Jane Goodall on New Gardens for a Changing World

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This is an excerpt from Jane Goodall’s new book Seeds of Hope.

Gardening is changing. Until recently, modern landscaping and gardening was oriented more toward maintaining lawns and decorating beds with flowers and shrubs. In order to keep the grass green and exotic decorative plants alive, gardeners relied on liberal doses of water as well as chemical fertilizers, pesticides and “weed killers,” such as Roundup Ready.

At one time a young man was paid, one day a week, to help Olly with the garden at The Birches. We did not realize that he was using herbicide on the lawn to get rid of moss and other small weeds, as well as a particularly vicious pesticide to deal with the snails and slugs. When we found out, we were horrified. About six months after we dispensed with his services, we heard, for the first time in several years, the bang, bang, bang of a song thrush smashing open snails against a rock. Gradually other birds reappeared, and now the whole area is protected for conservation and the use of chemicals strongly discouraged. So many people are concerned about the terrible environmental degradation of our planet, and so often they feel helpless and hopeless in the face of all that is wrong. The most important thing, as I am constantly saying, is to think about small ways in which we can make a difference — every day. And people lucky enough to have gardens can truly make a difference by maintaining the land in an environmentally friendly way.

Right now the biggest new gardening trend in the United States is the elimination of fertilizer-​dependent and water-​draining grass lawns. Instead, gardeners are discovering the joys of creating more environmentally friendly habitats with native trees and plants — those that have been living in the area for hundreds of years and are adapted to the climate.

My botanist friend Robin Kobaly is an advisor to people who want to grow drought-​tolerant gardens with native plants in the Southwest. She says that people are especially enthusiastic about native plants when they live in arid areas, but even in other parts of the country, where there’s more rainfall, gardeners are getting sick of the amount of water it takes to keep grass lawns green. At the moment, gardening with drought-​tolerant native plants is just a popular eco-​conscious trend. But soon, five to six years from now, Robin believes, “it will be imperative for everyone to change how they landscape and garden as the overriding reality of the lack of water becomes apparent.”

Jane Goodall on Environmentalism

This new gardening movement not only reduces water waste but also provides an attractive habitat for the local wildlife. Last month Gombe videographer Bill Wallauer wrote to tell me about how he and his wife, Kristin, were transforming their “typical ridiculous American lawn” into a native plant habitat for bees and other insects and birds and a whole host of small creatures.

Bill put in a stream, a pond and a wetland for water-​loving plant species. He created two areas of high-​wildlife-​value shrub species, planted numerous coneflower and aster species and is propagating native grass.

“My favorite spot is our beautiful native-​woodland-​wildflowers area, which has species like wild ginger, wild leak, and trillium,” he recently wrote to me. So far he has recorded 37 bird species in their “tiny little backyard.”

I have to say that while it may seem small to him after the wilderness of Gombe, it is clearly rather large compared to the postage-​stamp-​size gardens that most people have — if they have a garden at all. But even the smallest of gardens can make a difference for the wildlife that is struggling to survive. Almost everyone I meet wants to save wild animals and insects, but they often don’t realize how important it is to preserve the anchors of the wildlife community — the native plants.

Dance of the Honey Bee

In urban areas where the gardens and yards are often small, some communities are joining together to create wildlife havens. There is, for example, the “Pollinator Pathway” in Seattle — where a group of neighbors have transformed the scruffy strips of grass in front of their homes, between the sidewalk and the street, into a mile-​long bee-​pollinator corridor, planted with native plants that attract and nourish bees. Other neighborhoods and individual properties are havens for migrating birds. Robin tells her gardening clients, “Think of your garden as a gas station for migrating birds, a place where they can fill up their tanks — they can’t migrate if they don’t have fuel.”

It is exciting to think that our gardens can be part of a growing effort to restore health to our planet. To this end, enormous efforts are also being made by young people all around the world through the JGI Roots & Shoots program.


