Elkin on Delcomyn and Ellis, 'A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers'

Fred Delcomyn, James L. Ellis
Rosetta S. Elkin

Fred Delcomyn, James L. Ellis. A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2021. Illustrations. xiv + 110 pp. $24.50 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8093-3818-4; $15.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-0-8093-3819-1. 

Reviewed by Rosetta S. Elkin (Pratt Institute) Published on H-Environment (February, 2023) Commissioned by Daniella McCahey (Texas Tech University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58216

A Backyard Prairie is an excellent publication that does a lot with a little. I mention this in terms of the slim size of the book, but also in relation to the landscape itself: a 2.5-acre restoration of a tallgrass prairie and its indelible impact on human expectation. Not only do the authors show an effective restoration project at a residential scale, but they also persuade the reader that this is actually the most realistic scale for restoration because it links humans and their lands through long-term practices that bind people to place. I am left with the sense that it is easier to love a few acres than it is to advocate for hundreds.

The writing is illustrative and generous, and there are a host of excellent photographs that range in scale from the microscopic to the regional. This opens up another reading for those back yard restorationists that yearn for the buzz of spring but might not want to invest in the whole read. But I am hooked on the reading because of the temporal patterns that remind the reader of our shared earthly responsibility. Here, time is a collaborator that helps make sense of our changing world: the preface reveals that 0.01 percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains, the introduction brings us into the measure of the parcel, and the first chapter takes us back twenty thousand years ago as a way to open the reader to the life histories of other creatures. We bounce between seed that takes five years to germinate and cycles of daily disturbance that flourishes or devastates within minutes. This temporal shift is more than history; it helps us take stock of our place in the world. The reader emerges with a renewed sense of hope that even a single backyard restoration project is still only a tiny snapshot from a larger unfolding reel of planetary evolution.

Citation: Rosetta S. Elkin. Review of Delcomyn, Fred; Ellis, James L., A Backyard Prairie: The Hidden Beauty of Tallgrass and Wildflowers. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. February, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58216

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