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Urban Planting and Landscape Architecture Can ecologically informed planting satisfy the public in an urban environment?


Extended Essay Hanna Nyten Kingston University May 2009

Cover image: Š John Taylor

Contents Introduction




Ecologically informed Satisfy Please

Ecological planting Past 3-4 The picturesque and gardensque Pioneering people and schemes Urban Context Present 4 Ecological principles 5 Ecological approach Ecological processes Areas of ecological plantings Horticultural approach Urban ecology 6 Plant and habitat diversity Factors affecting urban plantings Native or non native? Urgency and need 7-8 Urbanisation 7 History Effects on planting Biodiversity 8 Diversity and complexity Native species debate Challenges 9-10 Public acceptance Landscape preference theories Summary Perception Conclusion Ecological design Categories of ecological design Sudgelande Natur Park Design elements Visibility, Temporality Reiterated Forms Expression, Metaphor

11-12 11

Benefits People Health and Wellbeing Relationship between man and nature Social Sustainability Ecologically informed plantings footprint Ecological diversity Conclusion

13-14 13

Bibliography Illustrations list

16-17 18

Appendix A - Ecological Planting Questionnaire





Introduction Synopsis

The importance of nature and open spaces in an urban environment is becoming increasingly recognised today. The role of planting in open spaces is acknowledged for its benefit to wildlife, people and their ability to help with pressures of climate change. The way planting has been used in the past is linked to the relationship between man and nature and design movements. Changes have been reflected in the way planting has been used over the years (Dunnett, 2008). Planting has as strong aesthetic quality and traditionally planting was chosen to please people and not benefit wildlife in the first instance (McHarg, 1969), (Spirn, 1984), (Dunnett, 2008), (Emery, 1986). Today the pressures of climate change and recession are changing the way planting is used. It needs to meet new demands and to work on a number of levels. A new planting approach that has a relatively low maintenance cost, is sustainable in lots of ways, taxonomically diverse, show seasonal changes and supports wildlife is needed to bring life back into our open spaces. With the current widespread environmental movements more people are aware of the diverse qualities of planting and want planting to be more than just aesthetically pleasing. An ecologically informed planting style responds to these requirements and this essay will look at the use of this kind of planting in urban areas. Nigel Dunnett (2008) argues that if the aesthetic qualities of ecologically informed plantings can’t be understood and accepted by the public then they can’t be completely sustainable. With this argument in mind this essay will set out to investigate if this style of planting

can satisfy and please the public in an urban environment. The social, cultural, biological and economic context of planting will all be evaluated. This is a large subject and therefore the focus will be on UK, with exceptions when there are strong precedents of successful ecological plantings in other countries. A brief look at past and present trends in planting ecology and design will outline traditions and tendencies and how they are reflected in planting. It is also important to consider planting in relation to the bigger ecosystem; this will be done by looking at the basics of planting ecology and the differences of urban ecology. The urgency and need of ecological planting, as outlined above will be highlighted by looking at urbanisation and biodiversity. There are of course both challenges and benefits to this approach. The main challenge could be the preference and perception of landscape that people have. Landscape preference is an interesting and complex subject and it is important to consider in relation to public acceptance of plantings. This will help us to understand the importance of location, context, social and cultural factors in relation to acceptance. What are the implications for the landscape profession? What are the design possibilities with ecological planting and processes? What solutions can good design bring to help overcome the challenges of perception? A range of case studies will show different methods and principles. They will also show where and in which context ecological planting is being used. Britain has not got as strong tradition of an ecological approach to plantings compared to other European countries. Therefore some examples from Germany will be looked at to show the ecological approach that has been successful there. In order to get a better insight into what landscape professionals consider when using plantings in urban areas, results from a questionnaire (Personal communications, 2009) will be quoted and can be read in full under appendix A.

Fig. 1 Green roofs are a widely used area for ecological planting. This green roof is on the Horniman Museum in south London.



The benefits of an ecological approach will be looked at in terms of sustainability: economic, biological and social. Highlighted will be the connection between man and nature and its link to health and well being. As well as the possibilities that ecological planting brings to this. In conclusion nature is dynamic – it changes. The time we live in now is maybe more dynamic that it has ever been before and we need to allow for this to be reflected in plantings. This will help to reconnect us to nature once more. The idea to design with nature is not new; this was highlighted by Ian McHarg in 1969 in his book ‘Design with nature’. Other people have since then agreed with this opinion (Spirn, 1984), (Dunnett, 2008), (Emery, 1986). The clue might be in the word ‘dynamic’ for a new ecological planting approach. It might not be truly ecological in terms of tradition – but have evolved to suit our current time and be important for the acceptance of this planting by the public.

