Alternative Thinking

Water drops on non-native Alchemilla mollis

Water drops on non-native Alchemilla mollis

Nearly since the beginning we have produced non-natives. There are pet plants and plants everyone asks for and so it would be crazy not to sell them – we are a business after all – and those plants in question have no record of invasiveness or other harm on the ecology of a place, at least not more than any of the others we carry

Because we grow and sell primarily native plants and many of these go to ecological restoration, native plantings, pollinator gardens and the like, we engage in many conversations about the benefits of native plants and the abosolute horror of exotics.

We have been thinking about this dichotomy a lot. About the good plants and the bad plants, the natives and the exotics. And while we are happy to continue to have these conversations with folks who base their opinions on facts and research rather than opinion and anecdotes, we also are thinking about other realities.

Rather than write an extraordinary amount about it here, we would like to direct you to three books for your consideration. Each of these addresses what we will generically call novel ecosystems and new ways of thinking about our modern ecology and landscapes in the contexts of our global culture. The ways we humans have treated the living beings upon it and the changes we have caused have resulted in interruptions, changes and disconnections in the natual order of life.  We have to consider that native conditions for native plants no longer exist, and so the need for and use of native plants should be reconsidered. It is no longer enough to say this plant once grew here and so it should grow here again. We must take into account the natural and unnatural history of the location – the soils, the insects, the birds, the air, the precipitation, the hydrology. This may mean that plants we consider native in this area are no longer suitable, this may also mean plants that are not native to this area (perhaps native to another part of the US) are more suitable and perhaps even more valuable to the ecology.

If you are a native plant purist, these books will challenge your way of thinking and likely get you fired up and perhaps even outraged. If you are somewhere in the middle, these books will likely keep you right there, justfying any of the decisions you make. If you are on the all plants are good, they all feed wildlife, welcome to the new normal side of the argument, well, these may just give you something to think about before you plant that next plant.

The three books we think you should take a look at are:

Rambunctious Garden Saving Nature in a Post Wild World (2013) by Emma Marris

Publisher’s Description: 

A paradigm shift is roiling the environmental world. For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature. Humans have changed the landscapes they inhabit since prehistory, and climate change means even the remotest places now bear the fingerprints of humanity. Emma Marris argues convincingly that it is time to look forward and create the “rambunctious garden,” a hybrid of wild nature and human management.

In this optimistic book, readers meet leading scientists and environmentalists and visit imaginary Edens, designer ecosystems, and Pleistocene parks. Marris describes innovative conservation approaches, including rewilding, assisted migration, and the embrace of so-called novel ecosystems.

Rambunctious Garden is short on gloom and long on interesting theories and fascinating narratives, all of which bring home the idea that we must give up our romantic notions of pristine wilderness and replace them with the concept of a global, half-wild rambunctious garden planet, tended by us.

Review of Rambunctious Garden – Critical

Review of Rambunctious Garden – Praise

Something else to read from Emma Marris

Emma Marris TED Talk

The New Wild Why Invasive Species will be Nature’s Salvation (2016) by Fred Pearce

Publisher’s Description:

For a long time, veteran environmental journalist Fred Pearce thought in stark terms about invasive species: they were the evil interlopers spoiling pristine “natural” ecosystems. Most conservationists and environmentalists share this view. But what if the traditional view of ecology is wrong—what if true environmentalists should be applauding the invaders?

In The New Wild, Pearce goes on a journey across six continents to rediscover what conservation in the twenty-first century should be about. Pearce explores ecosystems from remote Pacific islands to the United Kingdom, from San Francisco Bay to the Great Lakes, as he digs into questionable estimates of the cost of invader species and reveals the outdated intellectual sources of our ideas about the balance of nature. Pearce acknowledges that there are horror stories about alien species disrupting ecosystems, but most of the time, the tens of thousands of introduced species usually swiftly die out or settle down and become model eco-citizens. The case for keeping out alien species, he finds, looks increasingly flawed.

As Pearce argues, mainstream environmentalists are right that we need a rewilding of the earth, but they are wrong if they imagine that we can achieve that by reengineering ecosystems. Humans have changed the planet too much, and nature never goes backward. But a growing group of scientists is taking a fresh look at how species interact in the wild. According to these new ecologists, we should applaud the dynamism of alien species and the novel ecosystems they create.

In an era of climate change and widespread ecological damage, it is absolutely crucial that we find ways to help nature regenerate. Embracing the new ecology, Pearce shows us, is our best chance. To be an environmentalist in the twenty-first century means celebrating nature’s wildness and capacity for change.

Review of The New Wild – Critical

Something Else to Read by Fred Pearce

Something Else to Read from Fred Pearce 

Beyond the War on Invasive Species A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration (2015) by Tao Orion and David Holmgren

Publisher’s Description:

Invasive species are everywhere, from forests and prairies to mountaintops and river mouths. Their rampant nature and sheer numbers appear to overtake fragile native species and forever change the ecosystems that they depend on. Concerns that invasive species represent significant threats to global biodiversity and ecological integrity permeate conversations from schoolrooms to board rooms, and concerned citizens grapple with how to rapidly and efficiently manage their populations. These worries have culminated in an ongoing “war on invasive species,” where the arsenal is stocked with bulldozers, chainsaws, and herbicides put to the task of their immediate eradication. In Hawaii, mangrove trees (Avicennia spp.) are sprayed with glyphosate and left to decompose on the sandy shorelines where they grow, and in Washington, helicopters apply the herbicide Imazapyr to smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) growing in estuaries. The “war on invasive species” is in full swing, but given the scope of such potentially dangerous and ecologically degrading eradication practices, it is necessary to question the very nature of the battle.

Beyond the War on Invasive Species offers a much-needed alternative perspective on invasive species and the best practices for their management based on a holistic, permaculture-inspired framework. Utilizing the latest research and thinking on the changing nature of ecological systems, Beyond the War on Invasive Speciesclosely examines the factors that are largely missing from the common conceptions of invasive species, including how the colliding effects of climate change, habitat destruction, and changes in land use and management contribute to their proliferation. Beyond the War on Invasive Species demonstrates that there is more to the story of invasive species than is commonly conceived, and offers ways of understanding their presence and ecosystem effects in order to make more ecologically responsible choices in land restoration and biodiversity conservation that address the root of the invasion phenomenon. The choices we make on a daily basis—the ways we procure food, shelter, water, medicine, and transportation—are the major drivers of contemporary changes in ecosystem structure and function; therefore, deep and long-lasting ecological restoration outcomes will come not just from eliminating invasive species, but through conscientious redesign of these production systems.

Review of Beyond the War on Invasive Species

Listen to Tao Orion on the topic of invasive plants

While in some cases these books seem to praise invasive species and diminish the scientifically proven influence on our ecosystems, they also provide a unique perspective one that many people you may talk with may harbor. We do not agree with everything in these books but we appreciate the perspective, knowledgeable arguments and candid discussion.

Whether you are a Native Purist, a Garden Middling or an Ecological Idealogue how do these books sit with you? Have you read these? What did you think? Did they change the way you think? What kind of conversations did you have with peers?

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