Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Nature’s Best Hope

One big brass key to making Green stuff work is how you talk about it.

Doug Tallamy is THE BEST communicator about ecological landscaping. He is coming to St. Louis in early March to talk to folks here. To homeowners, to land-use decision-making professionals, and to greenies like me, who can always use encouragement in this work. 

Tallamy is a Bug Guy, a professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He studies the number and type of insects attracted to trees and flowering plants, in cities and suburbia. He documents details like how many caterpillars it takes to raise a Chickadee from naked squalling juvenile to vigorous adult. 

Answer: a LOT. A parent bird must serve 350 to 570 insect larvae a day, or more than 5,000 protein-rich bugs per clutch of hatchlings!

Doug Tallamy makes his case for native plant gardening plainly. Do you like birds? Do you feed birds? OK, you feed adult birds seeds, but baby birds need protein. He connects the fun of bird-love to our choice of yard trees, where habitat is more – and much more fun – than birdseed.

A Ginkgo, for example, in a North American yard, can support maybe six varieties of reproducing insect – meaning larvae – needed to raise baby birds. Ginkgos are a vigorous, popular, lovely street tree, but they are a species native to Asia; their insect peeps were not imported with them to this area of Earth.

An Oak, on the other hand, can host 600-900 varieties of insect larvae, in significant numbers. This is true of almost any oak species. And this is subtle. You will likely not perceive your tree crawling with bugs, but the birds will see them, and thrive.

Most native woody and flowering plants have similar strengths. Native plants have co-evolved with local critters to sustain one another. They also feed soils, prevent erosion, manage stormwater, tolerate drought, give us shade, color, fragrance and more. This is Eco-Logic at work.

Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens (Timber Press, 2009, 2013), called readers to bio-diversify our personal patch. His eloquent case for choosing natives over habitat-starving imported-as-ornamental plants has won awards for him, and launched award programs for others, from garden clubs nation-wide.

His vision encourages nothing less than the World’s Largest National Park, growing in our own yards. His words motivate doing it!

Doug Tallamy’s brand new book, Nature’s Best Hope: a New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard (Timber Press, 2020) elaborates on this call, both poetic and research-based, with new urgency. 

He calls for Corridors and Connections. Tallamy says – and I add emphasis: if you are gardening for biodiversity, growing native plants, there is a need for you to do more.

Reach out to your neighbors, to your subdivision association, to your municipality! Spread the benefits of ecological landscaping, around your municipality, and throughout your circles of influence. 

As the toxic cocktail of habitat loss, chemicals and climate change pushes species of all kinds into peril, our green work must push beyond the boundaries of individual action. We MUST engage our communities. We MUST work to connect the island of our native plantings into archipelagos, and into whole continents of ecologically informed landscaping practice.

Individual action is important, but coordinated collective action is now, frankly, imperative.

This is something all of us can do, around our homes and throughout our neighborhoods.

Pollinator plants are featured at every local garden center! Native plant savvy – from brochures to workshops to person-to-person exchanges – grows resources all over the St. Louis region!

We can keep some petunias, knockout roses and boxwoods, but we need to boost the Native Plant populations as Spring beckons us out of doors. 

BiodivesrseCityStLouis is a regional initiative working to track and support the kinds of coordinated efforts Doug Tallamy calls for in his books. The eNewsletter from this group includes events, article links and much more to help you connect your nature to Nature with multiple mutual benefits.

As Tallamy says, we need to garden as if life depends on it.

It does. 

At this writing Doug Tallamy’s St. Louis presentations are sold out! Beginning February 18, you can hear his KDHX Earthworms conversation with Jean Ponzi at Earthworms.kdhxtra.org. Visit BiodiverseCityStLouis.org to learn much more.