Can ecologically informed plantings please and satisfy the public in an urban environment?

Ecologically informed planting In this essay plantings that come under this category are those that are based on ecological processes and / or ecological plant communities. Explained further plantings that are aware of location, micro and macro climate and that consider soils and history of a site. They can also be explained by being aware and fitting into the larger system and to enrichen wildlife and further flora. The essay will further establish how many of these categories ecologically informed plantings should fulfil and the importance of these. The discussion on whether these should be native or not is mentioned in relation to urban ecology and biodiversity.

Public When considering planting as a landscape architect there are two main groups you need to consider - the client and the user. The user group can then be subdivided further. Considerations and differences in what people want and accept from landscape differ in relation to their relationship to the space. This will be further investigated in the challenges section.

Satisfy and Please What do we want from plantings in our landscape? This is also linked to our relationship to a space and our relationship to nature. There are also links to the period we live in. In urban environments today the open space is limited and therefore open spaces need to be more diverse and offer more and this including planting. There is also a strong link to the location and what plantings we might like and enjoy in different settings.

Fig. 2 The use of wildflower meadows are one of the responses to a more diverse and low maintenance landscape. Shown here surrounding roundabout at Warwick University.


Ecological planting Past & Present

Ecological ideas and principles have been used in landscape and garden design longer than generally recognised (Woudstra, 2008). Even though they might not have been referred to as such. This section will look at two main styles of landscape and garden design - the picturesque and the gardensque, along side pioneering people and schemes that paved the way for a more ecological approach. This will help to recognise the importance of trends in relation to plantings.

Fig. 3 Humprey Repton was on of the landscape gardeners who was acting in the picturesque period. He promoted a sense of surprise in his designs.


In the 20th century planting was built on artistic approach and existed to please the public (Dunnett, 2008), (Cabe, 2006). A strong tradition and image of the static landscape of formations of ornamental planting and trees still exists (McHarg, 1969), (Spirn, 1984), (Dunnett, 2008), (Emery, 1986). In the UK there was a widespread use of the traditional English parkland style to landscape. This has been used widely through the 20th century in combination with a gardensque approach, that has its background in the strong horticultural tradition that exists in the UK.

The picturesque style

Started in the early 18th century, the idea of the picturesque garden was inspired by landscape paintings. Towards the 19th century this became the ideal approach for planting proposals in public parks (Woudstra, 2008). It was an aesthetic version of nature and used variety, connection and intricacy. This could be seen as an aesthetic ecological approach.

Pioneering Schemes

In the UK schemes following this research were not widespread. One of the first examples using this approach was by Max Nicholson, who in 1979 formed the Trust for Urban Ecology to manage the William Curtis Ecological Park near Tower Bridge (Woudstra, 2008). At the same time landscape architects developed a new landscape strategy for New Towns. The first one is thought to have been Warrington New Town. It used nature like planting which was cost effective to establish and manage and was structurally diverse and planted in irregular patterns (Woudstra, 2008). Fig. 4 Landscape by Roberto Burle Marx using native Brazilian plants.

The Gardensque style

The main characteristic of this style is that all the trees, shrubs and plants are positioned and managed in such a way that their individual beauty showed. It developed from the picturesque style and took its inspiration from horticultural research, considering the individual size and habitat of each plant. During the 19th and 20th century a lot of research about plant geography and physiognomy was carried out. German philosopher Alexander Humbolt was perhaps one of the first to encourage a new practice of plantings related to arrangements in nature in 1805. (Woudstra, 2008).

Pioneering People

Roberto Burle Marx was a Brazilian landscape architect. His gardens and landscapes are strictly ordered, but appear natural and harmonious (Montero, 2001). He used mainly native Brazilian plants and took inspiration from his relationship to nature. He blended his gardens into the surroundings, and his designs took inspiration from the spirit of the place. He created his own style of plantings that were used in highly designed but holistic landscapes in a natural way by using native plants.


ecological. Our culture encourages us to appreciate the gardensque approach. Gilbert (1989) goes on to further argue that in the future all three will be important and the mosaics of the three different styles are important to wildlife to bring diversity into urban spaces.

Fig. 5 Planting around stream in Beth Chatto’s garden in Elmsted Market in Essex.

