When I choose plants for my garden I often choose a plant that will supply food or shelter for the wildlife I welcome to my garden.
This means I have looked for native plants, but I never fully understood why this was necessary.
In his book, Bringing Nature Home, Professor Douglas Tallamy explains that “native plants support a diverse and balanced food web essential to all sustainable ecosystems”. In the book he gives the best explanation of the food web that supports the birds and butterflies we all want in our gardens that I have ever read.
There are lots of Latin names in the book, but Dr. Tallamy’s prose is conversational and he gives gives lots of examples from his own garden.
I can understand why he has a hard time explaining that the way to having a greater healthful balance in our gardens is by using plants that attract more bugs, but he makes it clear that with a greater variety of insects you get more predators that will keep pest populations under control without using pesticides.
He paints a somewhat gloomy picture of how quickly all native wildlife in the US could disappear forever, but he also says the destruction has been caused by a lack of thought, not necessity. We can create sustainable ecosystems, he says, that will increase the diversity of species right in our own backyards. Even in the suburbs, and definitely including the suburbs.
Does this mean our gardens need to look like a weedy wilderness?
Dr. Tallamy gives lists of native plants that are attractive and suitable for our gardens and reminds us that groundcovers, shrubs and trees together can make for a beautiful arrangement, as well as being more complex and useful than lots of lawn with a specimen tree or two.
He sounds the alarm, but he is optimistic. He reminds us that biodiversity is a renewable resource. We all have the responsibility and the opportunity to protect and increase the biodiversity of our own domestic landscapes.