Learning From Nature

If you walk down the street in any neighborhood less then 20 years old in the Edmonton or Sherwood Park area, and you’ll notice a recurring pattern. Planting beds with plants that individually are beautiful, but together create a dull or lac luster planting bed that just isn’t quite right. This is because for years’ people have been embarking on planting bed design considering each plant as a separate feature to the bed. People often try to mimic nature but miss the mark. In nature, the planting in any ecosystem exists almost as one large organism. From blanketing the forest floor to extending high into the tree tops, planting in nature appears so beautiful because every plant that you see is right where it wants to be. If we think about the way plants grow in the wild, it helps us understand how different our gardens are.  We arrange plants as individual objects in a sea of mulch. Effectively placing them in solitary confinement.

If you are ready to take a stand against the run at the mill planting bed, that has for too long has failed to provide any worth while addition to our landscapes, here are some steps we can all take towards a greener future.

Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Large expanses of bare soil are incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding. The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, phlox, and self-seeding columbine or thyme.

When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant, as long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more. To do this, we need to pay attention to a plant’s shape. Its shape is often an indication of where it grows in the vertical strata of a plant community. Upright plants with low or minimal basal or spiky upright plants have adapted to growing through other plants. Horizontally spreading plants have adapted to grow underneath others.

Mulch is a good natural ground cover, but there should not be vast expanses of any groundcover between planting, if you want the planting bed to have a cohesive composition. Further more, when mulching around trees, it has long been thought. Individuals continue to believe that eight to 12 inches of mulch piled around a tree trunk is a good idea remains unclear, but the fact of the matter is they’ve sentenced the plant to a slow death. Mulch is by no means a bad idea. It has many beneficial qualities, but like everything else in life, it should be used in moderation. When applied correctly it protects the tree from lawn mower or string trimmer damage, while keeping the soil moist and stabilizing the temperature in summer and winter. Organic mulches also eventually decompose and improve the soil structure. The proper way to mulch around a tree appears more like a doughnut. The depth of the ring should be two to four inches max. For soils that are poorly drained, like clay, only use two inches of mulch.

Now that you armed with more information go out there get dirty and keep bringing your outdoor living dream to life!