The Self Sustaining Garden – the guide to matrix planting

Author: Peter Thompson

Published by David Bateman Ltd $39.95

I opened this book prepared to be impressed. The author comes with impeccable credentials (a well travelled plantsman and keen gardener with a career in plant physiology at Kew). The first things I spotted as I flicked through were a couple of photographs of our garden here which was a bit of a surprise in a book by an English author.

But no matter how I tried to get to grips with what matrix planting is (and we should know here because the photo captions tell me we practice it well in our own garden) all I kept thinking was that it is making a mystery out of common sense gardening and good gardening practice.

I am not sure that the writing style helps. “Skin-deep eye-appeal, inability to resist ‘bargains’, and belief in promises for quick solutions – that is how we all start buying plants. Finding places for this little collection in the garden is akin to creating a sentence from ‘elephant’ because we like the word; ‘iridotomy’ because the sound intrigues us, even though we are baffled by its meaning; and ‘manufacture’ and ‘bread’ because they sound reassuringly useful.” Leaving aside the questionable punctuation, I could not help but feel that some ruthless editing might have helped to capture the message a little more clearly and concisely. And had the word count been lower, the typeface could have been a little larger. Older readers may need a magnifying glass.

So, best effort here from three of us to translate matrix planting into plain language is that a range of plants best suited to the conditions are grown together to create layers of mixed planting which excludes weeds and generally requires little maintenance.

It is a nicely presented book which is what we have come to expect from Auckland based publishers, Batemans. Lots of good photos. Plant lists which are always rather random by nature but even more so when compiled by an English botanist for New Zealand gardens. And I am not convinced that a ‘mono-matrix’ plant (Gunnera manicata which is on the banned list here anyway) and a ‘temporary matrix’ plant (cardiocrinum giganteum) are not in fact a contradiction in terms in this heady new world of achieving sustainability through careful matrix planting.