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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Habitat Network, Citizen Science talk, October 4th

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312

Thursday, 4 October 2018
7:30 – 9 pm

Meet Megan Whatton and learn about her work with Habitat Network, which is creating a movement to transform yards and urban landscapes to functional diverse habitat to support wildlife and connect people to nature in communities around the world.  It is a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Network is powered by YardMap, a citizen science mapping tool used to capture data about ecologically relevant practices and to search for local information when planning for and improving a yard, school, or other greenspace.

Megan is the Habitat Network Project Manager for The Nature

Conservancy, where she works with scientists, partners, private landowners, citizen scientists and volunteers to re-imagine their properties and urban properties as habitat for the benefit of wildlife and people. Megan has an M.S. Degree in Environmental Science and Policy from George Mason University.

Sponsored by the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS).  All VNPS programs are free and open to the public.   Continuing education credit for master naturalists!


Plan next year’s staycation now – plant native plants!

Why go on a safari when a safari could come to you? Imagine yourself sipping lemonade on your

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar demonstrates its “snake tongue” defensive maneuver.

lawn chair while strange and marvelous creatures entertain you. This is what you experience when you turn your yard into a wildlife sanctuary. Fall is the time to put in the plants that will bring this parade to your door.

Most perennials and shrubs and some trees do best when planted in the fall. The cooler, wetter weather puts less stress on the plants while their roots continue to grow well into winter. If you want to enjoy butterflies and birds, choose native plants, as those are the ones that support our local wildlife.

In Northern Virginia, we are lucky to have three native-plant only nurseries, as well as several other commercial nurseries that are labeling their native plants. In addition, September brings several special native plant sales including ones in Herndon, Arlington, Springfield, and Alexandria. You can find all these locations on the Plant NOVA Natives website.

For more inspiration, check out the one-minute native plant “Staycation” video.

Homeowners’ Association (HOA) landscape forum

Algonkian Park—Woodlands Conference Center
47001 Fairway Drive, Sterling, VA 20165
Thursday, 11 October 2018
5 pm – 9 pm

Designed to provide practical help and useful information to move your community toward a healthier landscape. This second HOA forum on sustainable landscape management will provide the “why” and “why not” of native and invasive plants, as well as feature local HOA representatives for a discussion of their ongoing efforts and lessons learned. The event is co-hosted by The Piedmont Environmental Council, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, NOVA Prism and the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries.
While this event is free, pre-registration is required due to limited space!

HOA leaders
HOA open space or grounds committee members
Landscaping company representatives
Management company representatives
Interested HOA residents

Learn from your peers–Several HOAs in our area have taken up the challenge of making their communities even better through healthier landscaping practices for a more positive impact on their surroundings. You’ll have a chance to learn from others’ experience with practical advice and specific ways to accomplish change in your community.

Help with the Arlington Bioblitz, September 15th

Glencarlyn Picnic Pavillion #1, 401 S. Harrison St., Arlington VA

Saturday, September 15th

9 am – 4 pm

Celebrate Arlington’s biodiversity by helping us conduct a citizen science inventory of plants and wildlife that will help shape the County’s updating of its Natural Resources Management Plan.
Participating in the Bioblitz is a great way to discover and get to know the wildlife and flora of Arlington. We will team participants with experts to help find, identify and catalog plant and animal life, using a free application called iNaturalist. Novices are welcomed. Please let us know if you would like to be a team leader (what’s your expertise?) or participant.
For more information and to register call Alonso Abugattas at 703-228-7742 or email

Check out a tutorial on how to use iNaturalist, which will be the primary recording tool for this project.

Sign up to help with the event.

Hear the candidates on climate change, September 18th

Virginia Climate Crisis Forum: Solutions to Climate Change

James Madison High School, 2500 James Madison Drive, Vienna VA 22181

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

7:30 PM (doors open at 7 PM)

Join the discussion of how Virginia is being and will be affected by climate change at the Virginia Climate Crisis Forum, hosted by Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions. Featured speakers are the 2018 candidates for U.S. Senator from Virginia: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine; and Corey Stewart, Chairman At-Large, Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Panelists include: Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, Chair and Co-founder, Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action; Major General Rick Devereaux, USAF (Ret.), Former Director of Operational Planning, Policy, & Strategy, U.S. Air Force and Advisory Board, Center for Climate and National Security; and Fairfax County Supervisor Dan Storck. Moderated by Rev. Dr. Jean Wright.
The forum is open to the public and free of charge. Space is limited. Doors open at 7 PM.  Register here.



