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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Clifton Institute hikes: Birds and mosses, 27 and 28 October

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Fourth Saturday Bird Walk

Saturday, October 27 at 8:00AM

Novice and experienced birders will enjoy these guided 1-2 mile hikes to look for the many species of birds that can be found on the field station. As fall migration proceeds, we’ll see different species of birds every week. Help us find that Bicknell’s Thrush that must be passing through!

Moss Identification and Biology

Sunday, October 28, 2:00PM – 4:00PM

The Clifton Institute is home to a diverse community of mosses and liverworts. Join moss expert Dr. Ralph Pope as we explore the field station and learn about these often overlooked plants. Ralph is the author of Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast and he is an experienced field trip leader. Bring your hand lens!

The Big Sit! October 13th

Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area, Lorton VA

Saturday, 13 October 2018

8 am – 4pm

Sponsored by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV)

The Big Sit! is like a Big Day or a bird-a-thon—participants tally bird species seen or heard within a given time period. The difference lies in the limited area from which you make your observations. It’s called the Big Sit for a good reason—it’s like a tailgate party for birders. Bring a chair and your binoculars. Snacks will be provided. You also may go with us on a guided bird walk or participate in a kid-friendly activity. This event is FREE of charge and open to the public.

Look for the ASNV group at the assigned count circle by the pollinator garden located at the Mustang Loop Trail parking lot (intersection of Gunston and Harley Roads). In addition to recording all birds seen and heard, they’ll note any butterfly species. A bird walk at 8:30 a.m. will start at the count circle.

Review of Virginia Department of Forestry website

Photo:  Barbara J. Saffir (c)

By Janet Quinn

Want to see beautiful fall-tinged leaves without the crowds? Read on!

While on a wandering web surf, I chanced upon the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) website. The dramatic photo headlining the “Wildfire Situation Report” link caught my eye, and I was hooked.

Under the Current News and Events tab is a Most Requested Information and Services tab. It provides links to contact my local forester, shop for seedlings, or learn about being a wildland firefighter. My favorite, however, is the amazing link to Fall Foliage in Virgina.

Having just spent a weekend near Shenandoah National Park where I saw more rain than colorful leaves, I was eager to learn where and when I might find fall hues. The October 6th Weekly Fall Foliage report had my answers. Well written and informative, its poetic language spoke of “nature’s big wardrobe change,” discussed the impact of weather on leaf color and which trees will change first. It even provided a review of colorful wildflowers to see. The next section is a chart of Virginia Trees and Colors, which appealed to the naturalist in me, and then, best of all, a guide to the first ever VDOF Fall Foliage Driving Tours. The described routes are “off the beaten path,” avoid traffic, and still provide beautiful views of autumn’s trees.

The foliage section of the website provides even more, including up-to-the-minute phone hotlines, places to visit, and a scientific description of why leaves change color.

This gem of a website deserves to be discovered. Give it a try!

Janet is a graduate of the Fall 2015 Fairfax Master Naturalist cohort.

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Walker Nature Center Bird Walk, October 14th

Bright Pond, Bright Pond Lane, Reston VA

Sunday, 14 October 2018

9 am – 12 pm

Learn about local Reston birds during this early morning bird walk. For more information and to see other upcoming Walker Nature Center events, please visit the event calendar. Free event.

2018 Waste and Recycling Symposium, October 17th

NOVA Community College, Annandale Campus, Ernst Center (CE) Theater and Forum

8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, Virginia 22003

Tuesday, 17 October 2018

9 am – 3:30 pm

This symposium focuses on waste and recycling efforts and is sponsored by Northern Virginia Community College and the Fairfax County Solid Waste Management Program. You’ll see films, collaborate with others in forum discussions, and enjoy environmental exhibitors. Learn more and register. Free event.

Build You Own Tumbling Composter, November 10th

City of Falls Church Community Center

223 Little Falls St.
Falls Church, VA 22046

Saturday, 10 November 2018


Start with a pile of lumber, a recycled pickle barrel, and assorted screws and bolts, but leave with a fully functioning tumbler composter! Staff from the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and the City of Falls Church will guide you through the construction steps. All lumber will be pre-cut and all tools and materials will be provided. The cost is $80 and registration is limited to 12 people, although you may bring helpers to assist with construction. Please RSVP to Dan Schwartz: or (703) 324-1422.

Animal Care, Native Plants & More at Hidden Oaks

Hidden Oaks Nature Center is a great place to volunteer!  It has welcoming staff, training and support, and flexible scheduling.  To top it off, there’s a warm feeling for friendship and belonging, often expressed at volunteer socials and get-togethers.  Come join us!

Visitor Information Desk – Volunteers needed Saturdays & Sundays, 12-5 pm.  Greet visitors and orient them to the exhibits, park and programs.

Native Plant Gardener – Through October, includes weeding and occasionally watering or mulching the space, weekly or every other week.  Fairfax Master Naturalists’ support is recognized with a permanent sign in the garden!

Animal care:  Dates & times flexible – feed and care for animals on exhibit.

Scout Merit Badge Programs:  Assist staff naturalists in leading scout merit badge programs, such as Environmental Science, Mammal Study, Reptile & Amphibian, Wonders of Water, Sustainability.

To volunteer, contact Suzanne Holland, or call 703-941-1065.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center  7701 Royce St., Annandale VA

Write articles for FCPA ResOURces newsletter (yes, for credit)

If you enjoy writing about the natural world, and want to educate and inspire visitors to Fairfax County parks, consider becoming a volunteer journalist. In this capacity, you’ll choose a recreation center or park site and learn as much as you can about it. When you’re ready and the deadlines are within reach, you will write articles for the ResOURces newsletter. (And earn service hours–good deal in the wintertime, especially). Code EO12

Interested? Contact Tammy Schwab

Potomac Conservancy Native Tree Planting, October 20th

Saturday, 20 October 18


Stonegate Park, Frederick, MD

Volunteer opportunity! Do your part to stop pollution and restore our hometown river by spending a fall morning planting trees! Bring your friends and family and join Team Potomac and Stream-Link Education as they plant 200 trees at Stonegate Park in Frederick, MD on Saturday, October 20! You know that trees and fresh air go hand-in-hand, but trees are also a river’s best friend. Our healthy forested lands protect the water we drink and the river we love. Learn about the essential link between trees and healthy rivers while getting tips on how to plant your own trees at home and enjoying the great outdoors. Learn more details about the event and register.

Now accepting photo contest submissions!

The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust‘s fifth annual Nearby Nature photo contest is now live and it’s excited to announce this year’s photo categories! The three photo groups will allow both adult and youth submissions and the competition will be open from now until midnight on October 31, 2018. Full details including submission guidelines, prize donors, and guest judges can be found on the NVCT website by clicking here. Please find this year’s photo categories below.

NVCT’s 5th Annual Nearby Nature Photo Contest
Local Land and Water
Wildlife in Northern Virginia
People Recreating in Nature