Photo credit: Jack Ramsdale

Margie Ruddick

For over twenty years, Margie Ruddick has been recognized for her pioneering work in the landscape. Winner of the 2013 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in landscape architecture, Ruddick has forged a design language that integrates ecology and culture. Ruddick has taught at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Yale, Princeton, The University of Pennsylvania, Parsons School of Design, and Schumacher College in England. In addition to the Cooper-Hewitt, her many awards include the 1998 Waterfront Centre Award and the 1999 Places Design Award, along with environmental artist Betsy Damon, for the Living Water Park; her work has also received awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Institute of Architects. She shared a practice with Judith Heintz from 1988 to 1995; then worked on her own until 2004, when she became a partner at the planning and design firm WRT. Since leaving WRT in 2007 she has worked on projects independently, in addition to writing, lecturing, and teaching.
Photo Credit: Pexels

Island Press Holiday Gift Guide 2016

This holiday season, give the gift of an Island Press book. With a catalog of more than 1,000 books, we guarantee there's something for everyone on your shopping list. Check out our list of staff selections, and share your own ideas in the...

This holiday season, give the gift of an Island Press book. With a catalog of more than 1,000 books, we guarantee there's something for everyone on your shopping list. Check out our list of staff selections, and share your own ideas in the comments below. 

For the OUTDOORSPERSON in your life:

Water is for Fighting Over by John Fleck | An Island Press book

Water is for Fighting Over...and Other Myths about Water in the West by John Fleck
Anyone who has ever rafted down the Colorado, spent a starlit night on its banks, or even drank from a faucet in the western US needs Water is for Fighting Over. Longtime journalist John Fleck will give the outdoors lover in your life a new appreciation for this amazing river and the people who work to conserve it. This book is a gift of hope for the New Year.

Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man by Jason Mark
Do you constantly find your friend waxing poetic about their camping tales and their intimate connection to the peaceful, yet mysterious powers of nature? Sounds like they will relate to Jason Mark’s tales of his expeditions across a multitude of American landscapes, as told in Satellites in the High Country. More than a collection of stories, this narrative demonstrates the power of nature’s wildness and explores what the concept of wild has come to mean in this Human Age.

What Should a Clever Moose Eat?: Natural History, Ecology, and the North Woods by John Pastor
Is the outdoorsperson in your life all dressed up in boots, parka, and backpack with nowhere to go? Looking for meaning in another titanium French press coffeemaker for the camp stove? What Should a Clever Moose Eat leaves the technogadgets behind and reminds us that all we really need to bring to the woods when we venture out is a curious mind and the ability to ask a good question about the natural world around us. Such as, why do leaves die? What do pine cones have to do with the shape of a bird’s beak? And, how are blowflies important to skunk cabbage? A few quality hours among its pages will equip your outdoor enthusiast to venture forth and view nature with new appreciation, whether in the North Woods with ecologist John Pastor or a natural ecosystem closer to home.

Also consider: River Notes by Wade Davis, Naturalist by E.O. Wilson

For the CLIMATE DENIER in your life:

Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by Yoram Bauman
This holiday season, give your favorite climate-denier a passive aggressive “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” with The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change featuring self –described Stand-up Economist Yoram Bauman and award-winning illustrator Grady Klein. Give the gift of fun, entertaining basic understanding of what is, undeniably and not up for subjective debate, scientific fact!

Also consider: Heatstroke by Anthony Barnosky, Straight Up by Joseph Romm

For the HEALTH NUT in your life:

Unnatural Selection: How We Are Changing Life, Gene by Gene by Emily Monosson
Give the health nut in your life the gift of understanding with Unnatural Selection. Your friends and family will discover how chemicals are changing life on earth and how we can protect it. Plus, they’ll read fascinating stories about the search for a universal vaccine, the attack of relentless bedbugs, and a miracle cancer drug that saved a young father’s life.

Also consider: Toms River by Dan Fagin, Roads Were Not Built for Cars by Carlton Reid, 

For the ADVOCATE in your life:

Prospects for Resilience: Insights from New York City's Jamaica Bay by Sanderson, et. al
Need an antidote to the doom and gloom? Stressed-out environmental advocates will appreciate Prospects for Resilience: Insights from New York City's Jamaica Bay. It’s a deep dive into one of the most important questions of our time: how can we create cities where people and nature  thrive together? Prospects for Resilience showcases successful efforts to restore New York’s much abused Jamaica Bay, but its lessons apply to any communities seeking to become more resilient in a turbulent world.

