In nature, seeds from plants move around quite a bit and by many different means. In a prairie remnant or in a diverse prairie garden, there’s a continuous contest for space and sunlight, with species throwing down runners or or traveling by underground stolons, dropping seed by gravity or dispersing seed by wind, by bird, or by other natural mechanisms, to reproduce, to procreate, and to then compete and survive in the landscape: or to die off. Dominant species exert competitive pressure, as the less-dominants struggle to find any niche they can. All are fighting for the same light, moisture, nutrients and soil space. Some species can be more prolific in producing viable seed while some, such as running species tend to produce less seed and less viable seed. They have adapted to a better strategy of proliferation.
All of this happens, of course, until a change comes along. If its a severe change such as a major soil disturbance(say a heard of buffalo comes through), the result will be expressed in the resulting vegetation. That is, until things are sorted out again, when some level of stability has been reached.
above: a blurry picture of former Bison range in Louisiana from Lowery’s Mammals of Louisiana
This is the topic that Larry Weaner, of LWeaner Landscape Design, spoke of in his presentation at the New Directions in the American Landscape, the very cool ecological conference I attended recently. He spoke not of Bison, but of strategies to more easily manage natural landscapes, in his presentation, “The Self-Perpetuating Garden”.
“What’s a self-perpetuating garden?” you ask? Its simply designing with list of carefully chosen species, a species list that closely mimics the local or regional natural model, using seed and plugs in order to create enough species diversity that the system becomes, over time, a dynamic restored natural system. This idea, this strategy, enables landscape designers and land managers(gardeners) to think in really big terms, and offers opportunities to restore landscapes more successfully and in an economically and biologically significant fashion. Design and plant with a strategy to introduce successfully, species that will seed profusely and establish colonies and hold their own in extreme competition, as is the case in the natural prairie and the natural Long Leaf pine herbaceous models. This idea is promoted by many landscape designers as a more functional, sustainable and practical model of ecological design and artistic expression.
above: Larry Weaner, of Philadelphia, speaks at NDAL about self-perpetuating gardens
Larry said in his presentation, “We are looking for a higher level of self sufficiency and if we want that, we need fidelity in terms of matching the species to the habitat in which it is accustomed to growing. Why? Because we are not just looking for plants to survive and to put out some flowers, we are looking for them to proliferate in the landscape. We’re looking for them to be successful, not according to a horticultural definition but according to an ecological definition. In horticulture if you plant a plant and it lives and it looks okay, then its successful. In an ecological terms if you plant a plant and it lives and looks okay but does not reproduce, it is not successful. We need to start bringing that definition into the landscape. We can’t plant every single plant, we can’t weed every weed, especially when we start turning lawns into something else, when we start trying to control invasive species (in large landscapes).”
He advocates designing with this in mind and by doing so, becoming more successful when it comes to management, and ultimately, aesthetics: how it looks.
The name of his lecture was actually The Self-Perpetuating Garden- Setting processes in Motion: Assisted Plant Proliferation in the Designed Landscape. Pretty solid subject matter, I’d say. In other words, how do you design forty acres to enable you to manage it as easily as you would one acre? How do you design a one acre property for bio-diversity and do it as easily as you would 1/10 of an acre? You do it the natural way.
Getting more and doing less, that is what drew me to restored prairie many years ago. When I first visited the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project site and began to interpret the dynamics and the beauty of it all, I was blown away. I had found just what I was looking for.
Natural landscapes designed using the model of native plant communities provides better chances for success in managing these landscapes. Anyone can put a bunch of native plants together in a landscape but if it isn’t designed, restoration of the landscape will be limited and aesthetically, its probably going to be unsuccessful or at least difficult to manage..
Its amazing stuff, to study the natural landscape. You don’t need an instructor, really (although it helps, occasionally). You just need a forest or a natural meadow area to walk through, to study. By studying and observing the processes and the changes over time, you can learn a lot about how to go about producing such a landscape. You have to study it to understand it.