It’s finally here – the much-awaited Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change by Larry Weaner and Gardenoweedin’s own Thomas Christopher. It’s described as the next step along the path started by Sara Stein and Douglas Tallamy, guiding us in the move from traditional horticulture to ecological gardening. And it’s so needed; after all, the move to naturalistic gardening in recent decades really just meant less formal design, not a change in gardening practices.
I like my eco-gardening guidance from actual do-ers – people like Larry who design, install and then manage the gardens they create. (The book is based on Larry’s experience and written in his voice.) While his projects are often multi-acre tracts, there are plenty of take-aways in Garden Revolution for regular homeowners, and here are my favorites.
I’ve always thought that stormwater management goals would be better served by less emphasis on rain gardens per se and more emphasis on using rain-garden techniques throughout the garden. So kudos for this: “Rain gardens can be simple planted depressions or contain highly engineered associated structures… Species that adapt best to rain gardens are those that are native to ephemeral wetlands, areas that are wet only part of the year and dry the rest.”
That’s especially helpful because it simplifies the rather daunting topic and homes in on the plant choices that make practical sense, not the usual instruction to use “natives.” Native to anywhere, even to dry places? On the contentious topic of natives v. nonnatives, Weaner is a strong proponent of native plants who adds: “Don’t be too rigid.”
And here’s some good news. We know that grouping plants by political boundaries makes no sense, but now there’s something really helpful: the EPA’s 10 ecoregions.
If low maintenance is your goal, Larry recommends aggressive, self-sufficient plants. “In general, plantings with a robust level of aggressiveness, if sited properly, will be your best tool to reduce maintenance.” A great example is golden ragwort, which “spreads reliably to form a dense, weed-suppressive groundcover.” (Photo above.)
Weeding, the “number one task of landscape maintenance,” is best done by repeated cutting, which progressively weakens the plant, not by digging them out. “Pulling roots disturbs the soil and disturbing the soil activates seed germination that typically results in weeds.”
Big-picture, Larry learned low-maintenance techniques by “observing and participating in the ecological processes that were unfolding on my property, and a desire to perform as little yard work as possible.” Me, too! So like Larry, my garden designing has evolved to include more plants that seem to want to grow in my garden (including volunteers) and simply editing out the extras.
To fill in a garden, “You simply do not have the time or the money to plant your entire 1/4 – 1/2 acre yard. You need nature’s assistance – plants that spread.”
On the surprisingly hot topic of mulching: “Bark mulch is impractical for large areas…It’s better to employ a sort of living mulch by sowing short-lived fast-growing plants between the more long-lived plants.”
Rant readers probably know this but it can’t be said enough: “Don’t ever use landscape fabric.” It becomes a “nursery bed for weeds whose roots become entangled in the fabric below”.
About meadows, they’re more appealing to humans than forest or shrubland because “people seem to gravitate toward open space and expansive views.” BUT the early mass-marketed meadow mixes died after one season. “Weeds took over in the second, and the frustrated homeowners threw up their hands and returned to mowing by the third.”
Also, “Don’t believe it if someone tells you that a native perennial meadow is carefree. Nothing is. I once spoke to a gentleman who had just spent $200 steam-cleaning his AstroTurf back yard.”
There’s a whole section in the book on sedges in the landscape, coming just as more of us are exploring their use as lawn replacements, especially in shady areas.
Garden Revolution responds to the many requests Larry has heard over the years to pass on his hard-earned knowledge to others in his field and will be no doubt result in fewer dead zones of multi-acre lawns. Ecological gardening on large tracts is a lot more complicated than I’d imagined.
But as a regular gardener, my favorite bits are the personal ones, as when Larry reveals that “I’ve never really shared traditional gardening’s preoccupation with specimens or even individual plants per se. Mostly it was the place that attracted me.”
And I loved the tales of Larry’s early years as a nature-loving, South American jungle-exploring hippie-turned-landscaper and of this photo of his own garden (above). Nice place to hang out.
The Writing! The Photos!
Lucky for me, Larry’s partners in Garden Revolution are my favorite garden photographer in the world Rob Cardillo, and the wonderful writer-turned Ranter Thomas Christopher. Proud of you both!
Give-away Come back next week for a chance to win a copy of Garden Revolution.
Photo credits, from top: by Rob Cardillo; by Karen Bussolini; by Larry Weaner; by Rob Cardillo; by Rob Cardillo; by Larry Weaner; by Linda Weaner.
on May 20, 2016 at 9:18 am, in the category CRRRITIC, Gardening on the Planet.