Planting: A New Perspective – A Book Review

By Glenn Steinberg

Piet Oudolf & Noël Kingsbury’s Planting:  A New Perspective

This book has several drawbacks:

  1. It isn’t specifically about gardening for wildlife.
  2. It’s written by Europeans about (mostly) European gardens.
  3. It’s really more for professional landscapers than for individual, private gardeners.

At the same time, it’s an interesting book about garden design, a topic that most of us who seek to plant gardens that are welcoming to wildlife often know little about.

Once you’ve decided to garden for wildlife, you still have to decide what you want your garden to look like.  You have to decide how wild you want it to look and how aesthetically pleasing it should be to you, your neighbors, and the world at large.  Planting:  A New Perspective offers some advice about how to design the look of your garden – both abstract philosophical foundations and concrete, practical strategies.

Late in the book, Kingsbury lays out his philosophy of garden design:  “My own gardening is very much about planting and then allowing natural processes of growth, birth and death to take over, or at least to proceed under the eagle eye of my management.  The result is a far denser canopy than is considered normal for perennials…. [A] density approaching that found in natural plant communities is far more resilient than traditional ones with spaces between plants.  Maintenance will be also reduced” (p. 236).  Kingsbury, Oudolf, and designers like them “stress ecological process and dynamism – the idea that plantings will change over time and that the role of the gardener or manager is to direct these processes in a way which preserves or enhances their visual qualities and other desired features, such as species diversity” (p. 237).

So, if you’re rethinking the look of your garden (especially in the direction of a wilder, more natural appearance), Planting:  A New Perspective will give you much food for thought.

Other similar books to consider include Noël Kingsbury’s Natural Gardening in Small Spaces (Portland, OR:  Timber Press, 2003) and Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World:  Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (Portland, OR:  Timber Press, 2015).

Interestingly, all these books have come out of Europe rather than the U.S.  I’m hoping that a good book or two on natural garden design by and for American gardeners will follow soon.

Bibliographic Overview

Authors: Piet Oudolf & Noël Kingsbury
Title: Planting:  A New Perspective
Publisher: Timber Press, Portland, OR
Publication Date:  2013
ISBN: 9781604693706