“Post-Wild” Book Talk and Giveaway



I had the chance to hear a talk about the much-anticipated book Planting in a Post-Wild World by the authors, Thomas timberRainer and Claudia West. I know I promised a book review and giveaway today, but having now read the whole book, I’ve decided that it’s so thought-provoking, I want to comment at length, with examples of how their new and controversial ideas about designing with plants answers my decades-long questions on the subject and is already impacting my garden.

For the giveaway, just leave a comment to win a copy of the book (until close of business next Friday). A winner will be chosen at random.

While I’m still digesting the most interesting book I’ve read about plants and landscapes since Second Nature in 1992, here are some images and notes from Thomas and Claudia’s talk.

Thomas grew up in a suburb of Montgomery, Alabama, where he has observed the typical American transformation of natural areas into housing divisions and shopping malls.


Claudia’s story is sure different. She grew up in East Germany and showed us the image above left of a typical strip-mining site there, which has been restored to something more natural since the fall of the Communist regime.


Claudia’s family ran a landscape and nursery business and experienced up-close the European passion for plants native to North America.


So what a shock it was to come to the States and discover that most American landscapes look like this.


Later in the talk, this image illustrated one of the authors’ criticisms of garden design today – too much bare ground and the resultant overuse of mulch. More on that soon.


Planting in a Post-Wild World starts with the world as we find it today – mostly urban and suburban, and getting more so each year. There’s no going back, but there’s wisdom (and a lot less maintenance) in designing according to how plants actually grow together. What a concept!


  1. I was at a friend’s house a couple of weekends ago helping her with the garden she inherited when they bought the house. She thought it was overgrown & out of control because it doesn’t look like the landscaping “norm” one sees everywhere. I had to explain to her how gardens are supposed to look & how much better it is for the land, environment & wildlife when you don’t follow the example set by these so-called “experts” at landscaping companies. I think I managed to convert her, which is wonderful because she has a lot of beautiful natives in her garden! 😉

    • These “experts” at landscape company have zero imagination! It’s all about mulch and more mulch and neat neat neat. Nothing can stick out or have it’s own personality. I was more struck by the pictures of the houses with zero plants or trees. Too sad! Need more green please! =) Would LOVE to win this book. Thanks for the chance.

    • Composted leaves create a more natural groundcover and suppress weeds as well. Patience is required as you experiment to find the plants that will succeed in an area even if you follow the clues. Mow your leaves and divide the thriving
      natives. I am anxious to read this book.

  2. I heard an interview with the author on “A Way to Garden with Margaret Roach” and am excited to read the book, taking another step in ecological landscape design

  3. The reviews make this book sound like a must-read for gardeners in the “post-wild” world. I requested this book from my local public library as soon as I read the first review. Imagine my surprise to see that I was number 10 on the waiting list! Glad to see so many people are interested in a very important topic.

    • I have a bare end of my brick apartment building where they neglected to plant anything. I am trying to liven it up with an overflowing garden in pots. Looking forward to reading this.

  4. Roy Diblik’s book “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden” is a more hands on approach to, in Susan’s words, “designing according to how plants actually grow together.” Roy’s knowledge of plants is amazing and has been put to use in projects ranging from the Lurie Gardens in Chicago’s Millenium Park to New York’s Highline. The plant selection in Roy’s book is aimed primarily at the upper Midwest and East although the concepts he introduces are useful anywhere.

    I am very much looking forward to Thomas Rainer’s and Claudia West’s new book. It looks to be one that takes the concepts found in Roy’s book and looks at them in a broader context. I have been a avid reader of Thomas’s blog since first learning of him in a Garden Rant post. Landscape Architects tend to draw not write. They draw images of what the world should be and then (usually) someone else builds from those images. What is almost always missing is the why? What guides those visions? Thomas is exceptional at verbalizing the why’s. I suspect I will find many “whys” in this book.

    I know nothing about Claudia West except what I’ve read in Thomas’s post about teaming with her for this book. She seems to be someone I should learn more about.

    • I admit that I like setting up a garden that, when finished, will required very little in the way of maintenance. I also like things to harvest, from herbs to tree fuit & nuts, as well as flowers.

      I also want to make the various (mostly flying) critters we depend on for healthy plants–and those who need their own fodder in as wide an area as we can manage. This entire household likes to feed people, so why not traveling insects?

      I liked, in the front yard of our last house, that the hedge of rosemaries and lavenders (they each had their own arcs) attracted bees when they flowered. I could drive up, emerge from my car, and they were all going about their business, ignoring me. I’d greet them and tell them I was happy to have them there. I think I’ve only been stung three times over 61 years: didn’t see the last two, and the first was in my 4th grade classroom. More exposure to bees via cartoons, I thought the stinger was on the front… no allergies, at least.