To conclude

Beth Chatto is famous for her ecological approach to gardening, inspired by her husband Andrew’s research into the origin of garden plants. She promoted the use of ‘the right plant for the right place’ and encouraged using the conditions of the site to establish plants and habitats that were suitable. She used plants that other gardeners at this time thought of as weeds. This approach was used when she created her gardens at Elmstead Market in 1960 (Fig. 5). Her approach didn’t compromise aesthetic qualities and she saw beauty in wild plants that previously had not been used for gardens (The museum of garden history, 2009).

Urban Context

In his book ‘The Ecology of urban habitats’, Gilbert (1989) identifies three historical approaches to plantings in urban areas the gardensque, the technological and the

Historical Approaches Gardensque Approach

Where bilogical elements can function only under contuinous management. The aim to to maintain and manage the landscape to stay static. It is designed for aesthetic reasons rather than active use. This approach has a long tradition and started in the Victorian period.

Technological Approach

Where the biolgoical landscape has been replaced by artifical substitutes - hard landscape and a narrow range of plantings. It is designed to be functional.

In the past differences existed in how ecology had been used in plantings. The aesthetic ecological approach mimicked the appearance of nature in a visual way. Seen first in the picturesque style. Another ecological approach was the scientific approach seen in New Towns and Ecological Parks, which were there to educate people and concerned management and maintenance. This approach of concentrating on either aesthetic or scientific approach to ecological planting still exists, but there are more examples of designs where the two qualities are mixed and maybe this is the new ecological planting style that works best today.


Today we are moving into a time where there is a strong dynamic element to our lives. We are starting to realise the importance of reconnecting with nature again and the benefits this brings to our lives. We are moving into a time where sustainability is heavily informing design and this is starting to be seen in the way plantings are being used in open spaces. Gilbert (1989) highlights the importance of noticing the differences in urban ecology compared to rural and the importance not to recreate the rural ecology in urban context. Other influencing writers have highlighted the importance of reconnecting urbanism and natural processes (McHarg, 1969), (Spirn, 1984), which link human and natural systems. An example of this is the use of SUDS and swales, which is becoming increasingly used in urban areas.

Ecological Approach

Natural elements are encouraged to function and follow natural processes. These started and become more popular in the UK in the 1970’s. 4

Ecological principles

Ecology is the study of organisms and their relationships with each other and their environment. (CABE, 2006)

Fig. 6 Shrub habitat in Sutcliffe park provides great closed canopy cover especially for ground nesting birds and mammals.

Ecological planting was traditionally defined to:

• • • • • • • •

use native species consider origin of component species support biodiveristy designed by structure and apperance in communties promote natural / ecological processes use less chemicals in establishment consider previous use of site and soil take notice of both micro and macro climates.

Ecological processes

• Natural Succession: is a change in one habtitat to another

• Spontaneous Planting: plants develop on

abandoned sites through natural processes

• Accelerate Succession: certain species are • • • • •

introduced to make the transition from one habitat to another faster Natural colonisation: allows for already existing seeds in the soil to grow and develop Competition: plants compete against each other when under stress Death and decay Nutrient cycles Cycles and flucations: are the changes in plant diveristy within a habitat.

Ecological planting today can mostly be found in:

• • • • • • •

Nature reserves Wildflower meadows Green corridors Ancient Woodlands Waterways & Wetlands SUDS and Greenroofs Large scale residential schemes

There are also examples in public parks Sutcliffe Park in Greenwich is a good example of a park with varied natural habitats and wildflower meadows (Fig. 5). More diverse planting like this should be encouraged in public parks. Ecologically informed planting can be seen across differenct habitats; herbacoues borders and meadows, woodlands, wetland and waterways. The oppprtunity now exists to use ecological planting in other spaces, spaces where we might not be used to seeing this kind of planting: • Parks • Planters • Land in limbo (CABE, 2008 ) - temporary spaces waiting for development • Transition spaces - like roundabouts and street.

Fig. 7 Chinbrook Meadows in South London - where plants where estblished through natural colonisation.

Horticultural approach was tradionationally defined to: Ecological planting allow for these processes in establishment and or during their lifetime.

• • • •

use exotics and cultivars arranged in culturally informed arrangments managed to stay static to show of their indivudual beauty

Horticultural species are the most important non native species as they are to some extent matched to the local climate (Dunnett, 2008).


