Books by Kathryn Phillips

Released: Feb. 1, 1998

Phillips (Tracking the Vanishing Frogs, 1994) provides a lucid explanation of natural landscaping as she follows in the footsteps of one of its practitioners. The use of native plants—grasses, shrubs, trees, and flowers that predate European settlement of the Americas, species that would be found in vestigial wildlands—is gaining a firm toehold in the field of landscape architecture. It is a trend that bucks our culture's dominant gardening aesthetic: the bigger and brighter and newer and stranger, the better, and there will never ever be enough lawn. Natural landscaping builds on a distinctive regional identity, taking its cues from micro- and macro-climates, soil types and site grades and what grew there in the distant past, fashioning a place-defining wild landscape of native plants and natural terrain, complex and subtle and ecologically sensitive to habitat and biological community. Phillips narrates as Joni Janecki, a landscape architect working in California, tackles three projects: a residential job in posh Montecito, where she is given a much-coveted free rein in planning (though the project remains unstarted); a corporate job at Hewlett-Packard's main headquarters, where her plans get considerable manhandling; and a design for restoring an abused parkland in Salinas. Along the way, Phillips elaborates on the travails of landscape architects (and the four devils of money, time, taste, and client awareness), the history of the nursery industry, the place of sustainability in landscaping, and the debate surrounding ``nativism'' (particularly as it relates to Michael Pollan's controversial article ``Against Nativism''). And Phillips tracks the projects closely, detailing each move, going so far as to tell readers the fate of an asphalt parking lot on one job site, for she is broadly curious about every aspect of the landscaping process. No bones about it, Phillips is a partisan, but she makes an elegant and persuasive case for going native. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1994

A probing exploration of the mysteriously rapid disappearance of many amphibian species—with disturbing portents for the wider ecological picture. Phillips is a pleasing science writer (Omni, Discover) who draws us into this warty topic with a touching boy-finds-frog story as told by an adult scientist she is working with. In 1960, the boy inadvertently killed his foothill yellow-legged frog by feeding it a pesticide-poisoned moth; ten years later no more of the frogs (Rana boylii) could be found in Southern California. This absence is far from a local ecological debacle: Scientists now realize that many species of one of Earth's oldest creatures are disappearing all over the globe. The little-known mystery that Phillips records got a public jolt when the celebrated Costa Rican golden tree-frogs (only discovered in 1967) vanished. Given glimpses of a scientist's field notes (``to view the golden toads breeding is like seeing the northern lights''), we begin to realize what natural grandeur has been lost. That grandeur is in the details of how frogs live, breed, and eat—members of one species, now extinct, turned their stomachs into hatcheries and vomited out their young. This species offered new ways to treat ulcers, while the alkaloids extracted from some poisonous frogs can fight malaria, cancer, and pain. When not being trampled by hikers and bikers, frogs are being pickled by herpetologists and suffocated by pet and food shippers. The widespread declines, however, are linked here to more serious human crimes. Phillips takes us from scientific conferences to once pristine wetlands devastated by ultraviolet radiation (via the thinning ozone layer), greenhouse gases, acid rain, and other pollutants that combine with encroaching pasturage and construction to destroy amphibian habitats. ``Declining amphibians are like miner's canaries,'' writes Phillips, who shares her ``enchantment'' for the song of the pond and compels us to listen to its silence. (8-page photo insert, not seen) Read full book review >