      There are some creepy-crawlies I don’t care for, but I just avoid them if they’re not destructive. We seem to have a clutch of lizards who will sun themselves on the driveway or the ramp to the door, and scuttle away underneath it, or into the shrubs, when someone approaches. My mother would have freaked out, but I don’t seem to fear the non-poisonous reptiles.

      Properly prepared, I can set up roses to be very low maintenance and somewhat drought tolerant, or at least not taking much water. It was fun to realize I could do that.

    • Chris,
      You will be hearing a lot more about Claudia West as time goes by. Currently she works at North Creek Wholesale Nursery. She is one of the young bright stars in American horticulture’s future.

  5. I am so very excited to see this paradigm shift in our gardening culture. With the help of this book we can bring biodiversity back into our suburban neighborhoods across America.

  6. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book, as an Brit expat, I got the confusion about the mulch, but then I felt the difficulties involved in gardening here, it’s a very different set of challenges, taking some getting used to. I can’t wait to see what my take away from this book might be.

  7. Sounds like a fantastic read. Very timely too with our changing urban and suburban landscapes. Think of the ghost malls and areas of cities where houses have been foreclosed and abandoned. I’d be interested in a long-term urban planning scheme to incorporate some of these post-wild planting ideas.

  8. It would be such a pleasure to find neighborhoods filled with less regimented landscaping. It’s such a logical and lovely approach to gardening.

    • In the Valley of Heart’s Delight, landscaping in residential areas varies greatly. Age of the residents, mobility of residents, how long they’ve been in the house, ethnic background, renters or owners, age of the house–and more–are factors in the variety of landscaping you’ll get. If you’re in a development parcel of the last 20-30 years, what was in fashion when it was built–and whether there’s an HOA–can govern what you’ve been given, unless you break that mold.

      The main Google, Apple and Ebay campuses all have a variety of shrubbery, deciduous trees, and native conifers, more than large expanses of grass. I was really impressed with the Google headquarters last week: the building seem to have grown up surrounded by trees, which I know is not the case. Being outdoors during the work day is encouraged: lots of walk paths, and Google-themed bicycles for getting around campus. The grounds felt very collegiate (at least, like the Claremont Colleges) to me. They each make me sigh in comfort and joy–no, not that kind: wrong season.

  9. So happy to see people gravitating to a more natural style of “landscaping.” Maybe “naturescaping” is a better term to describe what we Ranters hope to accomplish!

  10. I like letting grow what comes along- as in spontaneous urban meadow- taking out unwanted plants, tossing in seeds of the good stuff to see what will come along.

    • Once I get the crap out of the ground from the reconstruction the owner had to do after the last truly stellar (examples of how to be a terrible) tenants, I can try amending the soil and use at least some permaculture methods to cut down on weeds, and perhaps have a wildflower lawn.

  11. Not just mulch, but landscape fabric to make absolutely certain nothing can or will grow! But no bare ground for me, in a small garden like mine I take advantage of every square inch!

    • Go you! The joy of anything growing in the “gorilla hair” or wood chips, above that fabric, is that they are very easily pulled out.

  12. Susan, thanks for your report. I wish I could be eligible but the Garden Rant fine print prohibits my entry in the giveaway.

    “Employees, officers and representatives and members of the immediate family members (i.e., parent, spouse, siblings, children, grandparents, step parents, step children and step siblings, and their respective spouses, and those living in the same household, whether or not related)… ”

    So, I’ve ordered the book!

    • In the last house, I took out some sort of hedge-shrub which required a chain saw to maintain, and the groundcover roses, to put in, respectively, rosemaries and lavenders. Looks a heck of a lot better. Whoever set up the landscaping before us believed too much in “generica”. We had very little grass, and there were more trees and shrubs when I left than when I moved in. Roses galore and underplantings where they’d work.

      As we’ve been longer in drought, it’s been interesting to see how folks are dealing with far less outside watering. There’s one yard I pass returning home from my sister’s place, with one lone winding pine tree, a dry creek bed (to take any runoff from the gutters out to the street, just like I had in Santa Cruz with heavy clay soil) an assortment of pretty rocks and pebbles, and other Japanese elements. Always a pleasure to drive past it.

  13. So glad to see this book. My goal is to expand my flower bed into a backyard prairie. I also want to create a butterfly, pollinator haven out front as well as a front yard decorative vegetable garden. Every year I add one or two plants to our landscape. I am excited to read this!

  14. I’m really looking forward to this book. I heard Claudia West speak at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in July, and I attended the VNLA field day where Thomas Rainer spoke. The Prince William Wildflower Society (a chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society) has partnered with the Master Gardeners of Prince William and the Prince William Conservation Alliance to host a presentation by Rainer in Manassas on Sunday, February 21.