Urban Ecology

Wildlife behaves differently in urban areas. Gilbert (1989) argues that too often the design of habitat creation, ecological parks and wildlife areas are trying to imitate the countryside instead of looking at the urban ecology. Because people relate to the look of these rural habitats easier. Like other authors Gilbert goes on to argue that a design input is essential to make naturalistic vegetation appealing to the public in urban areas. In the ‘Dynamic Landscape’ all contributing authors agree that in urban contexts designed nature like vegetation must be strongly influenced by aesthetic principles if it is to be understood and valued by the public in general. (Dunnett, 2008).

Plant and habitat diversity

In urban areas people need nature, but nature and wildlife also need humans to thrive. Urban areas support a higher number of plant species compared to an equal area of the countryside (Gilbert, 1989). This can be explained by the diversity of different small scale habitats and the amount of alien species that exists here. Because of anthropogenic influences a large range of environments exists in small areas. Urbanisation has created new ecological niches which are increasingly being occupied by vertebrates. As well as wildlife and planting species increasing and adopting to the urban environment, a lot are also decreasing as they need more specialised habitats that are not available in urban areas anymore (Gilbert,1989). Invertebrates are more affected by urbanisation since their ability to fly and cover large areas are not as common. Factors affecting them are fragmented habitats and poor development of soil litter layer. Ecological planting could be very beneficial to invertebrates and help their survival in urban areas. Simply by introducing more natural ground cover with trees would allow for more soil to be available.

Factors that affect plantings in urban areas are:

• • • • •

Altered climate Water relations Damaged soils Skeletal and man made structures Specialised flora of native and non native species • Strong, cultural context (Dunnett, 2008) In the ‘Dynamic landscape’ the argument is that based on this a purely ecological approach is not realistic (Dunnett, 2008).

Natives or non-natives

There is a mixed opinion on whether non native species can be seen as part of ecological planting (Dunnett, 2008), (Cabe, 2006). In urban areas the temperature is around 1 degree warmer than surrounding countryside. On a clear still night the figure can be up to 10 degrees. This results in a longer growing season for plants and also means that species can grow here that are usually found only further out. (Spirn, 1984).This is changing the dynamics of native species and could mean that species native to an area historically might not be best suited for the site anymore. Urban areas are also developing new species through cross breeding, as there is a large range of small habitats that come into contact with each other. To conclude you can say that an awareness to a space’s current condition and history are both important. A controversial view might be that our range of native species are changing and moving and therefore a pure native approach is not suitable in urban areas. Fig. 8 Oxford Ragwort - Senecio squalidus escaped from Oxford Botanical garden. It was first seen outside the gardens 1794. Today this is one of the first plants to colonise a wastealnd.


Urgency & need Urbanisation

More than half of the world’s population live in towns and cities. (Handley, 2007). In UK the figure is 90%. (Dunnett, 2008). Because of this what happens in cities has a huge impact on the surroundings and is very important for sustainability. Both for people that live there and for the earth’s ecosystem. There a are number of theories addressing what we can do to transform our cities. The policy consensus favours urban containment and polycentric development with an increase in housing density (Handley, 2007). As well as this the importance of providing a richly vegetated and biodiverse urban environment is also recognised.

This however doesn’t mean that we are not feeling the effects of urbanisation that occurred previously, or the spreading of towns. The change in land use and the more long term prognoses for urban population which may come to happen with the climate change prognoses.

Natural processes do not stop at the city limits, but are intensified by urbanisation. The two most prominent being the ‘urban heat island effect’ and ‘accelerated runoff’. The combination of green corridors and more vegetative spaces will help manage these impacts of climate change. (Handley, 2007). What positive impact can ecologically informed planting have?

Accelerated Runoff

History of urbanisation

Urbanisation started in Europe with the Industrial Revolution and is today a global trend. Urbanisation is occurring more rapidly in less developed countries. Here the process is less controlled, people gather in city centres to find work and this leads to large environmental and social problems (Jackson, 1996).

Urban Heat Island Effect

Is the phenomenon that makes the city warmer than it surroundings as mentioned in the previous chapter. Vegetation helps to cool the city. One method is the use of green and brown roofs. Here a ecological approach to plantings is preferred, to promote wildlife and diversity. During the past years our environment has experienced heavy and fast rainfall causing flooding. In urban areas this can cause pipes to break or overflow into natural watercourses. The practice of SUDS and swales are helping to store water before returning it to the ground again. They can also be important as potential buffer strips for habitat creation. An ecological approach to planting here is already widespread and is one of the areas where landscape architects promotes this kind of planting (Personal communications, 2009), (TCPA, 2004).

