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Entries in traditional gardening methods (1)


The Advantages of Self-Sustaining Gardens, a book review for

The Self Sustaining Garden, a guide to matrix planting Peter Thompson, Timber Press,

We are in the midst of a multi-faceted historical development in gardening that has been propelled by social change. In our era, time available to maintain a garden has become as precious as water in the desert. Consequently, alternative styles of landscaping are evolving; styles that require fewer resources. In one way or the other, all of the alternatives politely ignore traditional gardening philosophies. The self sustaining garden is one option.

The author submits that a self sustaining garden requires less effort because the plants do the work. The key to success is not to attempt to grow ones favorite plants. Instead, one must select those that are best matched to local ecological conditions. In such situations, what goes on in the garden will be controlled not by the gardener but by the relationship between the plants that are happy growing together.

The author refers to this kind of self-sustaining landscape as matrix planting and offers wildflower gardens as an example:  Wildflowers grow all over the world with no help from humans. They survive by forming self-sustaining communities-broadly know as vegetation- which shelter and protect the plants within them, while excluding outsiders. They are successful because the plants within each community have established a balance with one another which enables each to obtain a share of resources, living space and opportunities to reproduce…Matrix planting is based on this natural model…

Matrix planting requires less energy and resources as it contradicts traditional garden maintenance methods. For example, tilling and amending the soil is no longer required. Regular use of fertilizer is unnecessary; weeding of self seeding plants is discouraged. Pesticides and slug pellets are never used and irrigation becomes irrelevant. The objective is not to grow bigger and better looking plants, simply healthy ones that can survive without too much intervention from the gardener.

The author establishes the basic steps to creating a sustainable garden. They begin with proper soil preparation and an understanding of the concept of planting in patterns and rhythms. He continues with dedicated chapters that discuss the variety of sustainable gardens based on specific growing conditions, such as ornamental grass meadows and pools and wetlands. One chapter is devoted to the function of shrubbery while another deals with gardening in shade. Within each chapter, inspiring case studies are included and lists of plants appropriate for very specific growing conditions are supplied. From cover to cover, over 1000 plants are recommended.

Readers who are mostly concerned with water conservation will find this book helpful. Mr. Thompson points out that, even though it was not specifically devised to address problems of water shortages, matrix planting has much in common with water conservation. He reminds the reader that traditional, generous irrigation encourages unbalanced growth of those plants best able to take advantage of additional water. Matrix planting of self sustainable gardens reduces the amount of water required for a garden’s survival.

Mr. Thompson is a scientist. As a  botanist, he headed the Physiology Department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, where he initiated research of seed germination, seedling nutrition and the long term conservation of plant genetic resources. His book targets the scholarly, erudite gardener who appreciates a traditional style of garden writing almost as much as the science of gardening itself. In that regard, this publication is not a how-to manual, even though step by step instructions are given. This is a book for reference and consultation whenever sustainable gardens need to be considered.