To Mass or Intermingle?

The Value of Plant Community-Based Design 

In his latest blog post, landscape architect Thomas Rainer advocates for a more plant-community-based landscape aesthetic, one which emphasizes neither the masses of single species which have been so omnipresent in the American landscape in the past ten years, nor the more recent trend of intermingling a multitude of species within a garden bed.

Natural plant communities along the Atlantic coast (Quinby, VA)

His reasoning makes sense to me; while the intermingling technique is said to better mimic plantings found in nature, unless they actively are designed to mimic the roles of plants in communities, they will quickly move through succession as the stronger outcompete the slower, the taller shade out the lower-growing.  (Or you spend a lot of time pulling seedlings and rooting stems and snipping off fertile seed heads.)  Eventually, if you allow nature to take its course, you will end up with only a few species dominating what had been a mixed composition.

This constantly changing landscape may be exactly what you want – in which case, more power to you!  There’s certainly value in observing nature in a microcosm.  If, however, what you’re after is to experience the three dimensional version of a favorite landscape painting, consider working with your landscape designer to incorporate Ranier’s plant community-based ideas.

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