Excerpted from Seeds of Hope by Jane Goodall,  © 2014.  Excerpted by permission Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  • cmom

    Jane Goodall IS the coolest person on the planet.

  • Gregorius Lignator

    Happy to say that my wife and I have created various little jungle spaces on our lot. Glad we don’t have a homeowners association and lawn nazis to deal with. Many are stuck with onerous and rigid requirements.

  • Anonymous

    Exciting to see Sarah Bergmann’s Pollinator Pathway mentioned in this excerpt! You can learn more about this program at http://www.PollinatorPathway.com .

  • jp

    Recently, while visiting at an Ace Hardware store, we came across a person with jugs of round-up. Their cart was full. What do you say to this person? I wanted to engage in conversation and make the person understand what an atrocity to spray that stuff anywhere but didn’t know how to start. Can someone tell me how to start?

  • Samantha Geiger

    It would be hard to start a conversation like that but what you say doesn’t matter nearly as much as just simply having the courage to say anything at all. Maybe start out with “Wow, that’s a lot of Round-Up. Did you know how terribly toxic that is for animals and the environment?” and if all goes well, you will be able to have a nice discussion and inspire one more person to stop poisoning our planet.

  • jp

    Samantha .. Thank you so much. That was almost verbatim what I would have said and guess I just needed to know that I am not getting too out of line. As a activist we are in your face but these are different times and this wasn’t the place. I think our next logical step is we’re going to have to stop shopping at places that sell Round-up. It’s a big bite but I can do this. :)

  • Miriyam Gevirtz

    Please please please put out water for the birds, insects.

  • Anonymous

    How about this rub, “Well, I guess Monsanto’s stock should be up tomorrow!?”

  • dwight

    Kill your lawn!!

  • carolyn willard

    I do live in a community where nazi HOA rules. I put in a request to remove lawn and put in CA native plants. They dragged their feet so long I said to myself – “pay their damn fine and go ahead.” Approval arrived just as I was finishing up applying pea gravel around plants (we have neighborhood cats that love using my wood mulch as kitty litter box). The head of the committee said he “hates” my yard now, and I said “Let’s compare water bills this summer”. We live in SoCal, yet lawn irrigation water runs in the streets. I fear this will only stop when the spigots run dry

  • jp

    You know geneBee … that’s a good start. just not sure if I can engage on that one.

  • Anonymous

    jp, just planting that or a similar seed (question) in that person’s mind is all I had in mind. A polite gambit. (uh, a bit aggressive I must admit. :)

  • jp

    No, I’m just happy to know that people would equate Monsanto, the stock market and those jugs of Round-up in their cart. LOL You and I may think on that level … oh hell, I will give it shot.

  • Mike Garcia

    Growing food in small spaces with water that recycles over and over and making it look good seems like an impossible feat, but is being done by Sustainable Gardening. Check out the work being done at the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

  • rg9rts

    And then there was no water

  • rg9rts

    Have you ever had dandelion salad??

  • jp

    rg9rts ~ Good one!

  • Fred Pings

    That would only encourage them. My guess is you would be seen as just another type of’Nazi’ in their mind. I think the best response is the dandelion salad opener.

  • homegrownfunfamily .

    We’re moving from SoCal to Texas this summer and on my list for house hunting is “little to no lawn”. That will be tough. I can see many homeowners have just let them dry up there. You reminded me Carolyn to make sure I won’t be hindered by an HOA.

  • homegrownfunfamily .

    Until you can rip out your grass permanently, use the cut grass to make homemade nitrogen fertilizer for your lettuce, kale and peas. Or add it to your compost.

  • Anonymous

    Round up is very low in toxicity, and is considered practically non-toxic. Call your nearest Poison Control Center and ask them what the LD 50 (lethal dose of half of the population) is for Round-Up, and then ask them how toxic is that, and how much you would have to drink to get to the LD 50 dose. Glyphosate is the active ingredient and its oral LD 50 on rats is 5000 mg/kg, and its dermal LD 50 on rabbits is >5,000mg/kg. They never go beyond 5,000mg/kg because at that dose its considered so low in toxicity there is reason to go any higher.

