Square Foot Gardening ???
In 2005, I was growing vegetables here at Natchez Glen. At that time, a new revised book called "All New Square Foot Gardening" was released. The concept is built around the principle of a vegetable garden with one plant per square foot leading to a higher production and more intense planting than the traditional approach. In particular, it is useful for people with limited space.
So what's the difference with ornamental and/or perennial gardening? Why has this world been built around a different more rigid approach? The answer is with plants at every retail place plants are sold -- the dreaded hangtag. These small pieces of printed paper with barely enough space to hold a tweet are supposed to tell us the entire story of a plant. What they also tell us is supposed to be the gospel sent down from the heavens and followed at all cost.
If this fake news spreading label tell us to distance are plants 36 inches apart, we must, in fact, hunt down a measuring tape to ensure an exact 91.44 centimeters. Do we stop and ask, do plants in nature live by this same social distancing practice? Of course the answer is no, and plants have done very well long before the advent or rulers.
So how, who, and why did these labels become what decided how we garden? Like many things, the answer is they made it easier. It was far easier to slap a tag on a plant to provide some information rather than none at all. Which if the year is 1975 makes perfect sense, but not as much today. Today, we can create content and education that waits on your fingertips to tap your phone.
The habits of the gardening industry run deep and seem to last forever and these hangtag gossip spreaders have remained. And maybe even worse, some of their propaganda has made its way on to the new technology platforms,. Uncle Larry has his very own Facebook group where he share them.
So how far apart do you plant plants? The answer, of course, is it depends. Two fast-growing David Austin rose varieties need to be planted far enough apart where they won't completely collide with each other in a fight to the death. Unless that's what you're looking to do. However, Echinacea purpureum 'Ruby Star' should, in fact, be planted 8-12" only apart from Allium 'Summer Beauty'. The two work well near each other and will not fight to the death, but live happily together after swiping right on Tinder.
So how do you learn these combinations of what plants work well near each other? The great answer here is that is exactly what gardening is meant to be. It's an experience where you try out new color and texture combinations and see if they're successful. Much like a great artist sometimes, you will be momentarily inspired by your own work, and other times, it will infuriate you that you made that choice at all. That's the creativity of gardening, the ability to discover the endless combinations of plants that exist in the world.
Use the incredibly talented Piet Oudolff and Roy Diblick as examples. Each in their own way is a legend in the plant world both as plants people and as designers. The two worked together on the new Belle Isle Conservancy Project in Detroit. Piet did the design, and Roy laid out the plants for the gardens installation. The property is in total 2.5 acres with the garden existing within that 2.5 acres. How many plants did Piet think appropriate for this space? Did he, one of the most talented and influential garden designers of the last fifty years, follow the distance on the hangtags? There were nearly 26,000 plants used in the initial planting. Yes you read that correctly, 26,000.
Which leads us back to square-foot gardening which seems like its much closer to an answer of how far to distance plants than those evil hangtags.