Spread the love

In a recent issue of the New Yorker I learned that the current head of the Nature Conservancy is a “new conservationist” who’s butting heads with “traditional conservationists.” Also termed “eco-pragmatism,” this growing attitude among environmentalists challenges the traditional goal of preserving nature in some pristine condition or returning it to a time when nature was presumed to be untouched by humans, a notion that’s been disproved.  Plus, with climate change, there’s no place on Earth untouched by human intervention.  Pragmatists (like Peter del Tredici) look to the eco-services rendered by nonnative species, rather than hoping for budgets large enough to get rid of them.

But traditionalists are having none of it.   When new conservationist Emma Marris suggested at an ecology conference that we accept some nonnative species as legitimate parts of the ecosystem,” traditionalist E.O. Wilson responded, “Where do you plant that white flag you’re carrying?”

Around the same time I saw Marris mentioned in the New Yorker I noticed her again in Landscape Architecture Magazine making some sensible points in a book review, so I looked into her other writing, only to discover she’d authored this book whose cover looked familiar to me but I’d never read or heard much about in gardening circles.

Marris’s appearances on stage and in interviews, captured on Youtube, have made me even more eager for the arrival of my copy of her book.

Fascinating stuff!  There’s also a trailer for Rambunctious Garden.

Then last weekend the New York Times published “Rethinking the Wild”  about a “heresy echoing through America’s woods and wild places,” tossing out the hands-off approach to wild places in favor of a more “nuanced, flexible approach” that might could include nonnative species and even assisted migration.  The author concludes, “In short, we need to accept our role as reluctant gardeners.”

Speaking of gardening, that’s how we create nature where we are, right? Gardeners are optimistic people, and Marris’s optimism is a refreshing change in the conversation.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on July 11, 2014 at 7:41 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet.


  1. YES YES YES!!! THIS. Susan, thank you so much – THESE are the ideas I have been trying to put forward! To try and pick a time when our environment was pristine and “native”, untouched by the hand of man, and to try and recreate that, is like trying to live in a renaissance faire. These are romantic notions of what we imagine the past was like. We are guilty of the part we play in the “destruction” of our planet, but the fact is that our planet has had many cycles of destruction and rebirth, and our hand in it is also part of nature.
    I never get how natives only activists decide the time that we “turn the clock back” to. Our planet and its rhythms are set on a larger clock – environments change over time and are impacted by climate, insects, avian life, and by people. We are without a doubt able to impact this world faster, and with a potentially more devastating nonchalance, but to respond to this by deciding that we just pick a time when things were “Pristine” and “Native” seems like story telling – we might as well be telling ourselves that “once upon a time, the garden of eden was right here and I am rebuilding it”.
    We need something more nuanced than the current binary of “native gardeners are saving the world and gardeners who utilize non-native palettes are destroying the landscape”
    Too many communities, held in the thrall of this native plant activist movement, are pulling down old stands of healthy, well adapted non-native trees in order to replace them with natives. What utter foolhardiness. We can’t turn back a clock – our climate is changing and what worked in the “olden days” may not be as optimal in the realities of now! But let’s leave the blinders on and go back to when things were better (as if that kind of thinking as EVER worked!)
    I was recommended the book recently – I am eager to dive in!

Leave a Comment