(The dynamic nature of a garden that has incorporated ecological principles in its design).
Before we can discuss this topic, let us just look at the concept “ecology”. It simply refers to the interaction and interdependence of all the aspects that play a role in environmental health. Obviously, it refers to plants, but also to soil, temperature, moisture and of course the birds and the bees that visit and use it. These components interactions form a very special environment called a “niche”. For instance, a shady spot, a rockery and a damp spot could all have the same components but the type of plants and the wildlife can differ substantially amongst the different niches.
In a designed landscape, we bring all these components together, not necessarily as a natural ecosystem, but as one that can function as an ecosystem and strengthen our sense of well-being.
To design and plant a “natural” ecosystem is always a challenge. One does it based on experience, what you have read and what you have observed in the wild, but each site is unique and might have quirks that you cannot even imagine. Let us consider, for example, a grassland garden. We want to plant, say, 50% grasses and the rest bulbs, perennials and small shrubs. So, we select our grasses and other plants and mix them in such a way that they resemble a “natural” ensemble. However, there are some unknowns that is not always easy to quantify that could change our intentions on a grandiose scale:
Indigenous plants of the same specie can vary tremendously in size. For instance, a grass species may vary in height between 300mm and 900mm (what we had in mind was 300mm).
There could a few reasons:
- It could be genetic. It all depends where the seed was collected. For instance, in KZN Themeda triandra can easily reach a height of 1 m or more whereas in the Golden Gate area in the Free State it hardly exceeds 300mm (the same principle applies to frost hardiness).
- Fertile soil can also affect plant growth. In Nature, most soils are relatively poor whereas in gardens they are “rich and black”.
- The plants may receive too much water. In Nature, rainfall is normally erratic and not of the same quantity every time.
Of course, the opposite is also true. A plant may not grow optimally if not planted in the right spot or in the wrong soil (this was discussed in the previous article, Right Plant, Right Place).
All these factors can influence the “look” of our garden and that may not necessarily be what we had envisioned.
How do we resolve this quagmire? If I can use a bit of slang: “GO WITH THE FLOW”. Or to put it more accurately: let your planting follow the route of self-design. Observe the growth rate and size of plants and also which plants look healthy. Not all of them might have taken kindly to the site. Others may be so happy that they start colonizing immediately.
Then remove the ones that do not live up to your expectations, such as grasses that are too tall, poor performing plants as well as aggressive ones. Then let the planting mature a bit before you start planting in or replacing plants.
This is actually a process that I apply to my garden on an annual basis. It is astonishing how plants can appear from nowhere without you even noticing it! If you follow this route, your garden should be fairly low maintenance and waterwise.
The picture below is of a garden that is fairly stable and that has a “natural” look. Please note that it becomes a self-generating entity and unwanted plants must be removed periodically.
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