Competition’s Role in Garden Design

Competition is something that we tend to think about in different contexts. But in garden design, it can be useful to think about competition too. Competition is a normal part of nature – and just like in a social context, it is something that can be beneficial or something which can hinder progress.

One of the important things we have to think about when designing a garden, or working on other ecological systems is how the elements within the system interact. There are of course many facets to that but one consideration is competition. Thinking about competition can help us understand which plants will be happy companions, and which may battle constantly for water, nutrients, sunshine and space.

Sometimes, competition is something to be avoided or reduced. In companion planting in a vegetable garden, for example, we often wish to plant carefully to avoid our crops having to compete too much.

However, competition can sometimes be something useful. In certain settings, planting densely and allowing the best suited and fittest to survive can be beneficial in creating a system which is as resilient as possible.

Competition can also play an important role in the evolution of an ecosystem. We may design systems with the intention that certain plants (pioneer trees are one example) will be outcompeted by a succession of other plants over time.

Sometimes, thinking about competition in this context can also help us see that while they often seem so ‘other’, plants are not always too different from ourselves. And help us understand how we can learn from nature for social systems, and also, perhaps, apply lessons from the social sphere in our gardens.

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