Fig. 9 London aerial

Fig. 10 Swale filled with water. The varied ecological habitat can be seen next to it.

In more developed countries, urbanisation is planned where possible by residential housing, industries, transport infrastructure and the relatively new concept of eco towns. Urban development spreads outwards from the town and occupies the surrounding countryside. Today in the UK urbanisation is increasing very slowly or is even decreasing. People are enjoying living in the countryside and because of the infrastructure in place commuting is easy.



Biodiversity is the variety of living things around us, from mammals and birds to plants and microbes, and the habitat they live in (CABE, 2006).

and pest control. This in turn is leading to less production of greenhouse gases. Fig. 11 Wildflower planting at Clapton Park estate in east London. Provides a more diverse habitat and has been fully accepted by the residents.

Conserving our planets species is recognised as important for their beauty and legacy. Sometimes forgotten is the fact that humans also strongly rely on nature for shelter, food and medicines. A major decrease in species will affect the life of humans directly. Species are born through specification and die through extinction. Loss of habitat can be one factor, but also extinction of one species can lead to the consequent extinction of another (Ernest, 2000). The main ways that humans contribute to extinction rates are through: habitat alteration, fragmentation of habitats, loss of habitats and killing animals. The current rate of biodiversity loss is greater than the natural background rate of extinction (IPCC, 2002), (Ernest 2000).

Diversity and complexity

Ecologically informed plantings promotes complexity and diversity in species. Diverse plant communities are considered to more stable and resistant to change than simple systems. Introducing greater diversity into landscapes can be seen as an insurance policy if one or more component species should fail due to climate change or man made stress factors (Dunnett, 2008). In general the greater amount of plant species in vegetation - the greater diversity of animals is supports, through the provision of a wider range of food and habitat opportunities (Dunnett, 2008), (CABE, 2006). More structure also means a more diverse habitat (Fig. 11). For example keeping longer grass promotes more wildlife. Or a woodland with ground flora, dead wood and small trees provides a significantly richer habitat than one with just trees and grass (CABE, 2006). We can also save the diversity of species by cutting greenhouse gases and store the main one - carbon dioxide (BBC online). There is another link here in how ecological planting can help with this. Ecological planting is suited for the site, need less management, fertilisers

Native species debate

The debate of whether native species support larger biodiversity than non-native is ongoing and the opinions vary (Personal communications, 2009), (Dunnett, 2008). Generally speaking most people agree that native species support a larger diversity of species than non natives (TCPA, 2004). The discussion gets more complicated when considering urban areas. Here the local conditions are altered and in urban areas natural wasteland is often colonised by communities of natives and exotic species. These communities are distinctive to urban areas. (TCPA, 2004). Britain has also (in comparison to other countries) a relatively small native flora and we might have more room for exotic species in our ecosystem. Humans have altered the world and we are still altering it, even though we are trying to make changes. This development has led to new ecological urban niches and sometimes these are better suited to exotic species (Gilbert, 1989). Dunnett (2008) agrees with Gilbert that we need to allow for urban ecology and promote this instead of replicating the rural countryside. This promotes a mixture of natives and exotic species and Dunnett argues that the decisions of what to use should be based on an understanding of the site in its social, political and biological context. 8

Challenges Public acceptance

If aesthetic qualities of naturalistic planting can’t be understood and accepted by the public then it can’t be truly sustainable. (Dunnett, 2008) In this section the preference and perception of landscape will be looked at in order to understand and further investigate acceptance of ecological planting. Landscape perception and preference theories and research will be summarised in order to find out what benefit designers can get from recognising the importance of this subject in relation to design. Perception of landscapes and how we read, appreciate and experience landscape is an interesting and complicated subject. Although research has been carried out, a lot of questions can still be asked in relation to it. There are also a lot of general thoughts about what people prefer and how we perceive landscape that are not necessarily backed up by research. This could be seen more as a wide spread thought or generalisation of what people appreciate or not. It can be hard to draw the line between research and what is general widespread speculation. The questions that arises from this is what do designers take into consideration or what should designers take into consideration in order to make ecological planting acceptable to the public? Landscape preference theories At the beginning of this century many people in urban areas had a restricted view and experience of where ecological or wild planting occurred in the landscape. The spaces associated with this kind of planting were mainly derelict or brown field land, vegetation beside rivers or other water bodies, urban nature reserves or leftovers of ancient woodland (Jorgensen, 2008). Does this mean that people would not be happy to see more ecological informed planting elsewhere in the urban environment? A lot of mainstream research carried out in the field concludes that most people prefer the style of traditional Victorian English Landscape parkland in combination with floral displays inspired by the Victorian gardensque style (Jorgensen, 2008). This approach was widely used across towns and cities in the 20th century. The theory behind landscape preference is based on two basic explanations for the way we react to landscape (Jorgensen, 2008);

