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An interview with Larry Weaner

by Timber Press on November 15, 2016

in Design, Gardening

This meadow composition reflects the interplay among the site conditions, the various plants’ characteristics, and the work of the garden artist. Photograph by Rob Cardillo.

This meadow composition reflects the interplay among the site conditions, the various plants’ characteristics, and the work of the garden artist. Photograph by Rob Cardillo.

“I still consider myself primarily a garden designer, however, one that tries to guide instead of dominate nature.” —Larry Weaner

Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change offers two compelling arguments for gardening with ecological principles: ecological landscapes are less work to develop and maintain, and they are better for the environment. Why do you think there are still gardeners who resist joining the revolution?

While I do believe that the techniques in Garden Revolution are ecologically beneficial and require less work physically, there is a greater need for intellectual engagement than in traditional landscaping. This is a “brains over brawn” approach that may be daunting to some. Also, force of habit likely plays a part.

If you could only give one piece of advice to a beginning gardener, what would you say?

Make a study of plant ecology. Don’t think of your landscape as a static composition, but rather an evolving timeline.

What kinds of yards can benefit from prairie and meadow gardening principles?

Size does not matter. Most professional designers and horticulturists don’t currently utilize many of the approaches advocated in the book. Consequently, even if you are at the beginning of the learning process, you are not far behind most landscape experts.

In one of the sections of the book, you describe the blank stares of the property manager, landscape contractor, general contractor, and landscape architect you were working with on a 450-acre estate when you explained the importance of a “do-nothing attitude.” Ecological gardening requires less labor and manhandling, but it does require careful observation and good planning. In addition to your section Learning the Process—which covers all kinds of must-know topics like microhabitats, ecotypes, colonization, and senescence—what resources would you recommend for gardeners who are new to site analysis and garden planning?

It is really about expanding your knowledge base into the ecological sciences, and then adapting that knowledge to the garden world. Consequently, regional books that describe the plants and plant communities of your area, and the processes of change that affect those plant communities over time will be most beneficial. The website for The Biota of North America Program has much of this information and more. While it is national in scope, users can zero in on individual states, and even counties to determine what plants are native there, as well as the plants that commonly associate with one another in a particular habitat type.

You are the founder of New Directions in the American Landscape, an educational conference on horticulture and ecology. Why is it so important for this series to be interdisciplinary?

Nature and art are two different disciplines that come together in ecological landscape design, and hearing from practitioners of both disciplines is very beneficial. Anthropologists, entomologists, historians, painters, and others have also been regularly featured through the twenty-eight years that the conference has been running. All of these disciplines study subjects that interact with and influence the landscape and are consequently relevant. One wetland ecologist even described himself as a “plumber,” although that one may be a little far-fetched.

With landscape design drawing from both the scientific and artistic realms, what are some tips for balancing the interests of ecology and aesthetics?

Working in a natural style in no way precludes the need to be a good designer. In fact, a deft design hand can result in very legible landscapes despite the fact that plants are arranged in a much wilder visual context. It’s important to remember that constructed elements or periodic monocultural plant drifts within a wilder, intermingled plant composition can replace the structure that many are missing from their traditional gardens.

How have your gardening strategies changed most over time? 

My entire career has been one long learning curve, which continues today. Many traditional techniques like tilling, fertilizing, and long-term watering have fallen out of my routine. I still consider myself primarily a garden designer, however, one that tries to guide instead of dominate nature.

What have you planted in your home garden most recently?

It was Euonymus americanus, American strawberry bush, a plant with spectacular red and cream colored fruit. That said, I rarely plant anything new these days. I am more interested in using my garden as a laboratory for influencing the proliferation of the plants that I have previously planted and the additional native species that I have naturally recruited.


weaner_lLarry Weaner is a leading figure in North American landscape design and founder of the educational program series New Directions in the American Landscape. His firm Larry Weaner Landscape Associates is known for combining ecological restoration with traditions of fine garden design and has received the top three design awards from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.


christopher_tThomas Christopher, a graduate of the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture, has created gardens for clients for forty years. He is the author of many books, including Essential Perennials: The Complete Reference to 2700 Perennials for the Home Garden.



Click image for a look inside this book.


“An invaluable and provocative resource for gardeners who want to collaborate with their local ecologies—and save themselves both heartbreak and backbreak.” —The New York Times Book Review

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