A personal perspective on the growing movement toward more natural and ecologically sound gardens in which snakes are as welcome as butterflies. In chapters that loosely follow the course of a year— beginning in the fall and ending the following Thanksgiving—Stein (My Weeds, 1988, etc.) describes how she came to change radically the way she gardened. The author, who lives with her husband on six acres in Pound Ridge, New York, began to question conventional practices—large lawns surrounded by neat beds of flowers and occasional specimen plantings—when, a few years ago, she noticed the absence of many creatures she could recall from childhood. Creatures like orioles, bluebirds, box turtles, and Monarch butterflies, once common, were seen no more. Stein began reading books and consulting experts, and decided to try to reverse the trend by changing the way she maintained her land. To restore the delicate balance necessary for a native ecology to flourish, she planted not only shrubs and trees native to the region but ones that would encourage birds and beneficial insects to return. She deepened her pond so that fish and turtles could flourish in water purified by appropriate plant life; replaced most flower beds with plantings of native flowers and shrubs; restricted the lawns to a small patch; seeded the old lawns with native grasses; and began to restore woodland areas to their pristine state. Stein still plants favorite foreign species, but argues forcefully that the old methods of gardening not only require inordinate amounts of labor and chemicals to keep unsuitable plants alive but are dangerously inhospitable to indigenous inhabitants. A persuasive and informed plea to change the way we garden, thoughtfully defying old wisdom and suggesting, without ever being didactic, just what can be achieved even on the smallest suburban lot.
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