Book Review: Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

“We’re designing our gardens with more mulch than plants,” declared Claudia West, a German Landscape Architect at PhytoStudio, at a Landscape Architecture conference held in Charleston, WV. If we want to create more resilient communities we must create a “hybrid of both the wild and the cultivated.” Sitting at the lecture I looked back at the garden I worked on last year for my family with the plantings appearing too afraid to stand near each other for a photoshoot, in other words ornamentally. After being inspired by her lecture I knew I wanted to read the book she co-wrote with Thomas Rainer “Planting in a Post-wild World.” My decisions last year were exclusively based on selecting plants. However its not about what plants to select but how to select. The book helped me interpret and understand what I’m looking for when I walk in a meadow or a woodland and how to apply it in our cities and suburbs.

All naturalism is really humanism

Garden: Before and Ongoing

*Side Note: a front yard or back yard will be called a garden to remove the connotation of pristine suburban lawns and ensures a focus on creating a biodiverse ecosystem ( a trick I learned from another landscape architect Miranda Brooks.)

Before: Its funny to look back at, but shows the potential of our front garden. My dad had placed a tomato vine in front of the columns - we allowed it to grow profusely and provide us with our supply of tomatoes two summers ago. We had wild mint growing, and if you look closely you’ll see a hosta and a lily turf, desperately placed there to exchange its barren appearance.

Ongoing: The following summer the soil was prepared by removing the mint, and enhancing the clay soil with compost and manure. The facade faces North, and casts a shadow in the afternoon. The types of plants selected are shade-tolerant, those include a christmas fern, lady fern, coral bells, and a fringe tree. I’ve come to learn fringe trees are quite underrated in the east coast and bloom so beautifully mid-spring.

It was exciting to see the plants make a return the following year however, the sun hours were longer than the plants liked. From researching to reading Claudia West’s book I learned the site could be treated as a woodland edge. Intermingling shade-tolerant plants with sun loving plants.

Here are more takeaways from the book:

  • Create a hybrid of both the wild and the cultivated

  • The book made me more open to selecting plants that aren’t necessarily native but thrive in similar environments around the world that could be beneficial for the site. In other words, don’t be too attached to selecting only native plants you can select plants that aren’t invasive and can add value to your site and soil.

  • Gardening is not only for people with a green thumb, or a magical touch! so important to note, often times people give up when a plant dies or think its not for them. However, we need so many people doing it imperfectly if we want to create resilient communities.

  • “Design plant communities that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, diverse, and more visually harmonious.”

Before

Before

Ongoing

Ongoing

fringe tree (I call it fashion in the natural world)

fringe tree (I call it fashion in the natural world)

Rain Barrel

You can also spot our rain barrel. I had the pleasure of attending a workshop hosted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Since its been installed, municipal water use has become unnecessary and water bills have been kept abate! The biggest concern for a lot of people is how its going to look near their house, but that’s the beauty of it, its a visual system of capturing rainwater and using it for irrigation. You can paint it and customize it, or adorn it with plants. I get excited every time I see one - it may be a small gesture but it has a big impact. It retains water on-site that would otherwise put a greater strain on rivers and streams and a great way to conserve water.

More than ever, we need planting solutions that are resilient, ecologically functional, and beautiful
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Plant Shopping

Hands down, the best shopping is plant shopping, its double therapy! I was introduced to the lovely smoke tree at Mesh Studio, a smoke tree gracefully grows in their outdoor patio and has become 20 feet tall! The rest of the plants include: purple switchgrass, mexican feather grass, coneflowers, and juniper trees for now. I placed the coneflowers and grasses around the shade loving plants to add more shade to protect them from the morning sun. The cart shows “potting mix”, which was for a separate project, but for the garden itself I used soil conditioner, which was mixed with the clay soil. Clay soil has the connotation that nothing can be planted in it, but with a little help from soil conditioner and planting plants from a very young age allows the plant to adapt to existing soil conditions fairly easily. Gardening has slowly proven to me that no challenge is the end of the world lol, its a step towards another solution. Nature is resilient, mind-blowing, and a life lesson, subhhanaAllah!

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Fruit Trees

The best time of year to conveniently plant and put the least amount of strain on fruit trees or plants is Late August to October. This allows plants to adapt to a site with out the extreme heat of summer. I planted our first persimmon fruit tree (more fruit trees to come this september, I’m thinking moushmoush ;), peaches, and apple trees!). This year its shown proper adaptation to the site, especially since we saved it from dying last year, and its in its beginning stages of bearing fruits, so proud of it!!!

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Thank you for reading and stopping by! Hope this post inspires you to let go of your fear of making gardening mistakes.