Roots and Shoots: Gifts for the Gardener

Books about Gardening and the Environment

By Pamela Doan

There are many issues that have stood out for me this year, and as the year draws to a close, it’s a natural time for reflection. Since it’s also a gift-giving season, I decided to combine the two here with my favorite subjects: books, gardening and the environment. Long before I was a plant geek, I was a plant nerd. There you have it.

Climate change has been the most pressing issue on my mind for years now; my gardening and landscaping approach is always about trying to minimize harm, and I want to help the acres I tend here in Philipstown to recover and restore to a better natural state. Everywhere I look, I see the impact of global warming. Whether it’s stretches of forest where nothing grows but invasive, non-native plants; a bird sighting off-season; or a species that has moved north — the signs of loss are evident, and it is a loss; make no mistake.

If that cheery subject makes you want to read more, then here are some suggestions for books that will also make good gifts for people who want to know what’s happening in the world and try out new ways of gardening and landscaping.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert

sixth extinctionKolbert’s book from 2006, Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change, defined the climate change crisis for me and shaped my thinking about what was happening. What I love about both books is her fieldwork with every situation she describes and uses as an example of the crisis. In The Sixth Extinction, she chronicles the rapid pace of species loss happening in the world now and gives it scientific and historical context, arguing that what we’ve set in motion, humans being the “invasive species” throughout the world, will wipe out much of the natural world.

Whether it’s the secondary effect of our actions, like burning fossil fuels and putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, or heedlessly moving fauna and flora all over the world out of native habitats and spreading disease, Kolbert documents the mass extinctions that are occurring now in real time. She doesn’t offer solutions and doesn’t seem particularly hopeful about the situation, but it’s reading that creates urgency. The New York Times Book Review included The Sixth Extinction in its top 10 books of 2014.

Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants
by Jane Goodall

seedsI haven’t finished reading this book yet, but I recommend it for anyone looking for the bright spots in the global environment. Goodall, known for her work with chimps, writes here about her lifelong engagement with the natural world around her, including an early love for a special tree.

I loved her memoir, Reason for Hope, and 15 years later, she remains impassively faithful to her belief that we can still pull ourselves out. Seeds of Hope has her gentle and reverent voice and is good reading for dark and quiet winter days.

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden
by Doug Tallamy

living landscapeTallamy gave a presentation at a conference I attended at the Native Plant Center last spring about fragmentation, dividing up and rupturing habitats through development, and the loss of biodiversity of plants and animals.

Essentially, when we landscape our yards with the same six shrubs and flowers as all the rest of our neighbors and cover the majority of the space with grass, we’ve annihilated the ecosystem and disrupted the natural flow of nature by developing the land into plots for homes and buildings. Tallamy has great ideas about how to restore pathways for nature in your home landscaping in this book.

Farming the Woods: An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests
by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel

farming the woodsI’ve been curious about agroforestry, planting in the woods instead of traditional pastureland, and also permaculture, a sustainable, ecosystem-based approach to landscape and garden design. (I’ve got this book on my personal Christmas wish list — thanks, honey!)

Both of the authors are researchers at Cornell University, and I attended a presentation Gabriel made at a conference and was excited about a lot of his ideas. These are the kinds of forward-thinking approaches that are necessary to both adapt to climate change and mitigate our impact.

Happy gift giving!

Photo by P. Doan

One thought on “Roots and Shoots: Gifts for the Gardener

  1. The Sixth Extinction made the top 10 list of the New York Times Book Review for a good reason. It is compelling reading, as hard to put down as a good fiction novel, but unfortunately it isn’t fiction.

    Thanks for the last two recommendations; I am ordering both. The Living Landscape will provide conceptual help in evaluating applications currently before our local Planning Board. And permaculture methods of integrating farming and forest will be essential for mitigating climate change disasters. The keynote speaker at one of last year’s farm conferences gave a Power Point presentation demonstrating the resilience of a silvopasture landscape (where livestock graze pasture in the forest) after a hurricane, compared to the devastation wreaked over the standard agricultural landscape.

    And I never hesitate to point out that every homeowner can do their part to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere: spread 1″ of compost over your lawn once every 10 years, then wait till the grass is 10″ before mowing, and you too can sequester stable carbon deep in the soil where it nourishes the plants instead of warming our planet!