  15. I heard Claudia speak at Cullowhee Native Plant Conf and although have heard and met Thomas in the past I will see him speak again in October at the Central South Native Plant Conf. As a ‘native nut’ this book has a space reserved on my shelf. And wouldn’t it be fun to get it autographed in October?

  16. I would love to win a copy of this book. I am a big fan of Mr. Rainer and have been excited about getting a copy of this book when it comes out. It is on my Amazon wish list for X-mas.

  17. Just a thought on the mulch garden-many recently installed gardens will look like this. In a couple years the plants fill the space. If you don’t leave the space, you often have to either hedge things (which is awful), or go in and thin out plants. And mulch is really good for gardens! Now if that garden is more than a few years old, it could certainly use some more plants. But I think it’s good to start out smaller, and then add more plants as you go. You get a better feeling for how plants will size out, what plants grow well to repeat, and it’s easier on the budget.

    • I agree 100%. I inherited a property where the previous owner truly wanted instant landscaping so shrubs seemed to have been planted 2 feet from each other. Not a big deal when they were small, but as the hydrangeas, viburnums and wiegelas matured, they have crowded each other horribly. Removing some have left only misshapen shrubs that are terribly stressed. And don’t even get me started on the trees …
      Sometimes mulch in the planting bed means you are planning for the future and not today. It truly requires an assessment of the planting and the ultimate size of the plant.

  18. How did plantains and dandelions decide to take over my front lawn? One Of These Days, I’ll treat myself to major removal and create the Dream Garden.

  19. Great review, I had a friend who once snuck some goldenrod seeds home from France, thinking that they were something exotic. Imagine her surprise to find out that they were actually North American natives!

  20. Despite my resolution not to buy anymore gardening books (I even culled my collection by almost 50%!) I will definitely be acquiring this book. I am sure it will take its place next to my all-time favorites: American Woodland Garden, Plant-Driven Design, Noah’s Garden, Bringing Nature Home. Can’t wait to read it!

  21. That last paragraph got me interested in actually reading the book. Adapting ‘wild planting” effects with a healthier process for those plants fascinates me.

  22. I am looking forward to your in depth review & will be buying this book, if not won. I have gradually replaced 90% of my lawn & removed a large ailanthus on my suburban front yard and planted native flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees, over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, it is unique in the neighborhood. I live in SW Ohio and have something blooming every month in the year (primrose in Dec & witch hazel in Jan!)

  23. In May, we finished building our new home and frantically spent the next month landscaping before the summer heat. I’m surrounded by lots of mulch – a necessary evil at this point. Even when things reach maturity, I suspect there will be bare spots and opportunities to evolve. I’m learning g as I go.

    • I’ve got this in my sig. file:

      “It didn’t occur to me that… that gardening, like music, could demand practice, patience, a willingness to make mistakes.” ― Amy Stewart (whoever she is… 😉 )

  24. An inspiration to all living on this earth. Perhaps the many folks
    who specialize in weeds will take note and come outside and
    begin to garden. This has to become the in thing to do for the
    average person before improvements begin.

  25. This is what I am planning for my anticipated backyard native flower and more beds. The so called sad “norm” has no appeal to me.

  26. I’d love to get some help on working with my dry shade 18% slope. I don’t know what the landscape used to be here, but it is a tough place to garden now. I hope the book addresses non-sunny and hilly sites.

  27. A guy I didn’t know stopped by the other day. He’d heard from a friend that I had a great landscape with tons of natives and thought he’d just see for himself. He left a half hour later with photos, seeds, and a big smile on his face. What a great way to meet great people!

  28. I’d be interested to see the difference in landscaping theory and practise in relation to the two countries. It seems Germany embraces a mire natural approach in their design. I’d love to see more. It would be great to win a copy, especially since you enjoyed it so much.

  29. I recently heard an interview by Margaret Roach over on Away to Garden with Thomas Rainer, and now I read this about it and I’m convinced I need to check it out! It sounds like a great resource for thinking about a “new” way to garden.

  30. It is wonderful to credit the fantastic German research that has given research based proof of how this works. Thank you to PPA’s Janet Draper for bringing Cassian Schmidt to the Baltimore symposium this past July. It is so great to have this philosophy come around full circle connecting people like Roy Dilbik, Cassian. Piet Ou doll and Claudia West. It is even better for us gardeners in the USA, because these plants are native to our areas. Thank you for being so enthusiastic about this new book. (I would love to win the book, but I can’t wait. I am buying it myself!)

  31. Comparing it to Pollan’s “Second Nature” was a sure way to grab my interest, Susan. The latter is also one of my favorite garden essay-type reads ever, right up with Sara Stein’s “Noah’s Garden” and Tom Christopher’s “In Search of Old Roses”. I’ll make sure to read this one.