• •

Innate / biological responses Cultural background and personal development

Innate theories These theories are based on our evolution as homosapiens. Evolution is thought to have favoured individuals who evaluated their environment in terms of shelter, safety and nourishment (Jorgensen, 2008). This thought can still play an important part in the way humans evaluate landscapes, as human civilisations have only existed a fraction if time – compared to the time it has taken for species to evolve. Humans therefore retain a strong and instinctive preference for landscapes that cover these needs. Psycho – evolutionary theories This theory adds a psychological level to the evolutionary theories. Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) introduced this thought with their ‘Preference Matrix’ (fig. 13). The matrix explains how people view and get information about their environment (understanding and exploration) and how accessible this information is (immediate and inferred). It puts this information in relation to the most powerful elements in landscape that the research discovered (coherence, legibility, complexity and mystery). The results from the matrix showed a preference for natural scenes with views – plus an element of mystery, like a curving sight line that suggests that you don’t know what is around the corner and that there is more to explore. Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) concluded that these where elements which were evident in the traditional English parkland. Fig. 12 Traditional English Parkland consists of short mown grass with ornamental scatterings of trees and shrubs.

Jorgensen (2008) raises the question of how this style of landscape is used today? She goes on to argue that this style has been simplified and generalised in the design process over the last century and might therefore not be the preferred landscape style.


Landscape Preference Theories Accepting and reacting to landscapes

cultural background & personal development

innate / biological response to landscape


psycho evolutionary


Kaplan & Kaplan (1989)




children prefer differences in previous natural experience safety landscapes perceptions between male and females

preference matrix

education & occupation

place of residence

understanding environmental problems and accepting solutions

nearby nature

understanding exploration immediate inferred / predicated

coherence legibility

complexity mystery

traditional English parkland

dynamic quality

= generic qualities of preferred landscapes

Summary There are limitations to preference research. Most research uses visual photographs which evaluate which landscapes people like to look at. This doesn’t take into consideration the context or activities that people would like to do in different landscapes. What type of landscape do we prefer to work in, play, run or have a picnic in? The strength of the research is that it has helped to identify the generic qualities of landscapes that people in the developed world generally prefer to look at (Jorgensen, 2008). The traditional English parkland style fulfils these generic qualities, but more research needs to be carried out to see what other landscapes or plantings styles can fulfil these needs. Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) and other researches do recognise that there are other factors that you need to take into consideration. Factors relating to the individual – age, gender, place of residence and familiarity (Jorgensen, 2008). These qualities are dynamic and change. Familiarity generally increases preference. Perception Perception is the key factor in preference and to get a broader and deeper understanding of acceptance of plantings, perception also needs to be looked at and which factors alter perception. Cultural background plays a big part together with context. From our cultural background we

ecologically informed planting

get our view on the relationship between man and nature. Context then plays a big part in where we like to see ecological or wild nature. Places which we are familiar with and that we use most often are places where people are most against seeing ecological planting (Jorgense, 2008). If using the diagram in fig. 13 you could draw the conclusion that this view can be changed through education and involvement with ecological landscapes.

Fig. 13 Summary of landscape preference and perception. Also showing Kaplan and Kaplan’s (1989) preference matrix.

Through Kaplan and Kaplan’s preference matrix we can take elements to use in our designs, the strongest being coherence, legibility, complexity and mystery. These elements can all be fulfilled by using ecological plantings as well.


The most appealing ecologically informed plantings might be in herbaceous borders, where colour is important. Research has shown that people prefer these plantings over traditional mown grass and trees (Jorgensen, 2008). The acceptance of woody ecological plantings is not as widely accepted. People perceive a safety issue here and design can help to reduce this fear by: • making routes clear and providing a choice of routes • adding a formal content to the design that will help coherence • using a gradient from formal to wild landscapes.


Ecological planting design Categories of ecological design

A successful planting design is a balance act or compromise between the artistic and creative vision and the scientific reality - what is possible (Dunnett, 2008).

Sudgelande Natur-Park, Berlin Fig. 14 Boardwalk protecting the open dry grasslands.

