Review of The Humane Gardener, by Nancy Lawson

Reviewed by Ann Di Fiore

As a Fairfax Master Naturalist and Audubon at Home Ambassador, I am always on the lookout for books on native plant and wildlife gardening. The Humane Gardener (2017, 224 pp) offers insights on both topics, but what sets Lawson’s book apart from others is her emphasis on creating habitats that nurture all forms of wildlife. Interspersed with chapters on native plantings, creating habitat, and the benefits of decaying plant material are profiles of humane gardeners whose properties range from modest backyards to commercial farms.

Many of the principles Lawson lays out are well known to master naturalists: “Plant for all seasons and sizes” to address “diverse diners”; use “green mulch”—native grasses and groundcovers—rather than bark in between shrubs and trees to improve soil; choose straight species over cultivars; and don’t “love” –overwater and over fertilize—native plants.

Lawson urges us to be attentive to gardening activities that have tragic consequences for wildlife.  In a section entitled “Don’t Mow the Teenagers,”she warns us that mowing, pruning, and raking can cut short the life cycles of ground insects and other animals. Fritillary larvae, for example, crawl onto violet plants in early spring and, as Doug Tallamy puts it, “we murder them with our lawn mowers.”  Baby rabbits in hidden nests and other young animals are vulnerable as well.

When removing invasive plants from our properties, Lawson asks us to “triage” their removal to minimize adverse effects on wildlife that make use of these plants. Early blooming invasives may be the only available nectar sources to bees, fruiting shrubs like Amur honeysuckles may fill a significant part of a bird’s diet.

In The Humane Gardener, Lawson addresses an uncomfortable truth:  the wild creatures most gardeners want to support are songbirds and pollinators. Many other forms of wildlife we consider interlopers—enemies. She enumerates the cruelties inflicted by pest removal services, glue traps, even “humane” deterrents (predator urine, for instance, is captured from caged coyotes and other animals on fur farms). She advocates flexibility and a more generous perspective:  opossums and raccoons eat carrion, ticks, and slugs; rabbits devour dandelions; and moles and chipmunks till the soil, increasing its fertility.

In a world of shrinking natural spaces and biodiversity, Lawson asks us to reconsider our ideas of ownership and make room for all forms of wildlife.  Above all, she asks that we be conscious of the consequences of our routine gardening choices.  She promises that our gardens will be healthier—and more humane—as a result.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

See raptors up close

Saturday, April 21st, 10.00am – Noon
Belle Haven Park, 1250 Mount Vernon Trail, Alexandria, VA

Come see and photograph live raptors like barn and barred owls, hawks and more up close at Belle Haven Park on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Co-sponsored by Friends of Dyke Marsh, the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, and the National Park Service. This is a great event for kids of all ages. Free, no need to RSVP.

Celebrate Earth Day at Hidden Pond

Hidden Pond Nature Center

8511 Greeley Blvd., Springfield VA

Sunday, April 22nd, 10.00 am-12.00pm

Explore the stream valley and pond at Hidden Pond Nature Center with a tackle-the trash hike, critter talk and Earth Day craft. Give back to Mother Nature by appreciating and beautifying the park. Cost: $8 per person. Register and learn more here.

What on Earth are we doing for Earth Day at Eleanor C. Lawrence Park?

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

5040 Walney Road, Chantilly VA

1.00 – 4.00 pm, Sunday,  April 22nd

Come and celebrate Earth Day at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park! Learn how plastics affect our environment and our park. Explore what we can do to reduce, reuse, restore and recycle through walks, talks and games.
This free program runs from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 703-631-0013.  Learn more.

Explore vernal pools at Lake Accotink, April 14

Saturday, April 14t

1.00-4.00 pm, Lake Accotink

The Friends of Accotink Creek invite you to join them for a vernal pool exploration led by Mike Hayslett, a passionate and dedicated champion of these special habitats! This is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a lovely spring day in nature, learning about some of our intriguing neighbors like fairy shrimp and spring peepers and spotted salamanders!

The group will meet in the lower parking lot at Lake Accotink, below the dam.
Youth are welcome! Please dress for the weather. Some areas will be muddy, and there’s some possibility of ticks and poison ivy, so long pants and boots are recommended.

