Gardeners Gone Post-Wild: Post Wild Edible Landscaping

(HEY! If you’re interested in transforming your yard into an edible, ecological paradise, check out our online Introduction to Forest Gardening Course:

This post is filled with purdy pictures from the book Planting in a Post-Wild World (along with shots from our own gardens) which has been getting as much press in the tea-and-crumpets circles of ornamental gardening as it has in the granola-with-hemp-milk syndicates of Environmentalist do-gooders. You know, hippies like me. Except for the hemp milk bit, because hemp milk is just a horrible, horrible thing. 
Even Architectural Digest has jumped on the “post-wild” bandwagon with it’s review.

The “post-wild” gardening movement, as covered in beautiful coffee-table books like Planting for a Post-wild World and The Rambunctuous Garden, has gained popularity as both a critique and outgrowth of the “wild” gardening movement of the last century that advocated gardens of native plants. Often these “wild” gardens were planted more in the disciplined monoculture battle formations of botanical gardens than anything you’d ever find in the true “wilds.”  
Such gardens of site-appropriate native plants were proposed as being more environmentally friendly, since the native plants would be well-adapted to the conditions, and not need as much watering or fertilizer. And gardens popualted by the local flora and fauna would be more “terroir,” more appropriate to the local character. 
Post-wild carries the same thoughts further down the stream by emphasizing naturally tight plantings of ecologically modelled but well-designed plant communities. Post wild plantings copy what you see in lots maintained by mother nature herself, such as this unmanaged “hellstrip” near the author’s house:

Permaculturists call these wild assemblages “recombinant ecosystems.” You’ll notice, this isn’t the idealized “untouched nature” of pure native plants that the wild gardening movement dreamt of. Post-wild prioritizes the resource and energy efficiency of truly “wild” plant communities as they pop up in the REAL natural world, “weeds” and all, over the exclusive use of natives. It recognizes that non-natives can play an important role in bringing stability to ecosystems dominated by non-native soil organisms and human use patterns that are inhospitable to native plants. 
The idea is that unlike many native gardens that often require continuous work weeding and spraying to keep out “invasives” and watering and soil amendment to keep plants healthy, nobody does ANYTHING to that there hellstrip and it just keeps on keepin’ on, as they say. Due to the diversity, it’s extremely resilient. If it’s a dry year, something in that tangle will thrive. In a wet year, something else will step up to keep things looking lush and healthy. 

Post-wild plantings also give up the mulch-obession of modern landscaping. 
Because, those orange-dyed wood chips? WTF? 
Mulch once and you’ll mulch, mulch, mulch… it never ends. You’ll be back mulching year after year. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but it takes time, work, and resources. But, ecosystems are SELF-MULCHING and clever gardeners design gardens that do the same! In well-functioning plant communities, the plants look after each other, and do all the gardeners work: watering, weeding, fertilizing, pollinating and mulching. 

And because these plant communities resemble true wild nature, there’s a better chance that they will capture that underlying magic, the beauty of nature that stills our breath and quiets the mind. Such plantings have the opportunity to transcend being “gardens.” They may become ecosystems. Which isn’t just good for the garden, it’s something we can see and feel. Healthy ecosystems – that’s something we’ve spent our whole EVOLUTION learning how to spot and everything in our being tells us that’s the kind of place where we want to be. 

And there’s no reason that post-wild gardens have to be messy post-modern art. Hardscaping can add structure and tidy formality while reducing maintenance, as in the picture above. No mowing or weedwacking is necessary to keep these lines looking crisp and formal. 

Careful use of color can bring amazing beauty, character and variety. Good designers have been painting post-wild landscapes worthy of museum walls. 
And post-wild designers often tie wild plantings together with formal beds and garden layouts, such as we have done in our EDIBLE post-wild front yard Jardin de Cure at Lillie House: 

In our gardens, we’ve used the ideas of guilds and ecological modelling to create edible ornamental plantings that are filled with both flowers and food. That’s right! There’s no reason why the post-wild aesthetic that’s becoming so popular can’t be applied to create beautiful EDIBLE landscaping, as we have done at Lillie House: 

Any of these pictures in this post, or the books sited above, could be models for your own home edible garden. And these naturally maintained gardens will take less time and resources than a lawn or flower garden. This is especially true of home Food Forest Gardens, which make ideal post-wild gardens. 

(One of our Food Forest Gardens.)

For those who are interested, the books listed above are loaded with “garden porn” (as it’s known on the interwebs) and practical advice, is a good place to start. But in my opinion, some of the best tools for designing great plant communities, whether edible or ornamental, come from the field of Permaculture. The Permaculture concept of “guilds” can be a great tool for analyzing the naturally-occurring ecosystems around your home and designing gardens that work as well. 

(Another post-wild edible garden designed by Lillie House. This one is an ecologically-modelled polyculture.)

Permaculture books like Gaia’s Garden have a lot of great information on designing function plant communities. The polyculture work of Ianto and Chris Evans is another good stepping-off point:
Many of the same principles used in annual vegetable polycultures can be used and adapted to edible/ornamental landscapes. For example, at Lillie House all of our beds are mixed polycultures of Annuals and Perennials. We use a variation on the “Ianto Evans Polyculture” as a self-sowing ground cover that takes over whenever soil is left bare, and fills in spots after harvests. Because we’ve chosen our plants carefully, it’s as beautiful to look at as it is to eat! 

And if you’d like to get really in-depth instruction on designing such well-functioning, low-maintenance plant communities, that’s going to be one of the major topics of our Forest Gardening Course that we’ll be offering this summer as part of our Community Supported Forest Gardening program (which we’ll be launching very soon!) We’ll be working with students to help them analyze and design beautiful gardens that match the aesthetics and architecture of their homes and neighborhoods, while functioning like self-organizing ecosystems. I’m extremely proud of the way the program is set up, so do me a favor by checking it out and letting us know what you think. 
And, while you’re day-dreaming about next summer’s garden season, here are another couple of resources you can check out for inspiration on post-wild edible gardens:
Our Lillie House Design Portfolio. Lots of pictures of beautiful edible ecosystems!
Our Pintrest board on Traditional Edible Forest Garden systems: These are beautiful human ecosystems that have stood the test of time! 
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(Forest Garden at Lillie House in Kalamazoo.)

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