Ecologically informed planting has the possibility of fulfilling full creative vision with little or no site modification (Dunnett, 2008). When considering this, a range of different categories can be found under ecological planting. The main three often identified are: • • •

Habitat restoration landscape Creative conservation landscape Anthropogenic landscape.

Habitat restoration landscape

• Design plays a limited role here • Only using native species that have existed previously on site. The main goals of this approach is to improve movements of plants and animals and to link fragments of semi natural vegetation. (Dunnett, 2008)

Former railway yard that has been colonised by birch woodland and grasslands. In order to make the site safe and welcoming boardwalks were created across the site. They also help to protect the grassland habitat. Fig. 15 Graffiti on left railway tunnels provide a striking contrast to the natural surroundings.

Creative conservation landscape

• Takes into the account the concerns of time and change

• Still working with native species • Combination of site and management • Must work as a community of plants.

(Dunnett, 2008) This might be the most suitable approach in urban areas, as it considers what the present conditions of the site are and together with what existed in the past.

Anthropogenic landscape •

Using nature like environments of plant communities that never could have occurred naturally on site - but given current condition might be well fitted to it • Strongly influenced by aesthetic concerns • Allows and recognises change in plantings. (Dunnett, 2008) All of the above landscapes incorporate ecological principles as outlined in earlier chapter. There is also a further category which is not well developed in the UK, but has been successful in Germany. This is the post industrial landscape where spontaneous planting or natural colonisation is mixed with design elements.

Management input is minimal and maintenance is based on zoning.

• Clearings are kept free of trees and shrubs

in the long term. They are cut in September and left for several days to let invertebrates to escape • Wildwoods are left un managed • Groves are light and open, the shrub layer here is coppiced to maintain clear, open lines of sight. (CABE, 2006) The park uses a contrasting element in the design to promote acceptance - in the boardwalks and art. The board walks also create legibility which will help combat any perceptions that the site might be unsafe.


Design elements

To achieve a better acceptance of ecologically informed plantings a design element is widely accepted to be essential. The landscape perception study elements that people prefer in landscape are complexity, mystery, coherence and legibility - all in order to understand and explore landscape. This section will relate these elements to ecological design considerations by Mozingo (1997). Mozingo argued that in order for ecological landscapes to be accepted by people the following elements needed to be considered: • Visibility • Temporality • Reiterated forms • Expression • Metaphor


The designed landscape is seen in contrast to its surroundings. A contrasting element can be very helpful here. You also need to pay attention to legibility and consider viewpoints and sight lines (Mozingo, 1997), (Jorgensen, 2008). At the same time as making sight lines, you should not forget about the mystery element of design that people like. This helps to stay true to ecological compositions of varied landscape.

Reiterated Forms

Or repeated forms or patterns are widely used in landscape architecture and have proven very successful. They provide a coherence to landscapes and therefore helps people to ‘read’ them. At Sudgelande the repeated form is the boardwalk. It doesn’t just help us to read the landscape in terms of sight lines, but by being raised we understand that it is protecting the existing grassland. A pattern in repeating and varying different kinds of woodland in connection with each other also creates this reiterated form.


Mozingo describes expression as a desire to evoke feelings. She goes on to link this to meaningful human rituals. At the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm, Gunnar Asplund created a space which restored a forest on a degraded quarry site and at the same time created a meaningful human ritual a place to bury and visit the dead. Fig. 16 The Woodland Cemetery just outside Stockholm.


As mentioned earlier the temporal element of ecologically informed plantings is essential. People might not be able to see the biological processes in use, so an element that shows that the design is intentional can help to promote acceptance ( Heatherington, 2007). Peter Latz used this method in Park Duisburg Nord by using formally clipped hedges and formal lines of trees (but mixing different species).


Lastly Mozingo states that ecological landscapes do not stand for anything - they are ‘the thing’. She argues that if ecological landscapes are metaphorical then they will be socially valuable as well. To achieve this education and involvement can help. People will learn and appreciate what ecological landscapes and plantings stand for. If they can help to manage and maintain them, this will further help to make them understand and value the space. In London, Camley Street Nature Reserve is a evidence that this approach works. The reserve is mainly run by volunteers and highly valued by local residents.

Fig. 17 Formal lines of trees of different species at Park Duisburg Nord.


Benefits of ecological planting People

There is a wealth of research that confirms that contact with nature has huge benefits to people physically, psychologically and socially. This research does not relate specifically and exclusively to ecologically informed plantings (Jorgensen, 2008). In this section particular benefits to humans as a result of ecologically informed plantings will be outlined.

