Book Review: Planting in a Post Wild World

Planting in a Post Wild World is for anyone interested in the ethereal natural style planting that’s popular at the moment, and for people looking for sustainable, low maintenance wildlife friendly planting.

There is so much going on in this book, it could easily be split into three because it covers three big topics:

  1. Plant communities
  2. Naturalistic design
  3. Creating sustainable wild places in urban areas

Turning conservation on its head

Bringing wild into urban areas - here a large scale cactus bed on the roof of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles
Bringing wild back into urban areas – here a large scale cactus bed on the roof of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles

Planting in a Post Wild World starts with a call to action that, for anyone (like me) who is passionate about conservation, is a bit like being slapped around the face with a wet fish. The authors explain how many of us pine after the natural wild places of the past, but they’re mostly already gone. Instead they encourage us to focus on bringing a new form of human led sustainable wild into our towns and cities.

Personally, I enjoyed this reassuring message, to a point that it has changed my outlook on conservation. While I know we still must act now to protect what is left of nature, by taking this new approach it makes conservation more accessible for most people – because we can all do something ourselves right now. It’s a nice approach. People can reintroduce wild places into urban areas and then enjoy it every day. Perhaps later taking more of an interest in bigger conservation efforts. It offers hope.

Plant communities

Dan Pearson's Chatsworth Garden
Dan Pearson’s naturalistic plant community at the Chelsea Flower Show 2015 (click to zoom)

The bulk of the book though is focussed on practical planting advice and it’s really good. Covering two broad topics i) plant communities and ii) naturalistic design. These two things are not tied to one another. You can have unnatural design but apply the principles of a natural community and vice-versa. However the authors clearly want us to do both.

Planting community frameworks are the core of the book. The science behind the way plants grow naturally in different ways and with different needs. For example, some have deep tap roots, while smaller plants can have short fibrous roots. It makes you think of planting like a living 3D jigsaw puzzle. If you choose the right pieces they can all interlock snuggly without any gaps.

I really like this approach because it maximises aesthetic appeal and reduces maintenance like weeding. The book explains this subject with a series of fascinating and easy to read diagrams accompanied by tonnes of inspiring photo case studies. I would buy the book for the planting community advice alone.

Naturalistic design

Southbank, London, spring 2015
An example of a woodland planting in London (click to zoom)

Naturalistic design and how this works in towns and cities makes up the rest of the book. Going into great detail about how to recreate modern versions of three natural environments: i) grasslands ii) woodlands and iii) shrub lands (which is the point where grasslands and woodlands join). Showing you how to make this work – with spectacular results – even if you happen to be surrounded by high rises in New York or grey concrete in London.

The naturalistic planting in urban spaces movement is truly inspiring.

Living in one of the world’s busiest metropolises, London, I have to admit I have always longed to escape and get out to the country. For the first time, with Planting in a Post Wild World, I admit I felt my view challenged and that longing dulled. Perhaps living in a city is an opportunity to create that better, more plant filled world I desire. Instead of running from the unstoppable, why not join in and help make our futures better?

Things to watch out for

In a book so brilliant, a couple of tiny issues stood out:

  • There is a minor criticism (as well as many compliments) about an old book on this subject for being too Europe focussed but this kinda does the same itself with a lot of focus on US plants. I don’t mind this because I’m interested in plants around the world – it just gives me an excuse to read the European one it mentions.
  • The whole book does feel fairly focussed on communal and amenity planting, i.e. low maintenance, large scale. Which again is fine, in itself it is interesting. The book is presented in such a way that all planting would benefit from this kind of approach. I like the sentiment, and wish to follow it, but as a plantsman and gardener it’s impossible to only grow naturalistic plantings as much as I am drawn to them. I will have areas dedicated to this, but I still want to grow some choice specimen plants with higher horticultural requirements.

Summary: Planting in a Post Wild World

Every now and then you read a gem of a book that nudges your life in a slightly different trajectory to the one you were on. Planting in a Post Wild World is one of those books for me, changing my outlook on life and gardening. This rockets to the top of my gardening book picks and I recommend it to everyone, advanced or amateur.

I would love a follow up encyclopaedia of plants, with planting positions from the frameworks introduced in this book. With root diagrams, which were my favourite bit – we don’t talk about roots enough.

In 2016 I’m adjusting my planting plans off the back of this book to experiment with the frameworks, the sign of a brilliant ‘how to’ book.

If you haven’t already, please do read Planting in a Post Wild World. I’d love to know if you find it as exciting as I do.

Score: 5/5

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

One thought on “Book Review: Planting in a Post Wild World”

  1. PPS watch out with your grasses on the allotment that some over-zealous ‘weed’ controlling neighbour doesn’t strim the lot! Let your neighbours know it’s lovingly-wild rather than lazy-wild!

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