The power of one gardener

Okay…I get it that this sounds really dumb…but it wasn’t until Nancy Werlin and Jim McCoy and I were wandering around the neighborhoods near Mt. Auburn Cemetery–where I’d been taken to see birds and birders–that I really understood the connection between the plants we choose to plant + insects + birds. 

That day, we stopped to chat with a woman who was working in her garden–a lovely, slightly messy mass of flower and plants.  She talked about her quest to gradually replace all of her non-native plants, and she recommended a book: Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Susain Wildlife in Our Gardens.  I went right home and ordered it.

Of course, I did know all about wild gardens because my dad always filled his with wildflowers  and vegetables and other interesting things.  (Here I’m waiting in front of his front garden for a motorbike pick-up from my brother Chris.)  It used to make Dad’s neighbor upset.  Now I see gardens like this one all over Portland, Oregon. 

But in spite of my dad’s gardens, it hadn’t clicked in my brain that of course various bird species are only going to eat the insects their bodies can use for food…and that insects are only going to eat the plants their bodies can use for food.  If we plant things that insects of our neighborhood can’t use for food, they go away and then the birds go away.

This person knows a lot more about it than I do:

Because of that conversation, gardens became a huge thread of Lanie’s story.  So did insects and birds.  Even the Boston gardener’s cat eventually made her way in.  She changed my life that chatty morning.

I hope American girls (including the one watering my dad’s garden this summer) and their families will find these plant-insect-bird connections (and choices) as exciting as I did.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Debbie on January 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I love the look of your dad’s garden! I aspire to that.
    (Love the little waterer, too!)


  2. Jane, how fabulous that we’ve both read Bringing Nature Home! I was sent a copy by a great friend of mine, Carole Brown, who is known online as the Ecosystem Gardener. She has worked with Doug Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home. I LOVE that book and wish everyone with a little bit of earth to care for would read it.

    Now I am planning my garden redesign and I’m incorporating more native plants as well as edibles for my family. In fact the reason I’ve not been in touch is that I’ve been distracted by the writing bug and developing my own blog site Loving Nature’s Garden. It is focused on getting closer to nature and community for living a more sustainable, happier life.


  3. […] The Power of One Garden is a wonderful piece about how one gardener (and one cat) changed author Jane Kurtz’s life. In a chance meeting with a gardener, Jane discovered Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, and completely changed the way she gardens. Kudos, Jane! […]


    • Thanks for the kudos, which are partly undeserved. I wish I could say I changed the way I garden. The truth is that I spend way too much time writing books and no time gardening these days–but it changed the way the characters in my new American Girl Lanie books garden! Lanie’s whole story become shaped by my new understanding of the connection between plants and insects and birds. And I’m excited to meet so many girls and their parents who are reading the books and (I hope) will see the connection, too.


      • I’m so happy that Carole picked up on your post because I’d not realized when I visited yesterday that you’re the author of the the American Girl Lanie books Jane. Congratulations, what a great project! I’m excited for the effect Lanie’s example can have for getting girls involved in helping wildlife through gardening across America. This is great stuff!

  4. That’s my hope! When I was writing the Lanie books, I talked with some folks focused on urban gardens in the Cambridge area, and I know they want to figure out how to use the amazing popularity of American Girl books and dolls to promote gardening. Fingers crossed that we can figure it out.


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