‘Tiny and Wild’

URI alumnus authors meadow gardening book

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 23, 2023 – University of Island alumnus Graham Gardner ‘06 has just published his first book, Tiny +Wild: Build a Small-Scale Meadow Anywhere. Tiny and Wild invites the reader to explore a niche aspect of gardening that can exist in spaces large and small. 

“I have a degree in landscape architecture from URI, and took many plant sciences courses as supplemental electives while I was there,” Gardner said. “That academic experience and my time working with Cooperative Extension to develop the RI Native Plant Guide really helped me formalize concepts I was already passionate about.

“I’ve always drawn inspiration from the wild, and so my designs have always leaned toward what I observed in natural plant communities in surrounding areas. I’ve lived in New England, New York, New Mexico, and Colorado. I’ve worked in California and now here in Puerto Rico. Whatever I’m designing, it must capture a sense of place, reflecting the local aesthetic, and support the ecosystem where I’m designing.”

RELAXING IN A MEADOW: Author Graham Gardner, a member of URI’s class of 2006.

Gardner will discuss his book and do a book-signing as part of the Gardening with the Masters Tour on Saturday, June 24, from 11 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center, 50 Bend Road, Charlestown. Tickets are required for the tour, but Gardner’s talks are free and open to the public. Buy tour tickets and find more information about the biennial event offered by URI Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program here.

Gardner said meadows are typically flower-forward, biodiverse, dynamic plant systems that can be translated into the domesticated landscape. They really simplify maintenance. “You start to treat the garden as a system with specific maintenance practices, instead of individual species,” he said. 

“But I also wanted to show that you can’t just throw a can of seeds and walk away from it. There’s a lot of planning and research and maintenance that goes into establishing a successful meadow design.”

Gardner was on the board of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society when he read Bringing Nature Home by University of Maryland’s entomologist Doug Tallamy. Tallamy wrote about the importance of native plants in supporting the local ecosystem, and for providing food for the insects that are an essential part of the trophic pyramid.

“The plants are photosynthesizing and providing the food for the whole system, that of insects and animals above them. That fascinated me,” said Gardner. “And so, my design work really leans in that naturalistic style, but is also flashy and flower-forward. I think I was selected to write the book because I have an eye for making beautiful meadows. I knew the concepts and how to relay them to a beginning or mid-level gardener.”

The publisher wanted the book to explore small-scale gardening, like the area around someone’s mailbox or containers on a balcony. They wanted to take some of the philosophy behind designing for large residential properties and the elements down to a much smaller scale. 

The difference between a meadow and a perennial garden is, according to Gardner, that the meadow approach considers the garden as an interwoven system, rather than discrete plants. “The design is essential for it to read well aesthetically, so is thinking in terms of layers weaving together, cutting it back once a year, and what insects and other wildlife are you attracting. It’s a matter of selecting plants you might find in nature and inviting certain species into your yard.  Ideally you want to be enjoying the meadow,” Gardner said. 

How does that happen? “You want to do your research ahead of time. You want to make the best choices that you can with the information that you’ve gathered. Come up with this system of either a planting plan where you know where each plant is going to go, or maybe just a planting approach to how you’re going to lay it out in the field. I recommend a few different techniques in the book.”

Gardner says Tiny and Wild is written to inspire gardeners far beyond those in New England. “This is a book that people from New England could use as well as other parts of the country. It’s been released in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. My editors expect that the book will be translated into international co-editions in the future. Tiny and Wild was written to teach the process globally, but with an emphasis on learning about the area you reside in, and respecting it, honoring it, making choices from what you learn in the areas that you are a part of.”

This story was written by Hugh Markey.