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.

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Basic Training Class Schedule

Click here for the 2018 Fall FMN Training Class Schedule

Note that the Saturday Field Trips are:

22 Sep 2018           9AM — 3PM          Riverbend Park

6 Oct 2018              8AM — 2PM          Huntley Meadows Park

20 Oct 2018           9AM — 3PM           Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

27 Oct 2018           9AM — 3PM           Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge &  State Park

These events are reserved for those applicants who are accepted into the FMN program.

 

Teacher’s professional development courses available in August

Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for a five-day summer professional learning adventure on the Bay or one of its tributaries. More than 30 courses are offered that will explore the mountains of Virginia, the rivers of Pennsylvania, the islands of the Bay, and many places in between. Learn how to integrate the environment into your classroom and to help your students achieve environmental literacy success. More information online.

Environmental education grants

Two environmental education grant programs are currently accepting applications:
EcoTech Grants offer up to $2,500 to engage children in inquiry-based, STEM-related projects that leverage technology and/or use nature-based design to address environmental problems in local communities.
Project Learning Tree’s Greenworks Grants offer of up to $1,000 to fund student-implemented projects that green the school or improve an aspect of the neighborhood’s environment.

Lead a storm drain education project

Volunteering to lead a storm drain labeling project is a fun way to give back to the community and help protect our natural world. Each project focuses on a neighborhood, informing people who live there about the dangers of dumping anything into a storm drain. Storm drain labeling is an effective, low-cost method of educating residents about water quality problems in our streams, lakes, rivers and the Bay. The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is currently recruiting volunteers to lead storm drain labeling projects. Click here for more information.

Watch VMN webinar, Coyotes in Virginia, 25 July

This presentation:

  • highlights the history, biology, and ecology of coyotes in Virginia
  • offers suggestions for reducing coyote-human conflicts in both rural and urban environments
  • discusses a coyote research project being conducted in the Appalachian Mountain region of western Virginia
  • will increase your understanding of, and perhaps dispel a few myths related to one of the world’s most adaptable mammals. Although coyotes are a relative new comer to Virginia, they are here to stay and we must learn to coexist with them.

Presenter: Mike Fies, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Mike Fies works as a wildlife research biologist for the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries.  His office is located in the Shenandoah Valley just north of Staunton.  Mike is the state Furbearer Project Leader with job responsibilities that include conducting research, monitoring populations, developing management recommendations, resolving wildlife conflicts, and providing information to the public related to Virginia’s furbearer species. He has statewide responsibilities. Wildlife species included in his job duties include bobcat, fox, coyote, raccoon, skunk, opossum, weasel, beaver, muskrat, mink, otter, and nutria.

Webinar Details

When: July 25, 2018, 12:00 pm

Meeting Number: 450 486 470

Link to join: Join Webinar

(This link will connect you to the video feed, but you will need to connect your audio separately to hear the speaker.  Zoom will prompt you to do that once you have connected the video feed.  See the technical information below for details on connecting your audio.)

Link for recordings of this and past webinars*: VMN Continuing Education page 

*Please note that Virginia Tech is in the process of moving our recordings to a new system, and the recordings are currently unavailable while they work out some technical details.  We hope to have them all back on line soon!

Technical Support

If you have not successfully used Zoom before or if you have made any recent changes in your web browser, we suggest that you try a test meeting well beforehand.  This will prompt you to download the Zoom software that you will need to fully participate.  There is an option to participate just via your web browser, but please be aware that it does not have the same level of functionality.

We will open the webinar at least 30 minutes prior to the start time, and we encourage you to log on early to make sure the system is working for you.

Audio Connection

Please be aware that connecting to Zoom using the link provided allows you to see the presentation, but you will have to then connect your audio separately so that you can also hear the presenter.  Zoom will prompt you to do that once you join the meeting.  We recommend that you join using your computer audio if you are able.  For this option, click the “Join Audio Conference by Computer” button under the “Computer Audio” tab in the audio window that pops up when you join the meeting.

If you can’t call using computer, you can call in by phone at US: +1 669 900 6833  or +1 929 436 2866.  The meeting identification number is 450-486-470.  Long distance charges apply; this is not a toll-free number.

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Earn your stream monitoring certification, workshop August 18th

NVSWCD stream monitoring.

Want to take your volunteering to the next level? Become a Certified Stream Monitor and adopt your own site to monitor quarterly! Candidates for certification must have attended at least 3-4 monitoring workshops/sessions or have other prior experience. The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation workshop will consist of a morning review of invertebrates and watersheds, followed by time for the written portion of the test. In the afternoon, certification candidates will be observed as they perform a stream monitoring at Young’s Branch. Those not seeking certification are welcome to attend as well. Other activities and a lunch break will be offered while the certification test is underway. To RSVP and for more information, please contact Dan Schwartz at dan.schwartz@fairfaxcounty.gov or Veronica Tangiri at waterquality@pwswcd.org.

