Rambunctious Garden – a book review

by Brian Haddon

RambunctiousFriends of the Fletcher Wildlife Garden (FWG) would probably enjoy reading Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris. In this book, published in 2011, the author argues that it is time to stop trying to preserve nature in its pristine, prehuman state and to look forward and create the “rambunctious garden,” a hybrid of wild nature and human management. Most people involved with the FWG probably already implicitly understand this.

As the cover blurb says, “In this optimistic book, readers meet leading scientists and environmentalists and visit imaginary Edens, designer ecosystems, and Pleistocene parks. Marris describes innovative conservation approaches, including rewilding, assisted migration, and the embrace of exotic species and so-called ecosystems.”

Emma Marris is a freelance writer based in Columbia, Missouri. She worked as a staffer for several years at the respected interdisciplinary journal of science, Nature. Her articles appear in Nature and elsewhere. She has recently been experimenting with blogging about “small nature” in mostly urban settings at Everyday Nature. She writes in an engaging style.

This book is not a manual. It is, rather, a collection of theories and narratives organized into 10 chapters. As humans change every part of Earth, from what species live where to its very climate, our strategies for saving nature must change. The book explains why and offers some ideas for how. It takes readers on a Dutch safari with Nazi-bred cattle and treks deep into the totally non-native, totally wild jungles of Hawaii. Readers experience close encounters with European bison and a kayak tour through the hidden river at the heart of Seattle.

The chapter on “Learning to Love Exotic Species” struck a chord, as it includes quite a bit about “invasive species” that should give FWG volunteers something to think about. “The ‘invasive species’ paradigm is so easy. If a species isn’t native, it is a an outlaw and ought to be removed. If a species is native, it is good and should be kept. If we ditch those simple rules, then suddenly every plant and animal is a separate case, and we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we want this species in this place right now?’ To answer, we have to know what we want; we have to have a vision for the future of every piece of land.”

The concluding chapter is “A Menu of New Goals,” which speaks to the conundrum that we face at the FWG. The author poses the question: “If you were nominated to manage a piece of land near your house, what would your goals for that land be?” and then goes on to articulate seven goals that would resonate with most people associated with FWG. She acknowledges that there is no one best goal. Even after agreeing to pursue all sorts of worthy goals, complex compromises must be made. The book ends with the observation that, in spite of the difficulties in knowing what to do and how to do it, the task of managing the Earth can be “a pleasant, even joyful task if we embrace it in the right spirit.” And that’s something that FWG people knew all along!

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2 thoughts on “Rambunctious Garden – a book review

  1. A little late, but I found this book to be a provocative read. I personally share similar experiences as Marris and enjoy her perspective on the notion of nature. The ideas in it remind me of Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education.

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