This book review originally appeared in the May/June issue of Northern Gardener magazine.
Don’t reach for Planting in a Post-Wild World if you’re looking for reassuring recommendations for what to plant later this spring. Despite its lush color photos, relaxed layout and elegant styling, these people are calling for revolution—one that is bound to be controversial with many gardeners and conservationists.
Authors Thomas Rainer and Claudia West want us to accept that, just as we could not preserve our wilderness, we cannot re-create it. “We must put aside our romantic notions of pristine wilderness and embrace a new nature that is largely designed and managed by us,” they say.
They propose to invoke the feeling of wildness within our gardens by planting in vertical and sequential layers, so that there is never bare ground. Their four vertical layers are tall plants, mid-level plants that are seasonal star bloomers, filler plants that grow and bloom quickly, and lots (50 percent of the space) of groundcovers. They aren’t too picky about where a plant comes from and urge gardeners to focus on naturally occurring plant communities rather than purely native plants. .
They also encourage us to evaluate our site, accept it with minimal soil amendments and irrigation, choose plants that may thrive there and get them established. Then, step back, monitor and adjust as needed. “Instead, embrace a more limited palette of plants that will tolerate and thrive in these conditions,” they say.
The book includes three real-life examples of private gardens that incorporate the principles of plant community gardening.
Rainer is a landscape architect based in Virginia whose work includes the U.S. Capitol grounds, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the New York Botanical Garden. West is a landscape designer and writer.