Review of The Humane Gardener, by Nancy Lawson

Reviewed by Anne DeFiore

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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Help Earth Sangha Nursery on Volunteer Workday: Sunday, 18 February

Meet at the nursery in Springfield (6100 Cloud Drive in Franconia Park) at 10 am on Sunday, 18 Febrary. You’ll be spreading gravel, weeding and preparing soils for germinating woody plants. If it rains or the temperature dips into low 40 degrees, the workday will be cancelled.

The Wild Plant Nursery is a resource for ecological restoration in the greater Washington, DC, area. Established in 2001 in Springfield, Virginia, under an agreement with the Fairfax County Park Authority, the nursery is the region’s most comprehensive source of local, wild native-plant material (“local ecotypes”).  Learn more here.

Citizen Science Opportunities via the National Museum of Natural History

Anyone can be a citizen scientist–especially you! It only takes an interest, some curiosity, and a little time to volunteer. Tweens and teens who want to contribute to real science can get involved. Teachers can bring citizen science into their classrooms, engaging students in authentic and relevant science. And naturalists from Fairfax County!

The Museum of Natural History collaborates with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Virginia Working Landscapes, City Nature Challenge 2018, and other organizations to design rewarding, meaningful opportunities for those of us willing to volunteer for them.

Ask other naturalists to join you and do the work as a team!

Learn more and sign up

 

 

 

 

Explore the Trees and Forests of Virginia

Saturday, 10 March 2018

9.15 am to 3.30 pm

University of Richmond
Ryland Circle
Richmond, VA 23173
Building Number: Jepson Hall (Website Campus Map #17)

Please join the Virginia Native Plant Society for a one-day workshop that celebrates Virginia’s trees and woodlands.

The workshop will begin with a review of tree biology and ecology and a review of some of the recent research on what trees are doing. It will move on to the topic of interactions with other organisms, specifically birds and insects. Finally it will explore two Virginia forests – the longleaf pine of the coastal areas, and an old age mountain forest.

For more information and to register, click here.

Register for a Week of Wildflower Viewing

 8-14 April 2018
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 10-16 June 2018
Southwest Virginia’s Balsam Mountains

The Virginia Native Plant Society is planning two extended field trips for your wildflower viewing. Sign up for a heavenly week-long excursion – either in April, for a trip to the Great Smokies; or in June for a trip to Virginia’s Balsam Mountains. See details and register here.

Live Owl Prowl, Huntley Meadows, 24 March

Huntley Meadows Park

12-1 pm, 24 March

What are great horned owls, barred owls, barn owls and eastern screech owls doing year-round? Follow them through courtship, nesting, raising young, fledging and finally dispersal of the young to their own territories. Speakers from Secret Garden Birds and Bees Wildlife Education and Preservation will bring live birds to the program. Register via ParkTakes online. Fairfax County residents $10, others $12

FrogWatch USA looking for volunteers to monitor calls this summer. Training in March

FrogWatch USA at the National Zoo is in its sixth season. To date, they have monitored 75 sites in DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maine and have submitted 1,650 frog call observations.

Tracking frog populations throughout the United States, FrogWatch invites participants to choose a monitoring site that is easily accessible and close to where they live or work to listen to frogs that are calling throughout the warmer months.

Three indoor trainings will help orient people to the frogs that are in the DC-metro area and their calls. Content is the same, so choose one training that fits your schedule. If you are interested please contact Matt Neff: neffm@si.edu

Trainings:

Sat., March 3rd, 3:00-6:00pm @ NZP – Rock Creek Campus

Thur., March 8th, 6:00-9:00pm @ Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, VA

Sat., March 17th, 3:00-6:00pm @ NZP – Rock Creek Campus

 

Meet people who care about what you care about at Green Breakfasts, Brion’s Grille, 10 March

Join the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and fellow naturalists for the next Green Breakfast To be notified when the Green Breakfast speaker and topic is announced, contact NVSWCD.

