March 2017 Update: The Sixth Extinction and the First Garden

I recently finished The Sixth Extinction, a Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Elizabeth Kolbert. Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Kolbert posits that we are currently experiencing the planet’s sixth extinction. This time around, however, the cataclysm is not an asteroid or a natural event—but us. For the last thousands of years, at an accelerating pace, human existence has drastically been altering the environment.

One form of alteration is the human introduction of species to new environments. What often happens is that the newcomer proliferates at the expense of native wildlife. The reason is that “a species that’s been transported to a new spot, especially on a new continent, has left many of its rivals and predators behind.” Extinction of native wildlife ensues and global biodiversity shrinks.

I recently moved from a condo to a home and, for the first time, will be tending my own garden. As such, native and non-native species is a topic on my mind.

I’ve been drawing on the expertise of a friend, Lorraine Johnson, who is a native gardening expert and author. She defines native plants as those that grew in North America before European settlement. She views gardening as a deep and meaningful conversation with the planet, and she views a garden as a place where plants, animals, and people can all together thrive.

“We may garden because it is fun and creative and satisfying,” she writes in The Gardener’s Manifesto, “but there’s a lot more to it than turning our yards into pretty places. We’re enacting ideas when we dig in the earth, ideas about our role as humans and our place in the bigger picture, ideas about our future and what we want the future to be.”

My goal is to fill my small space with plants that attract and sustain native birds, butterflies, and bees. But I’m a novice. I’d love your tips and ideas. And if you have any book recommendations—anything that has expanded or altered your perspective—please also let me know.