Mike Hayslett (Virginia Vernal Pools LLC), a state expert on vernal pools, is conducting an inventory of vernal pools in Fairfax County, as part of an initiative by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands, rare ecological features that provide essential habitat for a variety of living beings, including frogs and salamanders. They are vulnerable to a variety of threats associated with human impact, and this inventory will support efforts to monitor and protect them.

Please RSVP at the meetup  or by email to krisunger@gmail.com. If the group doesn’t get enough participants (12) then they will need to cancel the event, so it’s important to RSVP!

Walker Nature Center Spring Festival, May 5

Saturday, May 5 • 1.00 pm – 5.00 pm
Free • All Ages • Rain or Shine
Walker Nature Center, 11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA

Produced and presented by Reston Association, the Spring Festival is fun for all ages with live animals, fishing activities, craft-making for kids, displays and information from environmental groups, including Fairfax Master Naturalists, and family-friendly entertainment. Entertainment sponsored by Reston Community Center.  Learn more here.

Visit SpringFest Fairfax, 21 April

Saturday, 21 April

10.00 am – 4.00 pm

Sully Historic Site

This is Fairfax County’s official Earth Day and Arbor Day event!  Visit with the Fairfax County Park Authority, workshops, vendors and activities and take action to make a “Healthy Planet-Healthy People.” Over 75 vendors, exhibitors, and food trucks will be at SpringFest.  Admission is FREE! Learn about the great work of Fairfax County Parks; pet an alpaca; run through an environmental obstacle course; participate in environmental crafts; check out the bees and the trees; consult with Fairfax Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners; buy plants for your garden and MORE!

Entertainment includes food trucks, The Recycling Pirates puppet show, petting zoo, Touch-a-Truck, and more!

Clean Fairfax produces SpringFest with our partner Fairfax County Park Authority.  Learn more here.

Learn at The Nature Foundation Spring Wildflower Symposium

18-20 May

Wintergreen Resort, Route 664
Wintergreen, VA 22958

Register by 20 April to receive an early registration discount

Presented by The Nature Foundation, for over 30 years Wintergreen’s Spring Wildflower Symposium has offered the best and most diverse coverage of wildflowers and mountain ecosystems. The setting is unique, with over 30 miles of hiking trails and convenient access to diverse geological sites. No one comes away from this event without learning more about botany, geology, entomology, ornithology and ecology. And all of this is available in the most beautiful springtime region in Virginia.  Learn more here.

Nominate a water body for DEQ monitoring

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) allows Virginia citizens to nominate water bodies to be monitored by DEQ’s professional ecologists. The results of DEQ monitoring are used to determine if a waterbody is meeting water quality standards set by the Clean Water Act, or if a mandatory cleanup plan–called a Total Maximum Daily Load–needs to be formulated. If you have a water body that you would like to have professionally monitored, please complete the nomination form available on the DEQ website.

Application due by 30 April

Locations: Any waterbody in Virginia

 

Sign up for April activities with Virginia Working Landscapes

Blue Ridge Prism Quarterly Meeting: Restoring the Landscape

Thursday, 19 April

1:00 – 4:00 PM

Front Royal, VA

Join VWL partners, Blue Ridge PRISM for their quarterly meeting. They’ll focus on natural lands restoration following invasive plant treatment. Registration is required.

Remarkable Trees of Blandy: Arbor Day Celebration

Friday, 27 April

12:00 – 7:00 PM

Boyce, VA

Celebrate Arbor Day with VWL partners at Blandy Experimental Farm. Attendees may participate in activities such as outdoor workshops, a panel discussion, the Foundation of the State Arboretum annual meeting, and a social with refreshments. Registration is required.

For more events and courses, follow the VWL events page!

Help clean up the Potomac River Watershed

Join the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s 30th annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup! Volunteer to pick up trash at one of the many participating cleanup sites throughout Fairfax County and beyond, or better yet, get some friends or family together and organize your own cleanup – with bags and gloves provided, of course! The official day of the Watershed Cleanup is April 14th, but events will be held throughout the month of April, and even into May. Please visit the Alice Ferguson Foundation website to volunteer.