Creating Community in the Garden

By Marsha Goldberg, Fairfax Master Gardener

landscape by Ranier

Landscape by Thomas Ranier

I’ll admit that perennial garden design is not my forte. I am a veggie person and pay much more attention to my food plot than I do to my ornamental beds. I purchase plants impulsively, buying when I see what I like at a good price, without much forethought. I was happy, then, to hear Thomas Rainer and Claudia West speak recently about their new book, Planting in a Post-Wild World — Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes. It presents a new and relatively easy way to pull a garden together by designing plantings that mimic naturally occurring plant communities.

The idea of plant communities, known as “phytocoenosis,” isn’t new. The concept was popular as an earlier landscape practice but until recently was forgotten by modern, traditional horticulture. A plant community is a group of plants that occur together in an environmental area and have similar requirements for elements such as water and nutrients. The conceptual framework provides scientists with a way to organize information and helps with land management and conservation. However, it is a useful idea for gardeners as well, as Rainer and West emphasized during their presentation at Alexandria’s Green Spring Gardens.

In his remarks, Rainer talked about his early career designing large-budget gardens for private clients of the Washington, D.C.-based landscape firm, Oehme, van Sweden and