I've been on a sustainable gardening bent recently, so I thought I would share some of my resources related to the topic collected over the years. And like any list, this is only to whet your appetite; neither inclusive nor exclusive.
I was first exposed to the concept of natural planting design in 1990 when James van Sweden guest lectured one of my landscape architecture classes. His book Bold Romantic Gardens: The New World Landscapes of Oehme and Van Sweden hadn't been released quite yet but after his presentation I was in great anticipation of its release later in the year—and today it is still a treasured addition to my bookshelf. I remember thinking his designs were much like a painting, with plants massed together like a stroke of the brush. I still remember the fascination and awe I felt for a man who could create such beauty by imitating nature.
Another favorite designer is Piet Oudolf. If his name is familiar, it might be that you have experienced one of his designs when visiting the Highline or Battery Conservatory in the city of New York or his work at the Lurie Gardens in Chicago's Millennium Park. He believes that nature is his inspiration and that what he provides is the feeling nature gives you. I have several of his books but my favorite is Dream Plants for the Natural Garden which was released originally in 2000 with co-author Henk Gerritsen, but updated and re-released in 2013 in paperback form. What's so special about this book is that the authors are really focusing on dependable plant traits for a natural garden—really one of my more favorites books.
Roy Diblik is also another designer and plantsman known for creating highly aesthetic, sustainable plant communities for all seasons, while reducing maintenance through design. His book The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden, which came out early last year, is another good resource for plant recommendations, including 62 handy planting plans. He also dedicates several pages to other designers and resources he thinks are inspiring. A visit to his Northwinds Perennial Farm outside of Burlington, Wisconsin is not only a great place to shop but walking the beautiful surrounding gardens Roy designed only enhances the nursery experience.
And for those of you who attended the 2015 Gateway Green Industry Conference, you had the opportunity to hear Thomas Rainer, a new contemporary voice among landscape architects who promotes sustainable planting design. His new book Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes is due out October 14th and I already have a copy preordered. He blogs at the award-winning site Grounded Design, so check it out and sign up now to receive his blog.
Two other authors I enjoy have joined their talents and co-authored The Living Landscape: Designing for beauty and biodiversity in the home garden. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, and Rick Dark, award winning author of American Woodland Garden, have come together to deepen our appreciation of the interactions between plants, animals, insects, birds and humans. The authors show and explain in detail how to develop a garden that is not only beautiful, but diverse and sustainable. The book also features regional plant lists, including selected plants for the Midwest and Mountain States. Details for each plant includes its ecological functions and landscape function. From the list we learn that arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum, not only provides cover for wildlife, food and nesting sites for birds but is also a pollen and/or nectar producer and provides food for both mammals and caterpillars. In addition to these ecological functions, arrowwood also has landscape value that includes summer bloom, fall foliage color and its ability to provide shade and cooling.
If you have an interested in integrating native plants and/or creating a more sustainable natural landscape, I recommend starting with these resources, but don't stop there. There many other respected authors on the subject—some focused solely on native plants and other more like what I have listed here promote the integration of native plants.