Book Review: Back to Eden: Landscaping with Native Plants

Back to Eden: Landscaping with Native Plants by Frank W. Porter is a great introduction to using native plants in the landscape.  It touches on several topics relating to landscaping and native plants that you would expect, and several that surprised me.

The book starts with the “whys” of landscaping with native plants.  From having a sense of place to lost habitats, the idea of utilizing native plants in your garden is introduced as something that every property owner can do regardless of the size of their property or topography.  Porter makes clear that native plantings can even be done in containers.  

After the first few chapters that answer the reason why, we get to the chapters on the “hows” of including native plants in your landscape.  The chapters in this section are easy to reference and access and include topics like “Got Shade?  Native Grasses, Sedges, and Rushes for Landscaping, “Selecting a Groundcover” and “Gardening Problem Spots”, as well as other relevant topics.  The next few chapters are guides to specific plant types like shrubs, trees, vines, and more.  I found these chapters to be quite useful to the local situation here in Pennsylvania as the author is from Ohio.  While the author does mention Pennsylvania a couple of times, he mostly mentions Ohio and West Virginia, but regionally we are so close, and our climate is so similar that most of the native plants mentioned will thrive here in Western Pennsylvania as well.   

The book has several other topics that Porter goes into as well.  Rock gardening with natives is a very interesting chapter, which leads to another very practical chapter.  This is a chapter on creating Hypertufa, or containers made of a combination of sand, peat moss, and cement.  This was very interesting and is a topic I have never came across in a gardening book before.  Several more chapters include information on creating specific gardens such as a prairie garden, a rain garden, and a pollinator garden.  

After the practical chapters on gardening the book turns towards several informative chapters.  These include chapters on the unique ecosystem of the Shale Barrens of Central Appalachia, Unsung Heroines in the Movement to Preserve Native Plants, Stewardship, and more.  

Overall this is a very useful book, especially if you’re from Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Appalachia in general.  While the specific plants mentioned may be less relevant, gardeners from other areas can still find useful information in the principles discussed related to each topic.  One critique I have of this book is I would like to see more pictures.  This is not a guide that just goes through and list plants that would need a picture next to every plant mentioned, but I would have enjoyed seeing some more photographs of the native plants being described.  Another issue was that in the text plants were mentioned by common and botanical names, but in the photo captions it only mentioned the botanical name, which created a need to reference back to the text to find what specific plant was in the photograph. I guess these are more critiques of the publication rather than the author, as the content is quite useful and thorough. Overall though, this is a useful book that I plan on referencing it in the future.  

Bonus related book:

Book cover - Nature's Best Hope
Natures Best Hope – A book about what we as gardeners can do for conservation in our own yards.

Nature’s Best Hope:  A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W Tallamy – This is a book every gardener should read.  Tallamy proposes that homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers take it upon ourselves to create a national park stretching through our yards, business, and parks:  Homegrown National Park.  More information on this idea is here:  – Maybe I’ll write a more detailed review of this book soon, but I know there are a lot of reviews on it and it’s been featured in a lot of media. But, being we were discussing a book on native plants I figured I throw this one out there.

Have you read any good books on native plants? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!      

Published by scottmeneely

Gardener passionate about organic gardening, fresh food, sustainable landscaping, home brewing, and much more! Our nursery also includes my wife and 2 kids. We work together, learn together, and travel together. My wife is Panamanian and we try to grow lots of good Latin American ingedients. We live in Baldwin, Pennsylvania in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.

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