Book Review: “Prairie Up: An Introduction to Natural Garden Design” by Benjamin Vogt

| Book Review

By Matthew Montoya Rush

With a storied career in designing and writing about native and home landscapes, Benjamin Vogt’s newest book provides insight into the biodiversity of American prairies and sage advice on how to mimic these complex environments in urban and home gardens.

With more than 144 beautiful color photos of prairie plants, wildlife and landscapes, Prairie Up: An Introduction to Natural Garden Design offers wonderful advice and numerous examples of natural prairie gardens and important considerations for designing functional, but realistic wild garden beds. Vogt helps readers understand how prairie biomes function, develop and achieve balance through specific environmental niches and diversity of function, in a competitive and evolving habitat.

Throughout the book, Vogt helps to guide and educate readers about the numerous ecoregions, insect relationships and resources for reviewing the specific behavior of plants in order to intelligently design a balanced wild garden. Vogt also highlights the importance of plant communities for stable and resilient garden design.

Overall, the goal of this book is to not just inspire an aesthetic collection of decorative plants, but rather well planned (competitive or collaborative) “plant communities” with resilience and biodiversity, by using the nature of plants to create a stylized, interpreted wilderness that works in a more structured home garden.

While “Prairie Up” offers wonderful and sound advice for gardeners at any level, the limitless possibilities of trying to design a native plant garden in any environment leaves Vogt with the immense responsibility of providing specifics while also emphasizing the importance of research and diverse conditions for each region, climate and microbiome. In doing so, Vogt offers numerous lists of plant types, niches, sociability, site consideration and design approaches that can seem a bit overwhelming to a novice wildlife gardener.

But in order to ameliorate this, Vogt offers examples of plant lists and diagrams for balanced and adaptable garden types, while stressing the importance of site analysis and research. Complex, but thorough, “Prairie Up” is a great book; it educates any reader and emphasizes important biological roles and considerations for designing the perfect wild garden, while also adapting to any environment, condition and changes for years to come.

Matthew Montoya Rush [artist, scientist, engineer] is a member of the Wild Ones St. Louis (Missouri) Chapter and a passionate orchid grower and fish keeper. He believes, “If you aren’t learning or creating, you’re not livin.

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