Planting in a Post-Wild World

Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes

post-wild-thumbPlanting in a Post-Wild World is a great title and a continuation of what Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl state in their masterful Perennials and Their Garden Habitats. Authors Thomas Rainer and Claudia West know both plants and design, which is a rare combination. They also have experience with ecology and have combined the three topics into a tour de force that is deep, thoughtful, and practical. With a changing climate and sustainability being the buzzword of the day, this book gives readers an in-depth appreciation of what it takes to understand complex planting and how to accomplish it.

Plants, specifically, well-adapted plant communities that are low-maintenance, expressive, and easy to maintain, are returning to private and public design commissions with renewed value and fervor, an optimistic turn I strongly believe in. And native plants are not the solution in every instance. Rainer and West walk the reader through a clear process that educates the professional and amateur alike on the differences between natural and designed plant communities. They define the goals of each approach and outline essential principles to achieve a successful design.

Various plant ecologies are clearly explained and passionately presented as starting points that offer boundless opportunities for a garden’s design. Moving beyond meadows and grasslands, which is where so many people stop, the authors examine woodlands and shrublands, as well as forests and edge plantings—plant communities that are seldom considered with the exception of a very few like Piet Oudolf and Dan Pearson. The authors were careful to use examples from most of the temperate United States, which will make the book useful to gardeners in the South, the Plains, the East Coast, and Upper Midwest states. Even the dry West, with its lower rainfall, is touched on.

Rainer and West demonstrate clear design principles that focus on people, places, and uses first, and then look at the relationship of plants to each other. Even botanical gardens, which were once a place only for initiated and hardcore plant lovers, are becoming cultural institutions arranged around plants and ecology. There is a paradigm shift going on and the authors have grasped it and have the ability to communicate the value of plants as an important part of professionally designed landscapes.

And the authors don’t leave you hanging with the why, but also outline how to manage what is planted. This essential component of every garden is often forgotten, ignored, or strategically left out. The project is not finished the day the bulldozers leave the site; that is but the beginning and few have the knowledge and skill to nurture a garden into the future. By understanding plant growth and life cycles, Rainier and West explain how to maintain a project while keeping your eye on the essential elements of the design.

A wide selection of projects were used from a variety of talented professionals and mostly from the United States—something I always wish for. We have looked to Europe long enough, now we have our own voice to sing with. The images are good and portray the ideas of the concepts well and the plans are useful. Being a photographer and writer myself, I find the color is a little flat and think the images could have been used more effectively for a more beautiful book.

Planting in a Post-Wild World is a must-buy for landscape architects and professional garden designers and is sure to become a dog-eared reference to be kept close at hand.

Richard Hartlage, founding principal and CEO of Land Morphology
Seattle, Washington