Gardens in a Post-Wild World

Posted on Mar 16, 2017


We are urbanizing at a pace unprecedented in human history and we no longer have this vast reserve of nature to perpetuate all the ecosystem functions that the planet needs. So, we have to turn to the landscapes we live in for places where nature can be. One of the things we encourage homeowners to do is just to loosen up the landscape. Be less worried about the landscape. Part of that is letting go a little bit.

We can have rich, biodiverse landscapes just by using some smart design strategies. Layering plantings and replacing mulch ( typically something that has to be replaced regularly) with plants and creating more stable plant combinations. Getting more diversity into our landscapes also means more native plants and more layering of plants.  thomasdesign1

In the wild, plants have more layers vertically. There, plants grow up top with seed heads, flowers, mid-height plants and a whole range of species that grow on the ground. The same layered structure that happens above ground also happens below ground at the root levels. There’s thin shallow rooted plants, mid-height rooted plants and tap rooted plants that go eight or nine feet deep down. Layering really becomes a key to understanding how you can get diversity of species while at the same time getting great stability of plants.

The challenge with diversity is often visual. One of the design strategies to help create visual coherence is having orderly frames around mixed plantings.  thomasdesign3Anything from hardscape, sidewalks and even a bit of lawn can help contain the garden to what could be a random mix of plants that look very contained and neat instead of chaotic.

thomasdesign2 You don’t have to tear up your yard to have a more biodiverse landscape. Find the places that you have mulch or gravel and start thinking about what plants you can put underneath your existing plants instead of mulch or gravel.

Think about what will naturally grow there rather than what you want to grow there. When we use plants that are naturally happy in your community they will usually be happy in the right spot in your yard and happy plants just look better. So, it’s really about finding the right plant for the right place. Also, strategically laying a succession of color to have blooms throughout the year is beautiful and will bring more life to your garden.  More life brings more life. Whether its insect life or bird life, to see the life that’s coming off the plant life is beautiful and you get more of that when you have more diversity.