  • Anonymous

    Tell that to the bees.

  • Anonymous

    Would you spray Agent Orange on your lawn?
    Roundup is a good start…. its effective ingredient is a daughter product of Agent Orange production. Got… cancer?

  • Anonymous

    The label used to read “Biodegradable” then Monsanto lost in court after techs found Roundup sitting in the soil for years after application. In response to this proof Monsanto simply removed “biodegradable” from the label.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, you’re very correct.

  • jp

    That’s a good one. I will use it. Thanks KareemAbdul.

  • jp

    I think the word here is ‘toxic’. If it’s toxic in any form we don’t need it. Any chemical that kills one small life will effect all life in the long run. The toxicity levels are a lie just like tobacco. A lot of people use Round-up and they use it over and over and over. There are not many yards that the smell is not evidence. They keep raising the acceptable levels as time goes on. I feel it’s better to bend over and pull that weed than to stand there with a bottle and spray. Or just don’t worry about the weeds or the bugs, for that matter. It really matters. Good morning.

  • Anonymous

    Everything is toxic if taken in excess, even water. So what level of toxicity are you willing to accept? Your calling toxicity levels a lie, but are you even familiar with how toxicity levels are determined? Anyone can make a claim such as yours, but without even knowing how the levels are determined or being able to support your claim using facts, makes your claim worthless. Now if you would like to back up your claim using facts, I’ll be glad to discuss it with you on the same level. Round-up has a very low toxicity for anything except for plants. Round-up interferes with photosynthesis process of a plant which ends up basically starving the plant of nutrients. Obviously, since other organisms don’t rely on photosynthesis to survive it will be far less toxic to other organisms such as mammals. You also make an interesting claim that you can smell Round-Up on lawns. I would love to put that to a test to see how accurate that statement is. To bend over and pull a weed out of the ground and think you’ve gotten rid of the plant in many cases doesn’t get rid of the plant at all. For some plants leaving only a very small root in the ground is enough for the plant to reestablish itself again. Even though I know that, I still find myself pulling weeds out of the ground hoping it doesn’t re-establish itself. If you’re going to do that, you best time in pulling out the weed is right after a rainfall when the soil is wet.

  • jp

    ~ WOW ~

  • Anonymous

    Are you responding with “WOW” because I blew you away with facts, not myths, or is it because I wrote above your comprehension level?

  • Anonymous

    What, the bees can’t read a label?

  • jp

    Neither.

  • Anonymous

    Then I’m happy to learn you’re now completely satisfied and understand what I wrote about Round-Up having a low toxicity level for almost all organisms except for treated plants, and that you must accept what I wrote as being factual. Otherwise, you would have countered my comments with factual information founded on sound scientific principles and not on opinions.

  • jp

    Nope.

  • Anonymous

    So you still don’t understand.

  • Anonymous

    I take it as meaning you recognize the fact you can’t compete intelligently, so your only recourse is to escape. After all, how can you defend myths that have no scientific basis or truth to them.

    So I’ll leave it at that. Good bye.

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least we’re able to say the word (oligarchy). Phrases like ” moving toward” are disingenuous and assures a case of mass clinical depression because most people know we’ve been solidly ruled by the oligarchs just as long as Russia and Europe has. And, admonishing me against giving up hope is utterly asinine. What possible chance do I have for a brighter future at 60? Disgust and hate are products of the machinations of oligarchs. I have no appetite for violence and, no will to go on a crusade that will shorten my life further. If I happen to live long enough to see oligarchs taxed to oblivion and, maybe a few who get the needle on death row, the entertainment value will be good enough for me.

  • Anonymous

    And, if you feel I’ve gone over the edge, try thinking about the millions of innocent people that have lost their lives only to bolster the bottom lines of oligarchs.