, lots of photos of birds using the plants, shrubs and trees. Seeing is believing! (My geeky science-loving gardener friends, you are going to want both books.)
In a future post I’ll tell you about an eye-opening experience about drawing my all time favorite butterfly (shown below) to my garden in Arkansas. In the meantime, get these books and start planning to plant!
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