Plants Will Save The World


Remediate toxic soil
Attract beneficial birds, insects, bats and bees
Prevent erosion
Create habitat
Reduce heat in the city
Reduce utility bills
Make you feel better
Bring joy
Return nutrients to the soil

Landscape architecture is the art and science of designing the land. Good planting design is artfully arranging specific plants because they serve a purpose. The design may call for a low native ground cover that tolerates dry conditions or it might require a large canopy shade tree to shield the west side of the house from the brutal afternoon summer sun.

I share James Roses’ philosophy on the use of plants from his book Creative Gardens published in 1957, “I think of them as something to use – as the painter uses paint and a sculptor uses stone – to create the image of the world as the world should be: specifically, to create space in the landscape.” The right plant in the right place creates the garden. Here are some brilliant uses for plants and why plants will save the world.

You remember the parable in the New Testament about faith as small as a mustard seed being able to move mountains? Mustard, it turns out, is a miracle plant all on its own. Tiny mustard seeds scattered over brown fields quickly grow roots which extract toxic chemicals and heavy metals from the soil. Mustard plants remediate contaminated land spoiled by chemical spills and accidents. Mustard, ryegrass and sunflowers will even uptake small amounts of radioactive uranium from tainted soil. In one research project, sunflowers floating in a small contaminated pool at Chernobyl sucked up 95% of the radionuclides cesium 137 and strontium 90.

Arrange flowering shrubs, perennials and annuals near the vegetable garden and you will attract beneficial insects to the garden. Predatory insects will find nectar and shelter and then snack on the aphids that are eating your beans and cucumbers. Stagger the bloom time of pussy willows, bee balm, peonies, daisies, coneflowers and asters and you will attract birds, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds spring, summer and fall. Connect large swaths of vegetation together with your neighbors and you will provide cover and food for larger animals and migrating birds.