Conservation and the lure of the garden

Eric T. Freyfogle

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Among the conservation voices today who seek a sensible "middle ground" in remedying land-use problems are those who propose a tend-the-garden ethic in which humans would merely need to view the earth as a garden and labor to make it productive and beautiful in order to solve conservation challenges. This line of reasoning is exemplified by Michael Pollan's highly praised book, Second Nature, which supports conservation values but harshly criticizes contemporary environmental efforts, including the work of such organizations as The Nature Conservancy. Pollan's portrayal of the gardener as model conservationist is usefully compared with an important essay by Aldo Leopold from a half-century ago, "The Farmer as a Conservationist," which similarly uses a model land tender as exemplar of where conservation needs to head. Comparing the two writings reveals profound flaws in the contemporary tend-the-garden line of thought. In doing so, it usefully reveals to scientists why their efforts are so often misunderstood and resisted. The popularity of tend-the-garden reasoning illustrates how successful the environmental backlash has been in misportraying the motives and aims of serious conservationists, particularly those who seek to protect wildlife and natural habitat. In doing so, it highlights the need for conservationists to take their own ideas more seriously and to do afar better job of presenting those ideas, in coherent form, to broad audiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)995-1003
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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