Reading Season – Great Reads on Gardening, Environment, and Conservation

And a peek at my winter reading list.

By now, your garden has gone to sleep for the season. The stands of last season’s wildflowers are crowned with a rime of frost, and the woolly bears and luna caterpillars are tucked beneath a blanket of fallen leaves. The big jobs are done. There will be no more weeding, planting, digging, or transplanting. But what to do if you can’t stop thinking about that garden? No worries, here is a list of books to inspire and inform you over the winter season.

Special thanks to the Facebook group Pollinator friendly Yards Midwest for the many wonderful book recommendations.

Here are my five favorite gardening-environment-conservation books. These books have guided and inspired me on my journey in urban native landscaping. If you’re interested in environmentalism, conservation, and changing the world right from your own yard, add these to your reading list.

Buy Nature's Best Hope on Amazon

Nature’s Best Hope – A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard

Douglas W. Tallamy

Got the climate change blues? Lying awake at night with the existential dread borne of collapsing insect populations? Feeling hopeless, and helpless to do anything about the unfolding clown-car-train-wreck apocalypse which humanity has wrought? Worry no more!

This is the one book I wish everyone–not just the garden-minded–would read. Put it at the top of your To-Read list even if you’re only thinking about gardening. Tallamy informs, inspires, and empowers readers to sidestep all the policy and politics and start making change right in their own back yards (or front, as the case may be).

From the publisher:

Douglas W. Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, awakened thousands of individuals to an urgent situation: wildlife populations are in decline because the native plants they depend on are fast disappearing. His solution? Plant more natives. In this new book, Tallamy takes the next step and outlines his vision for a grassroots approach to conservation.   

Nature’s Best Hope shows how homeowners everywhere can turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. Because this approach relies on the initiatives of private individuals, it is immune from the whims of government policy. Even more important, it’s practical, effective, and easy – you will walk away with specific suggestions you can incorporate into your own yard.  

If you’re concerned about doing something good for the environment, Nature’s Best Hope is the blueprint you need. By acting now, you can help preserve our precious wildlife – and the planet – for future generations.

Buy Braiding Sweetgrass on Amazon

Braiding Sweetgrass – Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Master storyteller, gifted writer, and decorated professor, Kimmerer masterfully braids botany and spirituality into one powerful book.  

Honestly, I’d have to say this is one of my favorite books of all time. A rare book that entertains, educates, and touches emotionally. I get goosebumps just thinking about it, because:

Every. Word. Resonates.

From the publisher:

As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as “the younger brothers of creation”. As she explores these themes, she circles toward a central argument: The awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the world. Once we begin to listen for the languages of other beings, we can begin to understand the innumerable life-giving gifts the world provides us and learn to offer our thanks, our care, and our own gifts in return.

Buy Silent Spring on Amazon

Silent Spring

Rachel Carson

No accounting of environmental advocacy would be complete without mentioning the grandmother tome of environmental awareness, Silent Spring.

If you’re under forty and have ever seen a bald eagle, you can thank Rachel Carson, for it was this book that started the wheels in motion.

Though it was written sixty years ago, it’s worth a read right now. For me, the most chilling thing in this 21st century world  is to realize how quickly we have lapsed into unfettered access to dangerous chemicals, and how easily big money quiets small voices.

Still, if we have done it before, we can do it again. Rachel Carson started groundbreaker. This book is a must-read if you’re passionate about saving the earth your grandchildren will inherit.

From Goodreads

Silent Spring is an environmental science book. The book documents the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting the industry’s marketing claims unquestioningly.

The book appeared in September 1962 and the outcry that followed its publication forced the banning of DDT and spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson’s book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement.

Buy A Sand County Almanac on Amazon

A Sand County Almanac

Aldo Leopold

If Silent Spring is the grandmother of environmental advocacy, A Sand County Almanac is the grandfather. A cornerstone of modern conservation science, policy, and ethics, it’s also a delightful read.

It’s what E.B. White would have written if he was a conservationist and not a farmer. Lyrical, lovely, and important.

From the publisher:

Few books have had a greater impact than A Sand County Almanac, which many credit with launching a revolution in land management. Written as a series of sketches based principally upon the flora and fauna in a rural part of Wisconsin, the book, originally published by Oxford in 1949, gathers informal pieces written by Leopold over a forty-year period as he traveled through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere; a final section addresses the philosophical issues involved in wildlife conservation. Beloved for its description and evocation of the natural world, Leopold’s book, which has sold well over 2 million copies, remains a foundational text in environmental science and a national treasure.

Buy Native Plants of the Midwest on Amazon

Native Plants of the Midwest – A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden

Alan Branhagan

Maybe you’re not a cover-to-cover kind of reader. Or perhaps you just want a book to page through while you daydream about next year’s garden. While there are a lot of such books out there, I like this one for it’s luscious photos and informative descriptions.

Branhagen offers the sort of helpful advice you need when planning a garden, for example which plants are more troublesome or difficult to grow. You’re going to want this one in hardcover, to perch on your lap while you sit in front of a winter fire.

From the publisher:

Native Plants of the Midwest, by regional plant expert Alan Branhagan, features the best native plants in the heartland and offers clear and concise guidance on how to use them in the garden. Plant profiles for more than 500 species of trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, ground covers, bulbs, and annuals contain the common and botanical names, growing information, tips on using the plant in a landscape, and advice on related plants. You’ll learn how to select the right plant and how to design with native plants. Helpful lists of plants for specific purposes are shared throughout. This comprehensive book is for native plant enthusiasts and home gardeners in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, northern Arkansas, and eastern Kansas.

Those are my five favorite books on gardening, environment, and conservation. But what will I be reading this winter? The following got high marks from my pals on Pollinator Friendly Yards Midwest. It’s hard to say how many I’ll get to, but here’s the list:

  • A New Garden Ethic –  Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future by Benjamin Vogt. This guy gets it. Looking forward to reading this book, which is not a how to, but a why.
  • Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein – I got so many recommendations on this from the folks on  Pollinator Friendly Yards Midwest so I think it’s well worth checking out.
  • New Naturalism by Kelly D. Norris
  • Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainier
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – Hey, they can’t all be non-fiction, can they? This was also recommended by someone on Pollinator Friendly Yards Midwest–and they haven’t steered me wrong yet.
  • Miracle Under the Oaks – The Revival of Nature in America by William K. Stevens – This one is of particular interest to me, since it’s a accounting of one grass-roots group success in restoration.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees – What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben – I’m the sort of person who literally talks to trees, and have been known to hug and high-five my favorites. So I have a feeling this book may confirms some of the things I’ve always known in my heart. Or maybe I’ll learn that the trees are thinking I’m a complete dork.

Also on my list, I have nearly a dozen reference books on herbalism and indigenous uses of native plants which I hope to browse.

What are your favorite gardening books? What book is next on your reading list? Leave me a comment below!

Cheers and happy reading.

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