Designers Thomas Rainer and Claudia West see the future garden inspired by the way vegetation grows in nature - with niche plants filling every layer and covering the ground. Here are their five principles of designed plant communities:
1. Related populations
Traditional garden design has relied on the idea of plants as objects. Instead, Rainer and West favor more densely assembled groupings of plant species chosen for their compatibility.
2. Stress as an asset
The standard approach to preparing a planting site is to improve the soil, add irrigation and put in a range of plants. A better way, they argue, is to assemble plant species based on the existing light conditions, soil type and amount of rainfall. This will lead to more sustainable plantings.
3. Cover the ground densely
Designed plant communities rely on underlying ground covers instead of beds that are left bare or smothered in mulch. These ground covers are low-growing and spreading and endure the lower light levels of the bottom plant layer. Taller and showier plants grow through them for visual structure and seasonal effect.
4. Attractive and legible
Because the concept relies heavily on intermingled herbaceous plants - particularly grasses and perennials - the designer has to work harder than normal to create plant designs that don’t look formless or weedy. A design should emphasize essential plant layers and patterns, and the vegetation should be clearly framed with such elements as clipped hedges, paths or fences.
5. Management over maintenance
Correctly designed plant communities don’t need the standard landscape maintenance regime of watering, mulching, spraying and leaf blowing, but rather seasonal measures such as an annual mowing, the selective removal of plants that have spread and selective replacement of others that have died. “The emphasis shifts toward preserving the integrity of the plant community,” they write in their book, “Planting in a Post-Wild World.”