  • Brion’s Grille: 10621 Braddock Rd., Fairfax, VA 22032, located in the University Shopping Mall (Braddock Road and Route 123) across the street from the Roanoke River Road entrance to George Mason University.
  • Cost: $10.00 for the Breakfast Buffet, including an all-you-can-eat hot buffet with fresh fruit and coffee, tea, orange juice or water. Cash is preferred.
  • Note: You may bring fliers about your organization’s events and activities. There will be time for announcements.

Green Breakfasts are bi-monthly gatherings to discuss environmental topics in a casual setting on a Saturday morning. Attendees include agency representatives, interested citizens and community members, students, lawmakers, members of the business community and representatives of local non-profits. Six green breakfasts are held each year. Tentative 2018 schedule:

  • March 10
  • May 12
  • July 14
  • September 8
  • November 10
  • All dates are subject to changes. Sign up for Green Breakfast emails to be notified of speakers, topics, date changes and inclement weather information. Contact NVSWCD.

Learn more about Green Breakfasts.

Help remove invasives at Lake Accotink Park

Invasive plants are a huge threat to local wildlife, including migrating birds. You can help these creatures and others by volunteering to remove invasive plants at Lake Accotink Park. Sign up on the IMA website to volunteer. Sessions are every Wednesday, 2-5 pm.

 

Hidden Oaks Nature Center Needs Volunteers for Family Activities in March

Hidden Oaks Nature Center has many opportunities for volunteers. Here are a few:

Full Moon Hike and Campfire

2 March, 7-8.45 pm

Help the resident naturalist with an outdoor hike and campfire prep and clean up. You have the option to lead part of the program at campfire, including story telling.

Flying Squirrels Gliding in Tonight

11 March, 6.15-8.00 pm

Help a naturalist with a program on gray vs. flying squirrels and see live squirrels at the feeders.

Dinosaur Egg Hunt

25, 29, 30 March, 1 April, 9.30-4.00 pm

Come help with one or more of their dinosaur egg hunts, each 45 min. Volunteers will help lead a short indoor presentation, and/or the craft and/or the egg hunt in Nature Playce. This event enjoys a highly-diverse audience. No candy distributed.

For all activities, contact Suzanne Holland at suzanne.holland@fairfaxcounty.gov for details and to volunteer.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center, 7701 Royce ST., Annandale, VA 22003

Review of Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet, by Carl Pope and Michael Bloomberg

Reviewed by Wendy Cohen

Climate of Hope (2017, 277 pp) avoids the usual gloom-and-doom discussion around climate change by offering up two premises: First, if we shift the focus from international treaties to projects in local municipalities, much work can be done to mitigate climate change. Second, rather than view the multiple causes of climate change as problematic, seeing them as numerous opportunities for solving the problem of rising earth temperatures can help us make headway with the problem. Every sector of society can help with climate protection. In other words, “think globally, act locally,” and above all, act. These two tenets are also at the core of the work of master naturalists.

Citing example after example of actions that have had a proven positive impact, Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and current head of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Carl Pope, longtime environmental activist and former executive director of the Sierra Club, give the reader cause for hope in the fight against environmental threats causing rising temperatures. In addition to showing how innovative public/private partnerships have helped fund greener technologies, Climate of Hope points to the natural world as “an enormous, largely unread library of solutions.”

Bloomberg and Pope show examples of something naturalists have long known: investing in more sustainable agriculture and forestry practices is key to combating climate change. In their words, maintaining healthy ecosystems allows them to “do what they are equipped to do–suck carbon out of the atmosphere and turn it into soil and vegetation”(p. 178). One example they give is mangroves: According to their research, if half of what has been lost of the mangroves found mostly in Asia were restored, 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide could be stored, a number that matches total U.S. emissions each year! An additional advantage would be greater protection of the tropical coastline from typhoons.

Climate of Hope demonstrates how local efforts to protect our ecosystem can have a ripple effect. Promoting environmental stewardship goes a long way in helping to counter rising global temperatures. This book validates the work of master naturalists.

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