It is surprising how much individual gardeners can contribute to global biodiversity. When we see so much news about disappearing wildlife and plants, its hard to know how to make a difference, but if you want a big boost of self-confidence, try two very readable books: Noah’s Garden, by Sara Stein and Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy.
Doug Tallamy makes a quick and articulate case for using as many native plants as possible simply because that is what native animals (especially insects) thrive on. Whatever your feelings about insects may be – and being creeped out is NOT your fault, it’s an involuntary response many of us have – insects and other, much tinier creatures, along with fungi, bacteria and various microorganisms are essential nutrition for other more charismatic creatures.
Here’s Dr. Tallamy in his own words from the site for his book (these are excerpts, and emphasis is mine):
Gardening For Life
Chances are, you have never thought of your garden – – indeed, of all of the space on your property – – as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.
Parks are not enough
I am often asked why the habitats we have preserved within our park system are not enough to save most species from extinction. Years of research by evolutionary biologists have shown that the area required to sustain biodiversity is pretty much the same as the area required to generate it in the first place. The consequence of this simple relationship is profound. Since we have taken 95% of the U.S. from nature we can expect to lose 95% of the species that once lived here unless we learn how to share our living, working, and agricultural spaces with biodiversity. 95% of all plants and animals!
Your Garden Has a Function
In the past we didn’t design gardens that play a critical ecological role in the landscape, but we must do so in the future if we hope to avoid a mass extinction from which humans are not likely to recover either. As quickly as possible we need to replace unnecessary lawn with densely planted woodlots that can serve as habitat for our local biodiversity. … Our studies have shown that even modest increases in the native plant cover on suburban properties significantly increases the number and species of breeding birds, including birds of conservation concern. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save biodiversity from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great. All we need to do is plant native plants!
Now, for even more inspiration, I recommend Noah’s Garden. It was originally recommended to me by another gardener and librarian at the Elizabeth C. Miller Library in Seattle. Sara Stein’s prose is readable, enjoyable, page-turning and useful. You will learn the basics of ecology and biology and why it matters. One of the most important concepts that her book illustrates and repeats with each chapter, is how important it is to have connected habitat (mine next to yours, and yours next to your neighbor’s). This makes the effective size of native plantings larger and more functional for wildlife, and the concept is very simple.
Together the message in these two books is: plant locally native plants (you don’t need to abandon your favorite ornamentals!), and try to connect the patches of habitat you create with others to form a larger area that can offer wildlife the essentials food, shelter, nesting and resting areas.