2. Habitats

Decades ago when I began my life’s work I was convinced that every ecosystem in which a people evolved or settled was complete for their needs of food, clothing, shelter, medicine and spirituality; even the least diverse, the acidic habitats didn’t disappoint me.

In my work I assigned each plant to a specific habitat. Please don’t assume that that species or its relatives exist only where I have placed them. Plants are amazing; most succeed because they are capable of adapting and many evolved relatives that can be found thriving in a wide range of habitats. When choosing a species, investigate the habitat requirements of your selection for the greatest success and harmony in your garden.

And please think about the soil that exists where you live. The pH of soil is extremely hard to amend and even once accomplished is unlikely to stay that way. Growing an acidic plant in alkaline garden will become a life and death struggle for you both. Although challenging, a container grown specimen is a much easier undertaking but remember, even the pH of your water will eventually change the pH of your soil. In selecting species for a spirit garden I recommend choosing species compatible with your existing soil. The general rule is a simple one: in climates with limited rainfall the soil tends to be alkaline while climates with decent rainfall the soil tends to be acidic. I realize that with climate change and a great deal of drought being experienced in many places this rule could turn out to be moot. More information about gardening and soil can be found in the Companion Planting blog.

ACIDIC WOODS & MOUNTAINS. Not all forests are found in mountains nor are all mountains forested, especially above the snowline where only alpine species can be found. Acidic woods and mountains can also contain areas of wet bogs and moors or drier areas of heathland. I have drawn distinctions between the three although all can be found in acidic woods and mountains. Soil found in these forests is composed primarily of old, decomposed rock such as granite (pH 3.5 or less). Pronounced drainage and poor nutrient quality limits the species tolerant of this range.

ACIDIC MOORS & BOGS. Bogs are exceedingly wet and generally waterlogged. Moors can be thought of as the raised, drier areas within bogs. Waterlogged material does not readily decompose because of the lack of oxygen and single-cell organisms needed for that process. The accumulation of material eventually becomes sphagnum.

HEATHLAND. Heathland is composed of dry, highly acidic soil, primarily peat.

ALKALINE WOODS & MOUNTAINS. The lime-rich soil of the alkaline range (about pH 7) is extremely nutritious and affords tremendous diversity. It can also contain areas of chalk grasslands as well as fens and marshy meadows.

FENS & MARSHY MEADOWS. Fens and marshy meadows are the wet areas of the alkaline range. Fens like bogs are constantly wet. However, marshy meadows might only be seasonally wet because of spring thaws or rainy seasons.

GRASSLANDS. Grasslands are the great, sweeping meadows of the alkaline range.

COAST. The coast is composed of several systems within the larger ecology referred to as the coast. One can find grasslands as well as salt marshes there. Beaches can lay down sand or scree. Different species grow in each. The division of systems is based on the amount of time each day an area is submerged and the consequent determination of the species that can be found in each. Tidal rivers dump into bays and oceans. The banks and deltas of these where salt and fresh water mingle daily afford additional unique habitats.

For extensive habitat information and species identification I highly recommend The Wild Flower Key-British Isles and NW Europe by Francis Rose, published by Penguin Books in 1981. Other references I include are The A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants by the American Horticulture Society and the Encyclopedia of Water Plants by Jiri Stodola. If you are seriously considering growing a spirit garden the single best book on soil management is called Secrets to Great Soil by Elizabeth P. Stell.

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