a modern utopia


Zizia aurea (Golden Alexanders) from the Spring Plant Combinations for Difficult Situations presented by Ian Caton/ Woodthrush Native Nursery

It was standing room only at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Auditorium on Friday, December 9th. The Ecological Landscape Alliance (ELA) held their first symposium: Creating Ecological Plant Communities:  Digging Deep into Plant Knowledge in New York City.   All speakers were asked to talk about 12 plants (and only 12 plants) in depth. There were no handouts.  All participants were alerted by email that speaker handouts (plant lists) were available online. Being ecologically conscious, attendees could print out their own hard copies.


A page from Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West.

I am not going to blog about the content of the presenters.  I want to concentrate on the change in language used to describe this planting style.

Ian Caton concentrated on plants that are diminutive, thrive in difficult situations and in poor free draining soils.  Caton talked about “bridging pants”  and the weed suppressing ability of certain plants.  Compost was a dirty word at this conference.  “DON’T OVER AMEND” was the catchphrase of the day.


Planting by Roy Diblik

Claudia West, who has been going around the country speaking about the content and theories behind her new book written with Thomas Rainer, Planting in a Post Modern World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes.  West  mentioned a book and author I had never heard of: John Philip Grime, a emeritus professor at the University of Sheffield best known for his controversial theory on plant strategies.  Not so controversial anymore.


West talked plant behavior.  Plants that are the competitive bullies of the world,  plants that are resilient in spite of stress and disturbance;  plantings as layered systems. If we understand the functionality of each layer; we can talk about LEVELS OF SOCIABILITY.


Edworthia chrysantha, Andrew Butting, Chicago Botanic Garden

Andrew Butting of the Chicago Botanic Garden and Heidi Hesselein of Pleasant Run Nursery both gave plant-centric presentations.  I waited for the last speaker of the day, Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm.  Roy is like the  Zen master of the horticulture world.
51vdkvws74l-_sx258_bo1204203200_“Weeds are simply plants trying to heal the earth.” That statement made me sit up and take notice. “If you leave open space, you must love to weed… Weeds are not out to get you.  It’s not personal… Don’t try to outsmart a weed.  You don’t need to out swear a weed.  If we understand how plants grow, what they need, how to create communities, weeds are never a problem.”  Roy Diblik

landscape-architects-network-comer-youth-centerpierre-bonnard-453996Roy talked about being inspired by a Bonnard painting.  It’s easy to see the connection.  His talk was about healing the earth, which he considers the mission of all horticulturists, garden designers, plantsmen.  Knowing everything there is to know about growth rate and growth habit of plants creates a community of plants that work together.  This means less weeding, leaving plant debris scattered around the plants. keeping thugs in check by understanding root systems and educating the public to look at landscapes in a different way,

“The minute you are content, that’s when you are done for.” Roy Diblik  It is a brave new world out there in the garden, if you dare to go there.



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