The Living Landscape
Designing for beauty & biodiversity in the home garden.
Authors: Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy
Publisher: Timber Press, 2014
Book review by Derek Yarnell, Master Gardener
In my humble opinion Douglas Tallamy is a bona-fide rock star of the gardening world. And, this amazing fellow is not even a horticulturalist by trade!
In 2007 Tallamy published “Bringing Nature Home” his seminal work on gardening with nature in mind that, according to the National Wildlife Federation, “…changed the conversation about gardening in (North) America.” Tallamy awakened readers to the connection between their personal plant choices and massive declines in North American wildlife populations. Rather than dish out blame, Tallamy presents his readers with an opportunity and a solution: plant more native plants.
In 2020 he published the accessible and powerful New York Times bestseller “Nature’s Best Hope”. In this compelling follow up he expands his thinking beyond the individual garden bed. Tallamy invites readers to become a part of a networked community and a movement to save the world.
As highly as I recommend both of these books (but if you have to choose one, choose his most recent: “Nature’s Best Hope”), there is a level of detail missing for avid gardeners. In 2014’s The Living Landscape Tallamy teams up with accomplished landscape designer and photographer Ricke Darke for a detailed exploration of how to successfully implement a gardening strategy respectful and supportive of nature, while maintaining a functional and beautiful landscape.
I applaud their practical approach.
While some advocates for rewilding our urban environments like the UK’s Mary Reynolds call for handing the land back over to nature, Darke & Tallamy provide a much more workable solution: space that accommodates both humans and nature. This is an approach to saving the world embraced by the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation. These organizations and many more recognize that you and I are a ‘part of’ and not ‘apart from’ nature. They know a personal connection can be the spark igniting a lifelong passion for protecting nature and how one’s own yard can contain nature enough to provide that spark.
Luckily for all of us, the feedback loop for gardeners is fast; there is still a chance for millions of North Americans to personally reconnect with nature at home. Incorporate the thinking outlined by Tallamy & Darke and nature will respond. And quickly.
Tallamy & Darke use the framework of layers, going beyond the physical layers Master Gardeners will be familiar with (canopy, understory, etc.) to include ‘temporal’ layers which ensure people’s needs are accounted for as well.
The first third of the book focuses on gardening-ecology. The pair then shifts gears to provide practical examples from Darke’s time spent designing Living Landscapes. With ample photos they show us examples from Longwood Gardens (near Philadelphia) where Darke worked for nearly 20 years and from his own personal gardens. Practising what they preach, the pair uses their framework of layers to explore what Darke has been able to achieve in creating functional, beautiful landscapes that celebrate and nurture wildlife.
The final section of the book takes a deep dive into plants for the “mid-Atlantic” region. While some plants can also be found in our ecozone, there are better resources to delve into if you are interested in the ecological role of plants native to our ecoregion.
I have read this book twice (the second time skipping past the deep dive into Mid-Atlantic plants), and “two-thumbs up” recommend it for anyone looking to help heal the world through their gardening. You have more power to help than you may know!
Unlike Tallamy’s other books this is a bona-fide coffee table book, but unlike many coffee table books, this one is not only beautiful, it will also make you smarter.
Derek Yarnell has been a MG since 2019 and occasionally blogs about his personal journey to more sustainable gardening at derekyarnell.ca. On April 15th he will be presenting on incorporating native plants into an existing perennial garden for the Prairie Naturals Gardening Group.