Plants Hate Solitary Confinement

Ok, I’ve tried. I cannot resist the urge share tidbits of the garden wisdom I took home from the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference in Millersville, PA. Unlike my grandmother, who refused to share the secrets of my father’s favorite recipes with my mother, I give to you freely information that charged-me-up during conference in Millersville, PA.

I managed to restrain myself from purchasing plants. I only brought home two new babies. This is because I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the size of my gardens – and there’s simply no room in my existing gardens for more plants.  However, there is always going to be room in my brain for more plant information.

Here is one of the concepts added to the garden inside my skull during the conference.  I’ll share more down the road.

- Native plant gardeners understand that plants don’t like solitary confinement.  I knew gardeners who adore natives have a different conception about the role of plants in the landscape. I’ve written about the wildlife value of native plants. Native enthusiasts see the vital interconnection between all life and plants and clearly understand the role that plants play in the landscape as being much larger than ornamental.  Plants as a community are also understood by this group.  They are in tune with the way that plants –themselves- work and play together.

It was Claudia West with North Creek Nursery who said plants don’t like solitary confinement and pointed out that much of our landscaping includes vast amounts of mulch with a few plants stuck in – a fair distance from each other. This is not the most symbiotic for the plants or the gardener. Any bare soil, even with mulch, invites new plants- ie weeds.  Several speakers encouraged allowing plants to touch (my plants definitely touch), while arguing the benefits of planting tightly enough to discourage weed growth and suggesting observing natural plant communities for good native plant design.

West was one who suggested looking at plant communities in nature to draw inspiration about planting. She suggests planting closely and in layers. We often plant in clumps or drifts of one plant. There is room to work with native plants in drifts, but West says we should also think of a low layer of plants like short grasses or small plants that can tolerate some shade, and then plant a variety of medium to tall plants above and around them. Landscaping in this way, creates a mass of plants – including a low layer under taller plants – that will out compete invasive weeds.

As gardeners, we often want our Echinacea there….  our Heliopsis there…  and we fight against plants growing out of their box.  What we need to embrace is that it’s fine – and indeed beautiful – to allow plants to touch and grow together. Why sentence a plant to a life stranded alone in a sea of brown mulch? That’s not what nature would have them do.

Curious about the plants that came home with me?  I’ve made a home for a plant, named after our beloved Stephanie CohenPhlox paniculata ‘Shortwood’.  While not short by some measures, this phlox tops out at just about 4 feet.  Its purple-pink blooms are long lasting – summer into fall – and importantly, it is much more mildew resistant than most phlox.   It does like cool and damp feet…  so if you have a low area that holds  a bit of water and a bit of compost to dress it with, ‘Shortwood’ will flourish with as much style as Stephanie Cohen does.  Kudos to Steph.  You rock.

The other plant I brought home was meant to increase my already crazy Baptisia addiction.  Wendy gave me a Baptisia ‘Screaming Yellow’ from her nursery, Harvey’s gardens, to help me overcome my grief after my reckless, running over of another gifted Baptisia in my driveway recently.  Thanks!



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About the Author

Laura Mathews

Laura is a garden writer and photographer. She writes online content for gardening websites, writes for gardening publications and blogs for three gardening blogs. Her interests are local food, organic gardening, backyard homesteading and native plants. She assists gardening related clients with social media. And occasionally, she'll offer a solicited opinion as a garden coach.

One Comment

  1. Excellent website, you’ve done a good work here.

    # Posted on July 6, 2012 at 1:24 am by Seeds

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