The ecological garden is a complex landscape where plants are grouped together into plant guilds. A red oak plant guild may include berry bushes, vines, perennials, vegetables, and herbal groundcovers. The ecological garden represents a new backyard aesthetic that:
- Reflects the "special identity" of a site and works with the rhythm of the seasons, changing over time
- Brings nature back into the garden - the garden becomes a place of use and movement
- Is enhanced by the human cultures living in an area
- Reflects the natural cycles of the seasons - birth, growth, and decay become part of the garden landscape
- Touches all the senses - bringing a variety of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures to the garden
- Supports an abundance of life with its many layers and niches
An ecological garden is designed for both the vertical and horizontal topographies of a site. In a complex forest garden the vertical topography may include up to seven layers – canopy, subcanopy, shrub, perennial, groundcover, vine and root. The horizontal topography takes into account different microclimates – elevated areas that may be drier, depressed areas that may be wetter, and northern exposures that may be subject to colder temperatures.