I read this book…

New Naturalism, by Kelly D. Norris

Some books are just a joy to read- this is one such book.  Norris has an engaging writing style, the book is replete with stunning photographs of naturalized gardens and there are a plethora witty and engaging engaging quotes. 

The book encourages gardeners to re-think their approach to gardens and gardening- shifting away from pure aesthetics to “aesthetics plus”. Looking at what else plants can do for their environments in addition to providing beauty is one of the underlying themes of this book. From providing food and habitat to creatures, to nourishing and replenishing the soil are all things that Norris asks gardeners to consider when they are choosing plants.

Below is a sample of some of my favourites quotes from the book. Perhaps they will provide inspiration to read the book and consider some of his theories!

  • Less fussing and more buzzing!
  • Soil is the final word when it comes to the basis for plantings
  • The overall soil profile is the long term influencer of all landscape activity- you can’t amend your way out of this reality
  • Plants are not static, colourful furnishings in an outdoor room- they are characters with stories to tell
  • Gardens are a self-perpetuating, three dimensional life form
  • Western gardening has grown out of agriculture- in this model, plants exist statically as furniture in a room, maintained by a resource called the gardener
  • Fertility is indiscriminate- a rich fertile soil gives rise to all plants- the ones you want and those you don’t
  • Change if the underlying engine for how a wilderness operates, whether we like it or not 
  • Succession shows that there is never an endpoint for a plant community- but rather a constant forward motion that incorporates disturbance as it happens instead of resisting it
  • Native plants are a series of stepping stones that connect populations across a landscape
  • If nothing is eating your plants, what life is your garden supporting?
  • Ecology isn’t a flip switch- the lamp is already on
  • Planting is both a noun and a verb- planting is simultaneously a result and a brave act- to plant is to have hope in what a planting might become
  • Sites are vessels for plantings- plantings are content for sites 
  • Our gardens, however small, can be up to something good- with the potential to ecologically rethread the world
  • Be realistic about what plants will grow appropriately without life support
  • The type of soil should inform all of your plant decisions- you have to dig down before you can grow up
  • If you suspend the belief that plants can’t get along without you, then you can start to see the garden as a dynamic system instead of a static assemblage of plants that need individual care as if they were patients in a hospital ward
  • Planting schemes are like baking- schemes should be measured, intended and blended
  • The quickest way to craft visual interest is to dial up contrast. The scalar differences between plants help us to recognize and value them
  • Never underestimate the power of a well-placed ball on a stick (such as an allium)
  • Embrace the distraction of colour- celebrate it as the frosting on a good cake- it’s easier to fix a colourful smudge that’s it is to rebake the cake 
  • Start with plants that have the most enduring features throughout the growing season- they keep the garden in order- add ephemerality last- sprinkles on top of a frosted cake
  • Avoiding change is resource intensive
  • Use soil organic matter as a tool- don’t bring a sledgehammer to a job that only requires a rubber mallet
  • It’s good to be dense- density (in plantings) is our friend
  • If plants aren’t getting it on with the bees while they are flowering, they may not be the best choices for long term resilience
  • Soil compaction -the underground equivalent of a vice grip- slows movement of water, nutrients
  • Start small- smallness doen’t limit the possibilities or undermine purpose- a garden is a place of pleasure, creativity and some expectation of work
  • It’s essential to cover the ground horizontally and vertically with vegetation- no gaps please
  • Foster positive ecological interactions among plants and in concert with the site- conserves energy for greatest return on investment without constant inputs- this is smarter gardening, not harder gardening
  • Our native tendency is to want to give each plant a comfortable ring of air in which it can breathe- it looks tidier. Density is our friend
  • Plants cannot persist if the conditions of the site only promote growth and development of adults- need a regeneration niche
  • In an ecological garden, the tapestry is as important as the individual thread
  • Re-start your garden rather than clean up
  • Re-starting your garden shouldn’t be a destructive activity
  • Think of weeding as stewardship rather than a battle
  • Weeds are symptoms- opportunity is the issue
  • Ultimately you are the referee, but in calling balls and strikes, exercise good ecological jurisprudence
  • Weeding isn’t bulldozing
  • In an ecological landscape, success isn’t measured in the circumference of a dinner plate dahlia- or the heft of a juicy tomato.  It’s measured tactically by abundance and function and experientially by pleasure and observation

Submitted by Sabine Behnk, Master Gardener