Bioregions are important for shaping our gardens in sustainable and eco-friendly ways and for helping us find our place in the world. Bioregionalism is an interesting concept that could help us move toward a human society that works in better harmony with the natural world.
Thinking in terms of bioregions rather than nations or other political divisions can help inform best practice in societal organizations. But what I will write about in this article is why recognizing our bioregions can also be very important in garden design.
What Is a Bioregion?
A bioregion is an area where boundaries are defined not by arbitrary political or national boundaries, but by natural topographic and biological features. There are different ways to divide areas into bioregions, but any approach that strives to do this is called bioregionalism.
This approach aims to link humanity and human systems to the surrounding natural environment, forging strong links between people and the environment in which they live and finding the best solutions for that environment.
Bioregions can be defined by a range of different geographical and ecological features, e.g. mountain ranges, major rivers and water systems, topography and soils, and prevailing ecosystem types, such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, native flora and fauna, etc.
Bioregionalism can also involve looking at how humanity has traditionally interacted with the landscape—and looking at patterns of land use and societal systems in conjunction with the natural framework. Shared societal concepts, history, and heritage can also come into play.
Looking at bioregions means taking a holistic look at where we live and how we fit in, both as a species and as individuals. This is an approach which aims to help us find and understand our place in the world, work in harmony with our surroundings, and work with others who live in the same environmental conditions as we do.
Considering Bioregion in Garden Design
Over the years, I've realized that looking at the bigger picture is hugely important in garden design. When designing a garden, we cannot just look at the site itself, but must consider it in broader landscape, environmental, and even social contexts.
Before we can begin to work out the best design for a specific site, we need to look at the patterns and flows that surround it. Recognizing the bioregion in which we find ourselves can be a crucial step in determining the best garden designs. Most obviously, our bioregion will be defined by climate, geography, and hydrology. We need to look at factors like sunlight, wind, and water—wild directional forces acting on the site.
Beyond this, we need to look at the bigger picture by examining the patterns of plant growth. Broadly speaking, which plant life predominates in the area? In gardens, it can be beneficial to mimic natural ecosystems, while creating systems which can abundantly meet our own needs. If, for example, you live in a bioregion where woodland or forest predominates, forest gardening could provide the best solutions for the space.
Being sensitive to ecotones (areas of transition between ecosystems) and eschewing hard borders can help us to see further broader patterns, such as the migratory paths of wildlife, and to aid native wildlife in our gardens.
But what is often forgotten is that gardeners need to consider broader human impact and systems. A bioregional approach means looking at indigenous knowledge and history, as well as recognizing contemporary human impact on the land. It can be helpful to look at the gifts nature gives us and to think about what we can give nature in return, wherever we live.
The solutions we shape must take humanity into account as part of natural systems, not as something distinctly apart from it. We should come to define where we live not in terms of political structures and boundaries, but rather in terms of the real natural structures and boundaries that give our lives meaning and shape the place we call home.
Looking deeply at the bioregion to which we belong—and challenging modern conceptions that may shape the way in which we think about where we live—can help us find the best design for our properties. It can guide us to garden in a way that respects and acknowledges our place within a bigger picture.
Considering bioregions before honing in on more specific details of our smaller eco-regions and specific sites can help us to find our place in a better and more harmonious world.