Bringing Nature Back into the Built Environment
By: Garrett Slezak, Summer Intern at DG2 Design Landscape Architecture
The idea of bringing nature back into our built environments via native plants is one that is really interesting to me. Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, coauthors of “Planting in a PostWild World” have an interesting idea about the movement. They talk about creating plant communities in which a diverse collection of plants are planted together and work as one ecosystem to help sustain each other. They say that designing in large masses of single plant varieties can create problems in the life of those plants and also create a higher demand for maintenance. Thomas Rainer jokes that “There are no mulch circles in the forest” and says that “Instead of laying down a layer of mulch to separate plants, let native plants grow into beautiful layered masses.” Many people worry about this approach for fear of weedy or messy looking design, but it is my opinion that even wild plantings can look good as we design in orderly frames. As we learn to design using proper “frames” such as how hardscapes are laid out and how people move through and use the spaces so that it feel like a good place to be, then the voids and gaps in between those frames allow us to create messy ecosystems that look like they belong. Also, learning to plant with a variety of colors and textures that add to year round enjoyment help to enhance the sense of a designed space while also allowing biodiversity to thrive.
I also feel that as we look toward new ways of planting design, such as these plant communities, we will be able to increase the beautification of our cities. A problem we have now is the fact that people don’t want to worry about the hassle or cost of maintaining landscapes so they scrimp and put in a minimum amount of required material. With the promise and idea of beautiful landscapes that cost less to maintain, look beautiful, and bring benefits to those that use the space it seems like there will be more opportunity to bring nature back into our cities. Although the topic of natives vs. nonnatives can be pushed to the extreme on both sides, I feel that as we make our goal to find what is best for each site, project, and environment we will be able to create a better environment to live in with more resilient, beautiful, and diverse plantings.