Manassas Battlefield National Park, Park Headquarters

Saturday, 18 August 2018

9 am – 3 pm

Check out Fairfax County Parks’ Open House, 21 July 2018

The Fairfax County Park Authority will celebrate National Parks & Recreation Month with free open house events across Fairfax County on July 21st. Stop by one of the eight free events and find that “A Lifetime of Discovery” awaits you in Fairfax parks.

Hike to Burke Lake Park 

Explore South Run ReCenter

Outdoor Yoga & Pilates

Tours of Colvin Run Miller’s House

House Tours at Sully

Footgolf for Kids

Tai Chi on the Lawn

Youth Golf Clinic

Various times

Multiple parks throughout Fairfax County

July Green Breakfast: The Revitalize, Restore, Replant Program

Join the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District for a hot buffet breakfast and an illuminating talk by ecologists from Fairfax County’s Stormwater Planning Division. They will discuss their Revitalize, Restore, Replant Program, an initiative to turn schoolyard stormwater management facilities into hands-on, outdoor classrooms. The cost is $10, payable at the door. Cash preferred and no RSVP needed.

Location: Brion’s Grille, 10621 Braddock Road, Fairfax, in the University Shopping Mall

Saturday, 14 July 2018

8:30 – 10 am

Stream monitoring events in July: Plan now to attend

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Prince William County Stream Monitoring Session: Woodbridge
Time:   11 am – 1:30pm
Location: Off of Springwoods Dr, Woodbridge

Join certified volunteer monitor Janis Cook at her adopted site along Airport Creek in the Lakeridge neighborhood. For directions and to RSVP, please contact Janis at Jcook3910@aol.com.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Pohick Creek Monitoring Workshop: Springfield/LortonPohick
Time: 9 – 11:30 am
Location: Pohick Creek Stream Valley Park, Springfield
Help monitor big and beautiful Pohick Creek as it winds through its rocky valley just north of I-95 and Lorton. Please RSVP to Dan Schwartz at dan.schwartz@fairfaxcounty.gov or sign up through Fairfax County’s online Volunteer Management System (initial registration required).

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Prince William County Stream Monitoring Session: Haymarket
Time: 10 am – Noon
Location: James Long Park, 4603 James Madison Hwy, Haymarket. Park at the Old Library parking lot.
Join longtime certfied volunteer monitor Elaine Wilson at her beautiful adopted site on Catharpin Creek in the Gainesville area. This site has some outstanding and unique critters. Spots are limited. For information and to RSVP, contact Elaine at elaine.wilson@dcwater.com.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Reston Association Stream Monitoring Workshop: Reston
Time:  8 am
Location: Reston Association Property, exact stream to be determined
Join Will Peterson of the Reston Association and help monitor the health of one of the many beautiful streams on Reston Association common land. Please contact Will at wpeterson@reston.org for RSVP instructions and directions to the site.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Difficult Run Stream Monitoring Workshop: Great Falls
Time: 9:30 am
Location: Difficult Run Stream Valley Park near Leigh Mill Rd
Help monitor beautiful Difficult Run as it flows through leafy parkland just upstream of Great Falls National Park. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Dan Schwartz at dan.schwartz@fairfaxcounty.gov or use Fairfax County’s online Volunteer Management System (initial registration required).

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Stream Monitoring Session: South RunSouth
Time: 1:30 – 4 pm
Location: Parkland behind South Run Rec Center, 7550 Reservation Dr, Springfield
Join certified volunteer monitor Veronica Tangiri as she monitors her adopted site along beautiful and healthy South Run as it flows under a leafy canopy of trees between Burke Lake and Lake Mercer. Please RSVP to Veronica at vera.tangiri@gmail.com for directions.

Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners, by James B. Nardi

Reviewed by Kathleen Luisa

I have a fairly extensive library of naturalist books and field guides subjects from geology to space to weather to worms to seashells. I even have a field guide to fields!  Many of them really don’t lend themselves to being read cover to cover, but Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners, by James B. Nardi, does.  This is one of the best, most thorough, and most thoroughly enjoyable books I’ve read on, well, dirt.  And everything that lives in dirt.

The book is laid out well, much like an outline for a college course would have been years ago.  It starts from the general (and most minuscule components of the soil) and moves progressively through to the more specific and larger inhabitants. The first of the three parts of the book explains how soil forms from rocks and organic materials through  chemical and weathering processes.  The second part is a wonderfully in-depth explanation and description of the members of the soil community and their relationships. The third part covers how we can work in partnership with all of the foregoing to increase and maintain the health of the soil for the benefit of all without chemicals, and how to prevent many of the problems we enable through erosion and the unfettered use of fertilizers.

The author’s style is engaging, often humorous, and I feel like he’s talking right to me. He clearly has deep affection and admiration for his subject, and he conveys complex information in a way that is easy to understand without sacrificing the scientific quality.  One thing in particular I really like is that the soil community part introduces each new organism with a box that identifies its place in the taxonomic system, its place in the food web, size and its impact on gardens. The illustrations and photos are great, too.

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