City Nature

Tales of Ornery Plants, Opinionated Birds, Gardening Triumphs and Tragedies, and Capturing It All Through a Lens

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Pub Date Apr 19 2023 | Archive Date Sep 08 2024
Western Sky Communications | Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members' Titles

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Description

In the midst of ongoing news about Southwestern water scarcity, Martha Retallick sees an opportunity. For 20 years, she has been transforming her central Tucson home into an urban oasis. The secret to her success: Water harvesting.

Since Retallick purchased her central Tucson home in 2004, she has incorporated two types of water harvesting – passive and active – into her landscape.

Passive water harvesting is simply the act of sculpting the landscape to direct the water to where it should be – like plants – and away from where it shouldn’t be – like a home’s foundation. Retallick’s landscape incorporates three passive water harvesting features – basins, berms, and drainage swales.

Collectively, these earthworks eliminate the need for landscape irrigation that’s connected to the municipal water supply, which is served by Tucson Water. According to Tucson Water, approximately 40 percent of water use in Tucson is outdoors. This includes residential uses like landscape irrigation and garden watering.

Retallick’s irrigation-free landscape also includes two active water harvesting features, a 1,500-gallon cistern that collects rainwater for use in the back-yard vegetable garden, and a laundry-to-landscape greywater harvesting system that diverts wastewater from the washing machine to three fruit trees.

City Nature is illustrated with more than 60 of Retallick’s color photographs, which show the wide variety of plant life on her property, the birds she shares it with, and her various do-it-herself projects, the most notable being a kinetic sculpture created from a recycled chandelier.

The book also includes a list of suggested resources that encompasses books, websites, organizations, and businesses that can aid readers interested in desert gardening and landscaping, and in water conservation.

In the midst of ongoing news about Southwestern water scarcity, Martha Retallick sees an opportunity. For 20 years, she has been transforming her central Tucson home into an urban oasis. The secret...


Advance Praise

City Nature is an earnest, delightful foray into the possibilities of urban agriculture.

Martha Retallick’s coffee table book City Nature showcases urban agriculture through a photographer’s passionate lens.

The Sonoran Desert is a challenging climate in which to grow a garden, but that’s exactly what photographer Martha Retallick set out to do. At the recommendation of a friend, she decided to undertake the decades-long work of transforming her little plot of land into an urban garden. And when COVID-19 decreased demand for event photographers, Retallick turned her camera to the flora and fauna that flourished in her own backyard. These resulting photographs and accompanying writings dispel the myth that the natural world and city life must be mutually exclusive.

The book’s genuine awe and respect for nature is conveyed through prose and photography. Retallick writes that “urban nature is powerful—it can push grass right through asphalt roads and force trees up through the sidewalks.” Many of her photographs echo this tension: a curved-bill thrasher sits on a rusted fence, an assortment of homegrown fruit gathers in a stainless-steel bowl, and potted plants and vegetables grow alongside her house. Other photographs (as of a shy pomegranate bud just beginning to eke open or the dewdrops on a snow pea flower) showcase the natural delights possible in an urban garden.

The book’s reach is wide. Alongside its esoteric step-by-step guide through the photographic process and specific references to certain cameras, lenses, and settings, there are instructions for crafting a gray water system, setting up a cistern, and protecting plants from pests like javelinas and rabbits. Between photographs, an abundance of gardening tips are introduced, too, as with notes regarding the importance of plant-friendly laundry detergent and on helping overwatered plants recover. Some of this work is specific to the Southwest, and some of the named resources are only available to Tucson-area residents. Recipes for salsa and gluten-free mesquite flour expand the book’s work further, though.

The prose is enthusiastic but concise. A story about removing a month’s worth of bird manure is summarized with “Yuck! And then the dirty job was done.” Still, there are compelling observational details and literary craftsmanship in some descriptions, as of how mourning doves feed their offspring:

The male and female adults both produce a liquid called crop milk. It consists of sloughed off, liquid-filled cells from an enlargement of the esophagus called the crop, and it’s rich in the things that squabs need, like antioxidants, fat, and protein. For the first few days of their lives, the squabs live on crop milk, which the parents regurgitate into their throats.

Part memoir, part coffee table book, City Nature is an earnest, delightful foray into the possibilities of urban agriculture, nature photography, and sustainable living.

Reviewed by Hannah Pearson, Foreword Clarion Reviews

April 18, 2024 

City Nature is an earnest, delightful foray into the possibilities of urban agriculture.

Martha Retallick’s coffee table book City Nature showcases urban agriculture through a photographer’s...


Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9798986857701
PRICE $99.95 (USD)
PAGES 104

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