  32. My husband and I are transforming our small yard and have been trying to learn as much as possible about planting in a more natural way. It’s been a wonderful experiance full of success and failures, but fun. This book sounds like a “must. Read” to help us in our journey. 🙂

  33. This is gardening as it should have always been done. Pretty is as pretty does, & pretty, these types of “gardens”, are NOT!

  34. Our entire yard I’d planted in one large perennial bed for pollinators and birds. The mail woman was standing in the middle of the driveway this week looking up into the air so my husband (who works from home) went out to see what was happening. She asked him what those giant fly thing were. He wasn’t sure what she meant so he asked her to show him what she meant. She finally saw it again and pointed it out and it was a hummingbird! She was 55 years old and had never seen a hummer before in person. We have people that walk our neighborhood just to walk by the garden to see what is blooming. It is not your standard neat organized garden but more of a natural organic meadow garden and is teeming with life.

  35. I also heard an interview with the author on awaytogarden which left me interested in reading the book, plus Facebook tells me it is his birthday today! Happy Birthday Thomas Rainer!

  36. What a great approach to landscape. I have been working toward this in my own yard for several years. Would love to win a copy of this book.

  37. Looking forward to reading this book. I sometimes describe my garden as a cram-scape, but I really love the feel and look of plants touching each other!
    And the ever-changing colors and textures as each group of plants bursts into bloom and then fades, only to let another species take the spotlight. That’s how it is in nature, isn’t it?

  38. The more mainstream we make natural landscaping, the more the towns, communities and other local rules/law making establishments will have to adjust their viewpoints on their landscaping restrictions… Especially in response to climate change issues such as drought and water quality… It will be so good to have another publication to reference when putting up the dukes against arbitrary standards that are not wildlife or our-life friendly…

  39. I, too, am looking forward to reading this book with great anticipation. But I came up short when I read that it was the most interesting book you’d read on gardening since……Second Nature! I love that book too, but what about the work of Sarah Stein in Noah’s Garden (1993)? And even more important, what about the ground-breaking work of Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home)? From what I’ve read and seen, the thesis in Gardening in a Post-Wild World is similar to the one in Doug Tallamy’s latest book with Rick Darke, The Living Landscape. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s room for several books on the subject, but let’s give credit where credit is due.

  40. I love thoughtfully-written plant books and would love to win this one! “Second Nature” was an influential book for me, too!

  41. We lived in Germany from 1996-2000 and I was always enchanted not only with people’s gardens, but with the land as well. I look forward to reading this book, and perhaps winning a copy of it.

  42. I had already recommended this book for my Botany Book Club which is associated with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden when I saw this review. As a botanist, I’m less of a gardener than an explorer, but I would love to receive a copy. I’m looking forward to reading it and referring to it in my Master Naturalist basic botany class in January.

  43. My new ‘urban’ garden concentrates on native shrubs and perennials – and I should mention Wet Loving shrubs and perennials – that will support birds, butterfies and insects. And mean less work for me once it is established. This book sounds like a really helpful read.

  44. My front and side yards are dedicated to providing food and shelter to small sized local wildlife including snakes, spiders and insects. in the seven summers I’ve worked on this yard I’ve seen it go from nearly a monoculture of lawn with a few shrubs to a thriving ecosystem filled with life.

    My backyard is landscaped for my active dogs but it still provides shelter and some food for the wildlife. It just has more (ie some) lawn area and places where the dogs can chase each other around bushes and clumps of grasses.

    Looking forward to reading this book, even if I do have to buy it for myself.

  45. This book sounds so interesting. I’m a novice gardener and am looking forward to establishing beautiful gardens of native plants at my new house.

  46. I (like Marsha M.) have this on hold at my library. Looking forward to reading this and getting even more ideas for the garden.

  47. Wow, after my own heart. Wish I had the compost needed to do without the woody mulch…ahh, well, I try to do plants-touching-plants to suppress the unwanted, um, volunteers…

  48. We’ve eliminated almost fifty percent of our lawn over the past ten years and we’re always looking to do more with new/better ways to encourage the native birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees……and the moon up above….Thanks for this……

  49. I was keeping note of this book title after mention of it on Benjamin Voigt’s blog. I am more and more interested in the potential of gardening as wildlife habitat restoration and as a contribution to conserving biodiversity. So to learn there is a landscaping movement in this direction is thrilling to me. While I appreciate permaculture, it has never quite seemed to adequately address these issues. I’ll be honest; I’m commenting to toss my name in the hat for a chance to win a copy of this book. Thanks for reviewing it.

  50. Gardening on a largish, post cow-trampled, rural residential parcel that is half restoration project in process, while trying to not be overrun by weeds. So far the most gratifying part has been the desirable plants that have moved in on their own. Excited to read this book and find new ideas to apply to our work-in-process.


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