Gardening with Native Plants: Winter Reading

Native rose hips

Native rose hips

December brings the shortest days of the year, the first days of winter, and weather to match. Gardening tasks may be limited by snow and cold, but research, writing, webinars, planning, reading, and learning fill our indoor days.

Here are some reading suggestions for the months ahead:

A Healthy Nature Handbook: Illustrated Insights for Ecological Restoration from Volunteer Stewards of Chicago Wilderness, edited by Justin Pepper and Don Parker (Island Press, 2021), will resonate with many Arboretum community members. Through brief stories and appealing illustrations by eight artists, we see successes and suggestions from different projects. Many of these restoration approaches could also apply to native plant gardening. In most of the examples, practitioners and volunteers inspire and learn from each other, creating communities of expertise—fostering stewards as well as achieving valuable results on the land. The chapter “Backyard Seed Factory” provides tips for propagating seeds that are challenging to find or collect, but also informs propagation of other plants. Chapters on prairie and sedge meadow restoration will also be useful to those working on a smaller scale. Don’t miss the thoughtful chapters on monitoring: what, why, and how. Sharing results of monitoring is as important as recognizing that effective and appropriate monitoring is motivated by your restoration or gardening goals.

Cover of the book "The Midwest Native Plant Primer"To help you select native plants, The Midwest Native Plant Primer: 225 Plants for an Earth-Friendly Garden, by Alan Branhagen (Timber Press, 2020) offers four sections (trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and perennials and vines) describing desirable features for each species. Sun requirements and suitable sites are listed for each plant, along with high-quality photos. Because the author defines the Midwest broadly, gardeners may consult range maps to determine if the plants are native in their local area.

I’m reading Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society by Jeff Ollerton (Pelagic Publishing, 2021). It’s a more technical book, and the author lives in the United Kingdom. While the plant and pollinator examples do not overlap with familiar flora and fauna, many concepts – like flower-pollinator interaction networks and daily and annual patterns of flowering and pollinator activity – are discussed clearly. One chapter deals with the diversity of pollinators in gardens and the conservation role of native plantings in urban and country gardens.

Closer to home, the latest Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) report was published early in 2022, ten years after the initial report. In addition to the full reports, the website pages for five areas – air, land, water, built environment, and people – list main points and links in the following sections: summary of the issues, key points, solutions, and stories. The stories provide examples of how the five areas are inter-related, and how earlier projections of climate change impacts are being realized. Some are cautionary tales; others point to successes. While climate change has many impacts at different scales, WICCI is telling our regional story clearly and accurately.

Cover of the book "Botany for Gardeners"Botany for Gardeners: An Introduction to the Science of Plants, fourth edition, was released this year. This updated guide, by Brian Capon, explains plant structures and form, adaptations, functions, and reproduction. New illustrations and a complete glossary support the economical text, given the broad botanical territory it covers. It’s a valuable resource for beginning and experienced gardeners alike.

The Arboretum bookstore also has many new additions to the children’s book section. Bookstore hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 12:30–4 p.m.

While gardens are quiet, days are short, and winter settles in, let’s read!

—Susan Carpenter, native plant garden curator