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Book review: Planting in a Post-wild World

Book review: Planting in a Post-wild World

Author Thomas Rainer is a landscape architect who studies planting schemes. Photo: Thomas Rainer

Dr Noel Kingsbury rates a new book on naturalistic planting

I first started writing about naturalistic planting back in 1995, and with the publication of this book, Planting in a Post-wild World: Designing plant communities for resilient landscapes, there is definitely a feeling that it has come of age and a new generation is taking over.

The pedigree of the authors is a good starting point. Thomas Rainer is a practising landscape architect, and Claudia West works for a wholesale nursery, so their perspective is inevitably and reassuringly down to earth. Led by the imagery, the impression is of a very American book, and it is one which looks very much at the larger scale. However, for anyone interested in naturalistic design – country gardens, wild areas in smaller gardens, community or public urban projects etc – it is vital reading. 
Its fundamental point is that we must stop thinking about the precise placing of plants and think more about creating ‘vegetations’, communities of living plants. This is not a new message, but here it is written about from the perspective of the designer – not that of ecologists (who are never very interested in aesthetics) or horticulturalists (who get too tied up with individual plant species) – and it is this perspective that makes this an important text for design professionals.

Planting in a Post-wild World. By: Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

Going public

‘Reading’ natural or semi-natural landscapes can be a problem and one of the reasons why naturalistic or wild planting can fail at that important hurdle: public acceptance. The illustrations, neat diagrams and text here help to focus the attention of designers onto what it is about natural landscapes that is easily appreciated by human onlookers and how these features might be brought into use in their work. 
There is some usefully counter-intuitive material here – “Stress as an asset” etc – and some basic lessons from plant ecology that designers will increasingly need to learn about in a resource-scarce world. There are quite a few concepts from German planting theory too, which makes this book particularly valuable, as there is a whole world of sophisticated and advanced planting design that British practitioners are largely unaware of. Creating planting through ‘layering’ is something that is increasingly being talked about. It is discussed here, very much from the functional and practical point of view. The diagrams on the subject are very clear and helpful. 
My only grumbles were the absence of any mention of climbing plants, a key part of the ecology of transition zones, and that captions often fail to mention where photographs were taken. Otherwise, a valuable addition to the growing literature on designing wildly.

PUBLISHED BY: Timber Press
PRICE: £25 

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