Ecological Economics by Josh Farley and Herman Daly
Blow the mind of the advocate in your life with a copy of Ecological Economics by the godfather of ecological economics, Herman Daly, and Josh Farley. In plain, and sometimes humorous English, they’ll come to understand how our current economic system does not play by the same laws that govern nearly every other system known to humankind—that is, the laws of thermodynamics. Given recent financial and political events, there’s a message of hope within the book as it lays out specific policy and social change frameworks.

Also consider: Tactical Urbanism by Mike Lydon, Cooler Smarter by The Union of Concerned Scientists

For the CRAZY CAT PERSON in your life:

An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
The cat lovers in your life will lose themselves in An Indomitable Beast, an illuminating story about the journey of the jaguar. This is the perfect book for any of your feline loving friends, whether they want to pursue adventure with the big cats of the wild, or stay home with a book and cup of tea.

Also consider: The Carnivore Way by Cristina Eisenberg, Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz 

For the GARDENER in your life:

Wild by Design: Strategies for Creating Life-Enhancing Landscapes by Margie Ruddick
Give your favorite gardener an antidote to the winter blues. The lush photographs of Wild by Design, and inspirational advice on cultivating landscapes in tune with nature, transport readers to spectacular parks, gardens, and far-flung forests. This book is guaranteed to be well-thumbed and underlined by the time spring planting season arrives!

Also consider: Brilliant Green by Stefano Mancuso, Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, Travis Beck

For the STUBBORN RELATIVE in your life:

Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator by Lucy Moore
For the person keeping the peace in your family this holiday season, the perfect gift is Common Ground on Hostile Turf, an inspiring how to guide demonstrating it is possible to bring vastly different views together. This book gives lessons learned on setting down at the table with the most diverse set of players and the journey they take to find common grounds and results. If your holiday dinner needs some mediation, look to the advice of author Lucy Moore.

Also consider: Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals by Susan Jacobson, Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett

For the HISTORY BUFF in your life: 

The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America's Communities by Stephanie Meeks with Kevin C. Murphy
When it comes to the the future of our cities, the secret to urban revival lies in our past. Tickle the fancy of your favorite history buff by sharing The Past and Future City, which takes readers on a journey through our country's historic spaces to explain why preservation is important for all communities. With passion and expert insight, this book shows how historic spaces explain our past and serve as the foundation of our future.

Also consider: The Forgotten Founders by Stewart Udall, Aldo Leopold's Odyssey, Tenth Anniversary Edition by Julianne Lutz Warren

For the BUSINESS PERSON in your life:

Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature by Mark Tercek
For the aspiring CEO in your life who drools at phrases like "rates of return" and "investment," share the gift of Nature's Fortune, an essential guide to the world's economic (and environmental) well-being.

Also consider: Corporation 2020 by Pavan Sukhdev, Resilient by Design by Joseph Fiksel

Designing Your Own Landscape: Tips from Margie Ruddick

Many years ago, when I was first pegged as a "sustainable landscape designer," I gave a talk to a group of students enrolled in one of the world's first sustainable design courses at Schumacher College in England. I was surprised during the...

Many years ago, when I was first pegged as a "sustainable landscape designer," I gave a talk to a group of students enrolled in one of the world's first sustainable design courses at Schumacher College in England. I was surprised during the question and answer period that almost all the students' questions were not about their work, but revolved around how they could address issues of sustainability in their personal lives. How they could conserve energy and water in their households, for example—it was these questions that started me on the path to writing and publishing my book, Wild by Design, which lays out principles for achieving sustainable and life-enhancing landscapes.  

The most frequent questions I get from homeowners are about pests—how to discourage mosquitoes, for example; how to encourage pollinators; and how to manage storm water. Here are some basic ideas. I hope others will add to these ideas, and maybe create more of an open source manual to help people who want to design their own landscapes in ways that are more sustainable.


