Every year I try to provide ideas for those of you who are searching for the "perfect" gift for a gardener in your family. This year I'm highlighting some new gardening books that I recently read.
Entomologist Doug Tallamy has two books that have changed the way I think of gardening and landscapes in general. "Bringing Nature Home" in many ways is a plea for using natives in the landscape, but it is more than that. This book explains why natives are essential to foster diverse, ecologically sound landscapes that support various forms of wildlife. I learned that a single pair of breeding chickadees must catch 7,500 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young. That is a lot of caterpillars! Because our native plants evolved with the insects, they can support that many caterpillars without showing injury.
Tallamy's next book, written with Rick Darke, takes these principles a step further. "The Living Landscape" is a beautifully illustrated book that describes exactly how to create a landscape for wildlife. They suggest enriching our landscapes with layers to create interconnections between plants, animals, insects, birds, and humans. The authors explain how to use native and "well-behaved" nonnative groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, understory trees, and canopy trees to create garden spaces that nurture wildlife, while also providing places for us to play and entertain.
Two of the most fun plant-related books that I've read in a long time are by author Amy Stewart. Her creative look at plant functions gave me a whole new appreciation and respect for our plant world. Her book "The Drunkin Botanist" covers from A to Z the plants that create the world's great drinks. From agave for tequila to sarsaparilla for root beer, she educates the reader about the history and use of these plants that we drink.
Stewart's book "Wicked Plants" is a bit darker and in many ways the exact opposite of her book about drinks. The cover says that is covers "the weed that killed Lincoln's mother and other botanical atrocities." These include arrow poisons, fatal fungus, psychedelic plants, weeds of mass destruction, and the terrible toxicodendrons, to name a few.
Finally, my favorite book of the year is "Exploring Nature in Illinois…A Field Guide to the Prairie State" by Jeffords and Post. This "lavishly illustrated guide to fifty of Illinois most beautiful wildlife havens" uncovers prairies, lakes, rivers, and woodlands that I must go experience for myself.
Hot off the press just this month is Jeffords and Post's newest book "Butterflies of Illinois: A Field Guide." Co-written with butterfly expert Jim Wiker, this book uses actual photos to help us easily identify common and rare butterflies in Illinois. As an added bonus imagine my surprise when I read my name in the book's acknowledgment as they thanked the Havana Girls (Cindy, Jo, and Rhonda).
Happy shopping! Oh, and if you are the gardener, cut out this article and leave it in an obvious spot for your loved one to see and get the hint! View my YouTube video on this topic athttp://go.illinois.edu/ferreevideos