The Matrix

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, is a book described by Doug Tallamy as a how-to guide to sustainable landscaping.  The prescribed way to create this sustainable landscape is referred to as matrix planting, wildscaping or new American style.  Check out this link for a very good description of this type of planting.

The book spends a lot of time describing ‘landscape archetypes’, design processes and site preparation etc., with the finished planting being a matrix or array of plants that thrive in related habitats with root systems that don’t compete.  Planting is done in layers using structural/framework plants (10-15%), seasonal theme plants (25-40%), and ground cover plants (50%).  Plant spacing is based on the mature width of plants and their growing behaviour.  This method usually requires a large number of plants so using ‘plugs’ is the most economical way of starting.  This style of garden does rely on some plants self-seeding to create a dense planting, so this may not be to everyone’s liking!

As an example, I have a stretch of garden along the sidewalk that I refer to as my ‘hell-strip’ and I have found few plants that have thrived there.  A boulevard tree that shaded part of this area was damaged last year and was taken down, so I can now use sun-loving plants that I have had success with in an adjacent area.  So, to translate that into what I might plant, I could use 25 Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) plugs as a ground cover plant, 15 Lance-leafed Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata) plugs as a seasonal theme plant and 9-10 Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) plugs as a structural/framework plant.  Or maybe … ???  Isn’t that the fun part? 

The goal is to have a dense planting that will discourage weeds, be resilient, provide habitat, sequester carbon, reduce storm water run-off and to create a beautiful garden!

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