It Attracts Wildlife!
Its no accident that there's always something flapping or buzzing around my garden. Of course it helps to abstain from killing pests, and butterfly host plants are also great, but without shelter my animal friends wouldn't be enticed to take up residence.
Anyone familiar with ecology will tell you that the greater amount of surface space an area has, the greater biodiversity you'll have! Take for example coral reefs and tropical rainforests, with their myriad layers of life.
Also, I end up with a lot less "bad" bugs with all the pieces of the food chain in place. You want to garden green? By creating refuges for beneficial wildlife you can forget about using environmentally friendly pest control and skip buying pesticides altogether!
It Protects Plants From Frost!
This is my favorite benefit, since I'm all about growing tropical plants where its supposed to be too cold. The added layers of plants act as a natural blanket during frosts, protecting the more tender plant beneath. I know a lot of you guys here in Florida have noticed this effect too!
A neighbor down the street has a tropical majesty palm planted amongst shrubs and perennials that protect the palm's crown, even in these last two unbearable winters. The slightly hardier Picabeen palm above has been planted between two evergreen bottlebrushes, which will form a canopy over the growing point. I'll also plant some sweet peas at the base of the palm to protect it further!
It Looks Great!
When you think of rainforests, you envision a lush paradise of exuberant and wild bounty, draped in greenery. Every surface is coated and dripping with life, and no surface is left unadorned with some sort of opportunistic plant that managed to use its talents to its advantage.
The tropical look is great for other garden styles (especially modern), but I hope for the Rainforest Garden to someday embody both the "Tropical" and "Natural" styles, using bold foliage and exotic flowers to recreate a wild looking jungle. I'm going for a theme park garden here!
It Keeps the Weeds Out!
I never find weeds where my plants have densely filled in, so mulch isn't even necessary! I prefer to use a "living mulch" like sweet potato vine or passionflower in the emptier spots of the garden to serve as temporary fillers. By covering the soil like this, I'm not only blocking out weeds but cooling the soil in summer, shading it from the sun, and creating a verdant tapestry that's uninterrupted by brown and blah mulch.
When I don't have to use mulch, I'm not contributing to the avoidable felling of cypress trees in Louisiana. When it comes to hurricane, Katrina people can point fingers and lay blame for the disaster all they want. The loss of cypress habitat as a buffer was certainly a contributor to the devastation since those forests would have helped to diffuse the storm surge, flooding, and winds.
And even if you don't subscribe to the notion of global warming, even you can measure the difference in temperature between a densely planted area of your garden and an open expanse of mulch. Ever heard of the Urban Heat Island Effect? If you look at zone maps of Florida, you'll see how the temperature zones now swoop up and into Orlando and Jacksonville, all because of a lack of green cover. That's right, you can fight global warming in your own neighborhood without spending loads of cash on trendy products!
You can grow edibles!
Here I've planted holy basil at the foot of the birdbath, and elsewhere I've planted peppers, Mexican tarragon and other edibles. Square and blocky rows of veggies are neat, but they aren't a possibility in my garden. I'm toying around with using edibles as part of the ornamental landscape, popping them into the sunnier spots where weeds would otherwise pop up! They're cheap, yummy, and also make a fine textured foil for the big and bold tropical leaves. Why not?
(I've shared all sorts of reasons to plant densely and avoid mulch, but this won't work in all situations. Some edibles like citrus need their space, and crowded conditions aren't the best in a spot where the air is stagnant. I would also avoid using this method indoors or on balconies where rain and wildlife can't help you with cleaning off the pests.)
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