Save the planet and all its creatures – by gardening wisely

The Life in your Garden               The Life in your Garden by Reeser Manley and Marjorie Peronto is an important and interesting book for all who garden and all who value our environment and the critters that share it with us. I originally got the book for my wife Linda, a gardening fanatic who gardens all winter in her 14 foot by 28 foot hoop house, heated by the sun.
Yup, we had fresh veggies for Christmas dinner! Linda also has raised beds and two regular outdoor gardens. And that doesn’t count her amazing flower gardens that surround the house.

What most surprised me about this book, subtitled, “Gardening for Biodiversity” is that I enjoyed it. I’m not much of a gardener, but there is lots of fascinating information about bird and animal life in the book.

The book is billed as “a must-read call to action for gardeners concerned about Earth’s biodiversity crisis,” and it is all of that. Best of all, it tells us how we can help improve things for all of us, especially the critters who live in our yards, gardens, and forests.

From 2007 through 2015, Reeser Manley wrote a weekly column about gardening for the Bangor Daily News. He also taught horticulture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the University of Maine, Orono. In 2013 he retired from teaching chemistry and physics at a small coastal high school to spend his time gardening and writing.

Marjorie Peronto is a professor for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and has been teaching courses in fruit and vegetable gardening, ecological landscaping and pruning for 26 years.  She oversees Downeast Maine’s Master Garden Volunteers program, training individuals to conduct community outreach projects that promote sustainable gardening and food security.

Published last November by Tilbury House, The Life in your Garden will become an important reference work for you and your gardening future, but also for all of us who are concerned about the loss of habitat that is critical to our favorite critters including butterflies and birds.

Turns out you can do a lot of things to help save your favorite species, and surprisingly, many of those things are fairly simple.

I was delighted to learn that I should not be rototilling the gardens. I hate that job and now I have reason to stop! “We can find no good in rototilling or deep-digging established garden beds,” they write. “These actions disturb the natural growing environment for plant roots, breaking up fungal hyphae, killing worms and arthropods, destroying soil structure, and eventually reducing soil aeration. Tillage disrupts the complex cycling of nutrients through the soil food web. It brings dormant weed seeds to the surface, where they will sprout.” Who knew?!

We’ve been composting for a long time, but learned some new techniques in that chapter. And it was in the chapters on garden herbivores, predator pollinators that I learned the most.

Why does all of this matter? Well, here’s what Reeser and Marjorie say: “We live in the sixth mass extinction period of Earth’s history, a period of unprecedented plant and animal species loss… Conservation biologists tell us that overall extinction rates are now 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate of one to five species per year, with future extinction rates likely to be 10,000 times higher.

“Some 31 percent of U.S. bird species and 12 percent of the nearly 10,000 bird species worldwide are on the brink of extinction. Amphibians, the hardest hit class of animal life on Earth, are experiencing extinction rates at least 25,000 times background, with more than a third of the 6,300 known species at risk of extinction.

“Thirty percent of all invertebrates, including insects, are threatened, and half of the Earth’s mammal populations are declining, with a third of mammal species at risk of extinction. Of the 12,914 plant species studied to date, 22 percent are threatened with extinction.”


In the closing chapter, titled “A Call to Action”, the authors summarize their list of things we can do to “transform your own garden into a biorefuge.” Many of these suggestions are easily implemented, from building a compost pile to refraining from killing every insect and snake you see in your garden.

I remember one year when a snake lived in Linda’s Hoop House. She hates snakes but we let it be. And now we know that was exactly the right thing to do.

And we stopped chopping down dead trees long ago, recognizing their importance to woodpeckers. We also stopped trimming the bushes that are all over our yard, understanding that these are havens for lots of creatures. Yes, a lot of their advice will result in less work on your part!

Simple things like providing water for birds and “mud puddling” areas for butterflies or leaving seed heads on sunflowers, coneflowers, and rudbeckias for our winter birds, are so easy to do. We all ought to be doing these things.

And I’ve started lobbying to reduce our large lawn to something more manageable. Reese and Marjorie offer some great ideas for turning lawn into garden habitat for many wild critters.

Their final piece of advice may be their best: “Enjoy the life in your garden.”

PHOTO BELOW: Yes, Linda is still growing veggies in her hoop house!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.