Hearing Claudia West provide a 30,000 foot view of the how’s and why’s of her popular book Planting in a Post Wild World (written with Thomas Rainier), is a view toward an emerging future managed landscape. It’s one that’s more relaxed and one that plays up plant functionality. As an East German, Claudia sees the United States through fresh horticultural eyes. You can’t help but notice that to Claudia, our native plant palette is about the most exciting opportunity in the landscape design world right now. She couldn’t be happier that natives are on a major upswing.
“We’re getting more natives back into American designs,” she told the JC Raulston Arboretum audience assembled to celebrate their 40th anniversary in Raleigh, NC.
Through bold visuals, Claudia painted a vision for the audience that shows plants can help nature fit back into a human-shaped landscape. The great news, she said, the horticulture industry is producing more ecological plants than ever before to help us bring back ecological function.
One of her key concepts: Bare soil is rare in the wild. Why do we tend to have so much of it when plants can cover soil? Horticulture has focused on creating perfect individual plants that requires a lot of resources and it’s not how nature works, she explained. Nature wants soil to be covered. That’s what you see in the wild.
How can designers, landscape architects, city planners, horticulturists, landscapers and even engineers use what plants want to do naturally to increase functionality of the managed space? How can we cover the soil with desirable plants? Weeds are not a problem, they are a symptom of how we grow plants. The core principle: Have a living ground cover. Cover soil it with plants.
The ‘Post Wild’ concept Claudia and Thomas promote so well is of plant communities. These are “cosmopolitan,” including native and some introduced species. “Plant communities are lush, thick and dense, yet they ignore plant tags and horticultural catalogs.” Planting based on plant communities began in Europe after WWII. Engineers and architects took the lead she said, there were no natives. Modern German landscape designer Heiner Luz has really promoted the concept with spectacular natural planting designs. His 35-species seasonal plantings were regarded skeptically at first, but now brides want to be married there, Claudia said.
She closed on a serious note, urging everyone to plant for a better world. “We are at the point where every plant that’s planted matters.”
If you haven’t yet purchased your copy of Planting in a Post Wild World, treat yourself to an early Christmas present. It’s the perfect book to read for inspiration while on holiday travel.
NewTerrain October 17, 2016.