This brings me to another feature of A Northern Gardener’s Guide—its explanations of the relationships between plants and specialist insects. Johnson and Colla start by making the case for creating habitat to support pollinators. They give the example of the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee. This was a widespread species (last seen in Pennsylvania in 2006) that has become our first native bee to be designated an endangered species. The authors’ hope is that together, we can create habitat to prevent more species disappearances. Doug Tallamy provides a compelling forward to the book that makes the case.
While Pennsylvania isn’t normally considered “northern,” this book has relevance to Pennsylvania Bird Towns. I do lots of observational botanizing to see what grows in the wild in the ecosystems we’re emulating in our yards. The plants covered in this book are spot-on for most PA habitats. Even for my location in the Southeast corner of the state, the majority of plants are a good fit.
One concern I have about their selection of plants (and most lists of native plants) is that many are hard if not impossible to find commercially. However, availability is a challenging issue for a book to address, as supplies vary locally and will hopefully improve into the future with demand. The authors do mention that plants should never be collected in the wild. Another note is that some of these are challenging plants for beginners to establish, and urban gardens may lack the habitat conditions for vigorous growth (for example woodlands). To avoid these pitfalls, remain flexible as you plan your garden, and supplement your efforts with plant and gardening expertise from local service providers and a trustworthy set of resources they suggest.