small gardens – big plants
Every planting scheme we dream up derives its core inspiration from natural plant communities, where associated species evolve steadily, reciprocally and harmoniously in distinct, diverse habitats. Situating a suitable plant in an optimal location forms an approach long adopted by garden designers and horticulturalists to emulate this ecological process, colloquially coined ’right plant, right place’. For many of us, small garden owners, the lack of space, restricted microclimates and a plethora of irresistible horticultural trends entail highly ornamental, though often unsustainable, vegetational concoctions. Yet, with some forethought, a little restraint, an inspired personal concept suited to the site, and ongoing tweaking, a garden planting design can achieve some of the consonance and ecology we find and rely on in nature.
Galvanised by a clear vision and a list of favourite plants, we forge ahead to create a new green habitat. Yet such a garden environment doesn't merely exist as a design-led concept; its success depends on three fundamental factors: a firm insight of site conditions, locational affinity and consistent maintenance. Soil type and pH, sun, shade and wind patterns, available moisture and drainage, along a whole gamut of beneficial insects, micro-organisms, pollinators, mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms comprise the key aspects to comprehend in habitat creation. While we strive for long-term ecological balance and optimal plant performance through every season, the floras we introduce into our gardens represent not only who we are and where we live, but also our grasp and dedication in aptly maintaining living habitats.
Once a garden has established effectively through a fruitful planting design and efficient upkeep, with stable habitats, abundant floras and distinct characteristics, the dynamism it generates is reaped reliably, albeit in a sequence of rather transient moments. Continual bursts of growth, rousing motion and sound, changing light, colour and texture transmute every single day, savoured hazily in an autumnal legato, or captured somewhat fleetingly in the staccato of summer sparkle. We, temperate climate dwellers, are often fascinated by the constancy of warmer latitudes, where vegetation grows continuously, yet while our seasons mellow into every equinox and solstice, their rhythmic pulse inspires and propels our planting designs amid a comforting cycle. In the compactness of urban gardens, achieving seasonal interest is at times challenging, yet pivotal in sustaining a meaningful connection with nature and wildlife – not only to diversify our ecology, but also to maximise the full potential of limited outdoor spaces.
Fully planned or purely unexpected, every nuance we experience in our small gardens modulates across the aeons of time it takes these miniature ecosystems to develop. From striking focal points of green architecture, through tantalising abstractions of bark and berries, to dainty details in foliage, petals and spikelets, the plant biodiversity we integrate into thoughtful planting designs represents over three centuries of botanical exploration by a brave few. While nearly thirty percent of our world's plants are yet to be discovered, fading fast in depleted habitats, we search for an equilibrium between conserving existing species and finding undiscovered ones. Advocating diversity, mindful of sustainability and needing cleaner air, we're all fragile strands within living ecozones of every imaginable scale.
Whether consciously or altogether subliminally, the outdoor catharsis we derive from resting ourselves among the trees and shrubs affirms one of the most visceral aspects of our well-being. These experiences amid abundantly cultivated private gardens, inclusive public spaces and protected natural landscapes are positively enabled by lifelong journeys in designing, implementing and maintaining diverse planting schemes – ornamental or entirely wild. When a sympathetic planting approach retains visual integrity while remaining ecologically sound, it seems biodiversity truly becomes a plants person's second nature!