Enjoy Runnymede Park NatureFest

Runnymede Park, 195 Herndon Parkway, Herndon VA

Sunday, 23 September 2018

1 – 5 pm

Explore various nature stations throughout the park including butterflies, bees, life in the meadow, web of life, and much more. Live animal shows throughout the day with bats, mammals, raptors, and reptiles. Arts and crafts and fun for the whole family will be included! The event is co-sponsored by The Friends of Runnymede Park and Herndon Parks and Recreation Department. Call if your group would like to volunteer (703-435-6800 ext. 2014). Satellite parking with a passenger van shuttle will be available to and from the Herndon Police Station, 397 Herndon Parkway. Learn more from the Friends of Runnymede Park website. Free event.

How to help the magnificent monarchs

National Wildlife Federation, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston VA

Saturday, 22 September 2018

1-3 pm

Monarchs and their amazing migration to Mexico are in peril for many reasons. Learn about the

Georgina Chin, Class Instructor

monarch life and migration cycles, how you can attract them to your home garden or favorite public space, and how to raise them to send them on their fall journey. Resources for milkweed and garden design also included. The class instructor, Georgina Chin, is an elementary school teacher with a passion for monarchs and an instructor with Monarch Teacher Network. Learn more and register for the class through the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Paid Event.

What’s in your water? Fairfax County Well Water Clinic

Virginia Cooperative Extension

12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax

Monday, 17 September 2018

7 -9 pm

Do you know what’s in your drinking water? While public water supplies are tested daily for contaminants, most private water supplies, like wells and springs, are rarely tested. It is recommended that well owners test their water at least annually for bacteria and nitrates. Learn more about the quality of your water and how to care for your water system at the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Fairfax County Well Water Clinic. At this brief informational meeting, you will pick up sample kits and get instructions on how to collect your sample. For more information, please contact VCE at 703-324-5369 or visit the website for more information.

NoVA PRISM Restoration Events in Arlington and Falls Church

NoVA PRISM is a collaborative effort by several NGOs, governmental entities, volunteer groups, and Dominion Energy to manage invasive species in the Northern Virginia region. Arlington County is the grant administrator. NoVA PRISM has been developing pilot projects in Northern Virginia on or near the W&OD Trail, and two of them, Isaac Crossman Park in Falls Church and Bluemont Park in Arlington, will involve planting native species this September and October. Organizers will need the assistance of volunteers to complete these planting efforts.
Here are the details for the pilot projects:

Isaac Crossman Park

535 North Van Buren Street, Fall Church VA

Saturday, 22 September and Saturday, 20 October 2018

9 am – 12 noon

Contact: Alex Sanders,, (703) 772-7032. Details: At the Van Buren Street entrance, follow the gravel path until you find the booth. For GPS direction purposes, the closest street address to the park is 501 Van Buren Street. Participants will plant grasses, herbaceous species and shrubs in an ongoing effort to restore a riparian forest habitat.

Bluemont Park

601 N Manchester St, Arlington, VA

Saturday, 27 October 2018

9 am – 12 noon

Contact: Alex Sanders,, (703) 772-7032.  Participants will plant meadow grasses and herbaceous species.

Volunteers should wear clothing appropriate for the weather.  Please bring water, any personal items that you might need, and lots of energy!

Check out the Earth Sangha Fall Native Plant Sale

Earth Sangha Wild Plant Nursery

6100 Cloud Drive in Franconia Park, Springfield VA

Sunday, 23 September 2018

10 am – 2 pm

Fall is really the best time to visit the nursery. In the Spring, the plants are still emerging from winter dormancy, and Earth Sangha cannot offer as many species. The Fall, as experienced gardeners know, is also the best time to plant. Trees, shrubs, and perennials like the cooler weather and greater rainfall lets them establish robust roots. Late blooming annuals can make great additions to your garden, and many will “volunteer” from seed next year. Click here for the Wild Plant Nursery Species List.

If you are interest in volunteering at the sale, please email Katherine Isaacson at  There will be a morning shift (9:30 to Noon) and an afternoon shift (Noon to 2:30).