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I grew up on Long Island on a block called Garden Place. Sounds like a perfect name for a horticultural soap opera, and in a way it was. Grandma grew tomatoes. Every Saturday Dad mowed the lawn. Every Mother's Day Mom got another pink azalea, or a yew bush to trim into a neat round ball. Today, my childhood home looks like almost every suburban garden from Boston to Seattle--a golfcourse quality lawn, yews and more yews, some azaleas, and a homey collection of plants from around the world.
When Henry Hudson landed on Long Island in 1609, he sung the praises of its white ocean strands blanketed with beach plum and prickly pear. Alas, as more families like mine settled on Long Island, the beaches got trampled. The island's ancient oak forest yielded to subdivisions and shopping malls. The Hempstead prairie, once the largest prairie in the East, is virtually extinct. Only recently have I begun to fathom the environmental devastation wrought by conventional suburban gardening--a subject just beginning to be explored in gardening books.
Thirty years ago, J.I. Rodale dragged the gardening world into the post-pesticide era with the publication of The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, …