Sunday, September 3, 2017

Let’s Start a Garden Revolution

A new book came out last year by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher. It is titled: Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change. I didn’t buy it when it was new, although I don't remember why. At this summer’s Cullowhee conference, Larry Weaner spoke, and his message about working with natural processes really resonated with me so I got the book recently.

Two of Larry’s key points are that 1) nothing is static in nature and 2) traditional design and maintenance efforts are constantly working against this. We can enjoy our gardens more if we anticipate and embrace nature’s changes. Change introduces a sense of discovery through the element of time: a new composition of plant arrangement or perhaps even a new plant popping up.

I am always amazed to look at pictures of my garden from several years ago and realize how much has changed. Most of the changes are the work of nature’s hand as dominant plants were out-competed by something else over time. Larry’s principles take that kind of change into account. That’s not to say that the gardener can’t also take a hand in the change: there are times when you might edit something out such as tree seedlings or true weeds.

Front corner 2014, just planted, Penstemon smallii reigns

Front corner 2016, woody seedlings edited out, herbaceous
seedlings kept (except for weeds), Penstemon is minor player

The book is divided into 3 main sections  - The Learning Process, Design, In The Field - followed by lessons from his own property and a thick resource section. All of this is accompanied by beautiful photographs of actual projects influenced by his concept of ecological gardening.

The Learning Process section has a dual purpose. First we learn about some of the things that influenced his approach: writings, mentors, experiences, jobs, and even plants. Second is a primer on the terms and concepts (ecoregion, native, plant community) that are essential to the concept of ecological gardening. Armed with our new vocabulary, we’re ready to talk design.

However, design must start with a thorough site analysis so that when it comes time to choose what’s appropriate we can do so by understanding what we already have: the underlying geology (minerals that influence the soil), light, topography, hydrology, existing vegetation, and more. Next is creating a master plan; the authors have plenty of tips and guidance to consider. Finally, there is developing a plant list. Certainly, this is a lot of fun but you’ve still got work to do in your choosing. Points to consider include: using a dense ground layer to inhibit weed growth; choosing plants with multiple reproductive strategies (part of anticipating change); and a careful assessment of what to plant next to which other plants.

Implementation is covered in the “In The Field” section but it begins with the concept that this is just the start: “Decisions are made as the garden evolves, the vision adapted as the garden adapts. Some changes will be encouraged as they occur, others discouraged.” Prepare, plant, and manage are the in-depth topics covered here, each one with experience-based tips and guidance to steer the reader towards success. Three subsections are devoted to particular types of landscapes: meadows/prairies, shrublands, and woodlands.

Columbine pops up throughout the garden

The book is a pretty good read thanks to a generous sprinkling of relevant anecdotes that really illustrate the concepts. These are drawn from years of boots on the ground experience.

I think ecological gardening is a concept that can work for a lot of people, while also reducing the pressure that a garden needs to be tightly managed with labor and chemicals in order to be a garden. I’m glad that someone has put it into print.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Ellen, for another terrific Blog. I, too, was impressed by Larry Weaner's talk at Cullowhee and your post convinced me to buy the book.