Book Review: Rambunctious Garden

Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
by Emma Marris
(Bloomsbury Publishing, 224 pp., $25, August 2011)

"Rambunctious gardening is proactive and optimistic; it creates more and more nature as it goes, rather than just building walls around the nature we have left,” proclaims author Emma Marris in the first chapter of Rambunctious Garden.

This is not a book about creating more nature preserves, or saving the “wild” that’s left—it’s about fundamentally rethinking the definition of nature and humanity’s relationship with it.

Insightful, probing and well-written, Rambunctious Garden is a look at the often-overlooked players of the modern ecology and conservation movement. Rather than expounding the benefits of removing exotic species and preserving pristine lands, Marris explores new and divisive concepts like embracing exotic species, designing new ecosystems that fulfill human-directed goals and moving species around to prevent their extinction.

Marris puts these promising, yet controversial ideas into the context of the conservation movement’s history. A science journalist by training, Marris builds her story from world travels, including trips to South Africa, Australia and Seattle, interviewing and witnessing first hand some of these conservation measures in place. Rambunctious Garden walks the tightrope between academic discourse and general interest reading. Background and context for theories and practices she explains is provided, but Marris doesn’t gloss over details or extrapolate beyond the information given. Endnotes and a bibliography serve as helpful references, and lend credibility to her claims and research, a practice seen too infrequently in many popular nonfiction books.

While many of the methods Marris describes may outright enrage some, they are already happening. Whether these practices are right or wrong is a question Rambunctious Garden leaves for the reader to decide.

- Katherine Silkaitis