CATHIE DRAINE: Conservation can start with your yard

CATHIE DRAINE: Conservation can start with your yard


I should be writing technicolor and predictable prose about the beauty of spring, the magic of sprouting seeds, and the musical morning wake up calls of the neighborhood robin. And I want to. But I am conflicted because an invitation to the garden comes draped with warnings... are you well, stay 6 feet apart, please wear a mask.

Like many, I want to share garden stories, encourage, teach, shake hands, hug, celebrate. But... .

I want to understand, in big terms, what sort of world we are living and gardening in. Haroon Rashid, an author from Jammu Kashmir, India is achieving internet prominence because of a poem he began on December 19, 2019 and finished on March 25, 2020. He calls it “We went to sleep in a different world”.

Here are some of his thoughts: “Hugs and kisses suddenly become weapons and not visiting parents and friends becomes an act of love...Suddenly you realize that power, beauty and money are worthless and can’t get you the oxygen you’re fighting for...The world continues its life and it is beautiful...I think it is sending us a message. ‘You are not necessary. The air, earth, water, and sky without you are fine. When you come back, remember that you are my guests, not my masters.’”

The poem is chilling and strangely comforting. And that brings me to another book, also chilling and comforting. It is “Wilding, Returning Nature to our Farm” by Isabella Tree. She and her husband own Knepp Castle Estate, 3,500 acres in West Sussex, England. The author describes the use and misuse of the land from 1206 to the present time. Recently she and her husband were trying to manage the estate as an agricultural business... and realized that not only was the business failing, the land was failing as well.

A series of events and an introduction to the concept of ‘rewilding’ saved the estate and in the process of ‘returning the land to nature’ not only restored fecundity to the soil, shrubs, trees and waterways, it produced habitat for almost uncountable insects, butterflies, birds, small vertebrates and animals — many of whom were listed at risk or had not been seen in recent history.

At this point, even though the author is describing contemporary land rewilding restoration in England, it embraces the tenets being emphasized by the USDA National Resources Conservation Service for farmers, ranchers and gardeners — keep the soil covered with living plant material, reduce or eliminate soil disturbance, practice plant diversity and, where possible, restore animals to the land.

At Knepp Castle Estate they did all this, ultimately adding heirloom animals — Tamworth pigs, Old English longhorn cattle, red deer, fallow deer, roe deer and Exmoor ponies — all of which run free on estate lands.

Author Isabella Tree’s marvelous book and its message reminds me of the challenge in Doug Tallamy’s latest book, “Nature’s Best Hope, a New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard”.

Contained in Rashid’s poem (and YouTube video), and in the rewilding of Knepp estate and Tallamy’s book, are common themes: be a good steward of those we love, this earth we love, and take care of ourselves.

Cathie Draine is a South Dakota Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and a member of the Garden Writers Association. She lives and gardens in Whispering Pines. Contact her at

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