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The Midwestern Native Garden by Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz

By Jane Durrell · May 22nd, 2012 · Lit
Although gardeners have always been drawn to the exotic, the authors of this book encourage exactly the opposite approach and eye non-native plants as encroachers. As gardeners themselves, this husband and wife team has transformed their own grounds from a traditional mixture of naturalized and native plants to one that harbors only natives to the benefit of birds, butterflies, bees and other life. “Non-native invasive plants damage the environment,” writes Adelman in her introduction. “It is up to us to learn how many non-native plants that began life in North America as popular ornamentals became today’s most invasive plants.” 

It’s a surprise to learn that hollyhocks, those slightly awkward but endearing summertime favorites, are on the list of undesirable aliens even though their North American establishment goes back to the 17th century.

Colonists brought along flowers from home.

The authors are keenly aware of interdependence within the ecological system and point to the diminishing population of monarch butterflies from “dwindling habitat and herbicides that kill the butterflies and the milkweed upon which larvae must feed and upon which the adults depend for food.” According to their sources, most butterflies and other insects are unable to digest non-native plants.

The book is well organized, laying out its premise in a preface and an introduction, followed by chapters for each of the four seasons. There are individual entries for non-native plants the authors consider interlopers and suggestions of various native plants that could be used in their stead.

Their premise, native plants are better than non-native and why, is made repeatedly, probably because the book is expected to be used for reference rather than as a straight-through read. Its illustrations, though, prompt leafing through the book just to enjoy them. They include photographs, paintings, drawings, all well chosen and well reproduced. Grade: B



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