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.

What kinds of insects do birds eat? Find out from Audubon, March 24

The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia will hold an Audubon Afternoon on Sunday, March 24 at the National Wildlife Center, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive in Reston.  Ashley Kennedy, a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware, is an entomologist who has used her own research and photos provided by citizen scientists from around the country to determine what types of insects various types of birds eat.   She will present fascinating photos and videos of birds bringing food to their young as she discusses birds’ diets and the role of native plants in attracting the insects that birds rely on.  There will be a social gathering at 2:30 followed by Ashley’s presentation at 3 PM.  The event is free and open to the public.

Learn about Audubon at Home, May 9th

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA
Thursday, 9 May 2019
7:30 – 9 pm
Program and talk with Betsy Martin & Alda Krinsman

The Audubon at Home program was created to make a difference by supporting the efforts of property owners and managers to become better stewards of nature in their own outdoor spaces. It embraces the principles of the National Audubon Society’s Bird-Friendly Communities and promotes citizen participation in conserving and restoring local natural habitat and biodiversity.

The Wildlife Sanctuary Program brings trained naturalists together with property owners and managers on a mission to restore natural habitat. The program offers information, on-site consultation and recommendations to help you establish and nurture sustainable natural habitat in your backyard, neighborhood, school, church, park or business in spaces that range from a small corner of your yard to many acres. Results-based sanctuary certification depends on the success of the habitat to attract and support wildlife. The program seeks to expand wildlife habitat in the area and fosters appreciation for the value of native plants and all the wildlife that depend on them.

Flowery Waters of Spring: Ecology & Conservation of Vernal Pool Wetlands in Virginia, Apr. 11th

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria
Thursday, 11 April 2019
7:30 – 9 pm

Program and talk with Michael S. Hayslett, Principal of Virginia Vernal Pools, LLC. Mr. Hayslett is a former biology and environmental instructor at Sweet Briar College and other Virginia schools. He has spent a career pursuing the study, awareness, and conservation of the freshwater wetlands known as “vernal pools” around his native Virginia. His research has focused on amphibian ecology, but this Master Naturalist is fascinated with all aspects of these special little ecosystems and with natural history in general.  Brought to you by the Virginia Native Plant Society.

Fairfax Water Source Water Protection & Water Supply Education Grants

Fairfax Water is offering Watershed and Water Supply Education Grants to support citizen source water protection efforts and community activities related to water supply.
Local and state government educational and environmental agencies, homeowners and HOAs, civic groups and not-for-profit organizations may apply for funding, technical services or a combination of these, not to exceed a total of $10,000.
Grant requests must address water supply or watershed issues within Fairfax Water’s service area or watershed area in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, or Fauquier Counties. For a list of eligible projects and application information, please go to https://www.fairfaxwater.org/grants or contact Source Water Protection and Planning by phone at 703-289-6303 or by e-mail at outreach@fairfaxwater.org. Applications must be postmarked by May 15, 2019.

Chickens, a Backyard Management Workshop, Mar. 30th

Herndon Fortnightly Library
768 Center St., Herndon
Saturday, 30 March 2019
1 – 2 pm

Interest in locally grown food is on the rise, from urban gardening to backyard chicken operations. Raising backyard chickens as a source for high quality fresh eggs, meat or as pets can bring the family together, while producing your own locally grown food.  Willie Woode, Senior Conservation/Agricultural Water Quality Specialist for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District will present along with St. Clair D. Williams, Senior Assistant to the Zoning Administrator of Fairfax County.  Space is limited and registration is required.  Register today!

Birding by Ear Boot Camp, April 14th

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Julie J. Metz Wetland Preserve and Leesylvania State Park, Woodbridge, VA
Saturday, 14 April 2019
7 am-3:30 pm

Spend a full day learning bird song in the field and on the trails with birding expert Greg Fleming. Some basic birding knowledge is a prerequisite, such as being able to identify some common local birds by sight. Bring a bag lunch, we’ll be out in the field all day but will break for lunch at Leesylvania State Park. This class will fill up quickly! Register here. Limited to 15 students. $50 Audubon Society of Northern Virginia members/$60 non-members.

How to lead a bird and nature walk, Apr. 6th

Location TBD
Saturday, 6 April 2019
9 am – 12 pm

Do you love birds? Wildflowers? Frogs? Fungi? Some other aspect of nature? Do you ever think you might like to share that love with others in an organized way, but are not sure how to do it? If so, this workshop will answer a lot of questions and give you good tips on how to be a successful leader. Some time in a classroom setting and will be followed up with a walk to practice what you’ve learned. Register here. Limited to 15 students. $10 Audubon Society of Northern Virginia members/$15 non-members.

Instructor: Dixie Sommers has been an Audubon member since 1986 and became a serious birder after moving back to the Washington area from Ohio in 2006, adding to her long interest in nature photography and travel. She is an avid e-bird user and enjoys using photography to help learn the birds, and sharing her photos. In addition to favorite places in Virginia, her recent birding travels include Alaska, Cuba, Ecuador, Ohio, South Florida, Antarctica, and Argentina. Dixie lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and retired from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics after a long career of counting jobs and workers. Now she counts birds!

Early Spring Birding, Mar. 28th

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Fairfax High School Room A139, 3501 Rebel Run, Fairfax, VA 22030
Thursday, 28 March 2019
7 – 9 pm

Late March can offer spectacular birding, marking a transition between winter and spring, Many of our winter birds, such as waterfowl and sparrows, are still around, but they are joined by early migrants returning to breeding territories. This workshop will discuss birds that occur here at this time of year, with a special focus on species that are migrating into our region and their arrival dates. An ancillary field trip offers a chance to encounter many of these birds in their natural settings. Register here. $30 Audubon Society of Northern Virginia members/$40 non-members

Instructor: Larry Meade is Audubon Society of Northern Virginia Education Chair and president of the Northern Virginia Bird Club.

Volunteers Needed to Help with the May 11 Eagle Festival!

The Mason Neck State Park Eagle Festival on Saturday, May 11 is the Park’s biggest event of the year. More than 20 environmentally-oriented organizations will showcase interactive exhibits. We’ll have a full day of programs, including shows on reptiles and raptors, live music, pony rides, a tent for children’s activities and more. Last year more than 4000 people attended this great event. The Friends of Mason Neck State Park covers all the expenses for the Festival, as well as providing the volunteers that help to make the event go smoothly. Would you like to help us out? Send an email to Volunteer for Eagle Festival and we’ll find you a job that you’ll enjoy.

The Hospitable Garden: Welcoming beautiful butterflies, moths, and other critters, Mar. 16th

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Long Branch Nature Center, Arlington VA
Saturday, 16 March 2019
10 am-12 pm

Long Branch Nature Center and the Washington Area Butterfly Club are pleased to present this talk by Tyler Ormsby and Alyssa Ford-Morel. They will talk about how to choose and cultivate plants to better create ecosystems in our yards. Tyler is a certified Master Gardener and his yard is an Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary. Alyssa is an Audubon at Home Ambassador and a Certified Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Free program.