A Bug’s Menu

Having spent six decades of my life as a gardener, with two-thirds as a research entomologist, I have been confounded by the choice between what gardeners refer to as native (or natural) gardening and what I grew up understanding as just plain gardening.

For me gardening began by sowing seeds of exotic nasturtiums in the back yard of a San Francisco apartment. As I gained in wisdom—at least theoretically—gardening eventually morphed into an aesthetic art form meant to dress up my first home’s bones with enchanting forms and colors. As a biologist, however, my thoughts of environmental impact eventually lead to the realization that plants are not mere decorations for my pleasure but spaces that house many other life forms.

In the mid 1960s, Charles S. Elton (1900–1991), an early English ecologist and author of (1966), suggested that “domestic habitats [i.e., gardens] are in the direction of biological deserts.” This statement foreshadowed by half a century current questions concerning gardens, native and/or exotic plants and the role gardeners play in conserving what remains of our natural environment.

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