Animals (more properly, creatures), aromas, and aridity. Small ponds with fish can reduce the load of larvae that become mosquitoes. This is an uphill battle, requiring vigilance in terms of pond management to keep populations of fish up. Similarly, bat houses can attract mosquito-eating species, but there are many requirements for making them work, and many placements—in the shade, mounted on a tree trunk, for example—are not successful. There are many online guides to building ponds and placing bat houses to discourage mosquito breeding. Removing standing water helps—remembering that roof gutters and sometimes even big-leafed plants can hold water long enough for mosquitoes to breed and hatch. There are also methods of introducing the kind of pungent aromas that mosquitoes hate—from planting marigolds, catnip, or beebalm, to spraying plants with a garlicky (but expensive and obnoxious-smelling to humans) cocktail—that have worked for me. The trick to reducing mosquitoes is constant work.

Credit: Steve Legato/New York Times
Margie Ruddick home garden. Credit: Steve Legato/New York Times

Encouraging Pollinators

There is a real science to knowing how to encourage pollinators, including not just knowing which native species to attract but understanding their nesting habits, etc. There are many guides online for encouraging bees and other pollinating species; one rule of thumb is to avoid cultivars of any sort, but even this is not a hard and fast rule. Cultivars are often hybrids that do not produce the exact pollen of the original. This is really disappointing to people who love certain cultivars, want showier flowers, longer bloom time. There are, however, cultivars that will breed true. The trick to encouraging pollinators is in doing your research.

Leucospermum cultivar Edit
A hybrid cultivar, Leucospermum glabrum × L. tottumCredit: Flying Freddy, via Wikimedia Commons

Storm Water

This is perhaps the easiest problem to address, with the rule of thumb being broad and shallow versus narrow and deep. Letting rain water out into the garden rather than piping it away is easy to do if you have enough land. Avoid narrower and deeper channels, which are more likely to cause erosion and degradation of the whole system. Instead, create gentler bioswales with taller meadow plants, shrubs, or tree, which can disperse more water over a bigger area, allowing the roots to absorb more water and reducing the amount of runoff downstream. The trick to integrating sustainable storm-water management into your landscape without just problem solving is multi-layered design. 

Credit: Margie Ruddick
Margie Ruddick home garden. Credit: Margie Ruddick

I do not mean to imply that it is only constant work that will repel mosquitos, nor is it only research that will help a homeowner encourage pollinators, nor is it just design that will manage storm water sustainably. What makes the landscape feel cohesive, and makes all of these components work together, is good design. Just problem-solving—a pond here, native plants everywhere, a swale there—can result in piecemeal design. Including features such as ponds, selecting plants that will breed true, and integrating storm-water dispersal and ground-water recharge—to make it all work together, feel inevitable and of a piece, takes practice, not just in designing on paper but in actually constructing the landscape. One of the most important lessons I think we ever learn in landscape is that the last phase of work, the actual construction, is one of the most critical design phases. The decisions that we make in this last phase are generally based on our eye—how things look going into the ground—but it’s also a time to implement design to solve problems like pests. Ultimately, it’s in this phase that we can make the difference between a place that looks as if it was built yesterday, and a functional place that feels as if it has been there forever.

#ForewordFriday: Wild by Design Edition

In 2005, following two decades of professional accolades, Margie Ruddick created a new kind of garden that landed her in court. Through selective mowing, planting, pruning, and frequently doing...

In 2005, following two decades of professional accolades, Margie Ruddick created a new kind of garden that landed her in court. Through selective mowing, planting, pruning, and frequently doing no maintenance, the internationally renowned landscape designer, a winner of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award, created a wild landscape that—while beautiful—was unlike any front yard her neighbors had ever seen. When she received a summons from the city citing her garden’s weed height, Ruddick questioned her “wild experiment” and began to wonder: What are the principles that make a landscape wild without being chaotic? It was this experience that set Ruddick on a mission to redefine the meaning of sustainable landscape design.

With Wild by Design: Strategies for Creating Life-Enhancing Landscapes, Ruddick delivers an inspirational guide for innovative landscape design that integrates ecology, urban planning, and culture. Her globe-spanning examples demonstrate how a project’s function and design can work in concert to create beautiful, healthy places that connect people with the natural systems around them. Check out an excerpt of the book below and order your copy today.