Health and wellbeing

of it. The use of ecologically informed plantings can help us to reconnect to nature and natural processes.


If people can be or are encouraged to take part in either or both the design process and the management of ecologically informed plantings, then this will provide a social interaction between people. It will also promote a pride and ownership with a space which will also help with acceptance. Fig. 18 Volunteers involved in clearing the river at Chinbrook Meadow

Research from Scandinavia shows that playing in complex natural environments has a positive impact on children’s development in terms of social play, concentration and mobility (Jorgensen, 2008). Jorgensen goes on to say that planting is an important component of these landscapes and therefore you can suggest that ecologically informed plantings provide a more stimulating space for children than traditional alternatives.

Fig. 19 Children exploring a local nature reserve in Cambridge.

Ecologically plantings are also maybe more likely to raise a discussion which also can be seen as a social interaction. Especially in urban areas. This can then also be linked to acceptance if you consider a shared knowledge of the benefits and needs of this kind of planting.

Relationship between man and nature

Crowe (1988) identifies three stages in man’s relationship with nature. The first one is a relationship where nature is untouched by man, in the second one man and nature co exist. The third one is relationship where humans rule nature and where we have spent the last centuries. Crowe goes on to ask if we are now entering a new threshold of a new relationship, in which landscape must be seen as limitless in time and where action in any part will affect the whole. As this idea was perceived by Crowe in 1988, you could argue that we have now reached this point. We are also wanting a re connection to nature and a knowledge that we are taking care



In landscape often the most recognised part of sustainability is biological. (Dunnett, 2008) Sustainability is a tricky issue to address in terms of right and wrong, because the main elements of the sustainability model are sometimes at odds with each other (Dunnett, 2008). Most ecologically informed vegetation is very sustainable biologically because it is: • intended to persist and regenerate in situ • expected to grow without additional imputs of water and nutrients, pest and disease control.

Ecological diversity

Trees can reduce air pollution by acting as an air filter. Soil is of importance here, since it can also work as a sink for pollutants. Removal of pollutants is higher when trees are planted in soil covered with leaves and plants, than in hard landscape (Spirn, 1984). This can be see to favour a more ecological approach to tree planting, especially in streets. Fig. 20 & 21 Street Trees in Berlin are creating liveable streets and at the same time providing a more varied habitat with a variety of ground cover in combination with trees.

This has an impact on the economic side of sustainability as well, leading to lower management and maintenance costs. In relation to this the plantings can sometimes be seen as less sustainable in social terms, if problems with acceptance exists.

Footprint of ecologically informed plantings

It is widely recognised that using local materials within landscape architecture today and to consider the journey of materials is responsible practice. But does this extend to planting and origin of seeds and plants? Can a more ecologically informed approach help to reduce the footprint of planting? When considering the footprint of planting, some of the factors are: • Compost • Soil improvement • Fertilisers • Origin of seeds and plants • Amount of management Since ecologically informed planting is based on planting that is suited to the existing site, little improvement of existing soil should need to be carried out. The use of fertilisers should also be minimal. The amount of management is less than for traditional horticultural plantings. But the management will effect the economic aspect of sustainability at certain points where more management is needed. The establishment is one of the times when most management is required.

Inputs and outputs

Ecological planting also requires less inputs and outputs when established.



The main question in this essay has been around if ecologically informed planting can satisfy the public in an urban environment? The answer could be seen to be yes, but maybe not entirely yet. The world is changing around us and as it changes our understanding of ecologically informed plantings will increase, since it promotes sustainability, biodiversity, health and wellbeing to humans and fulfils a lost connection to nature in urban environments. These are all qualities that are promoted in design of open spaces today.

Change and management

When considering using ecologically informed planting you need to allow for change within the plantings. If in the design process you consider this as an element, this can add a very interesting dimension to the design process. The importance of considering the management of plantings at an early stage should be seen as an opportunity and not a chore. Today we need to take more responsibility for our designs and consider that management can provide useful opportunities for community and volunteer involvement. This can also help people’s understanding of landscape, and therefore change perceptions and benefit acceptance.

Re-establishing nature

We are at a stage in our relationship with nature, where we need to respect and co-exist with it again. You could also argue that we need to re-establish nature, especially relevant in urban

Fig. 22 Wildflower meadows are widely accepted in urban areas. Recognised for their biodiversity and aesthetic qualities

areas. Ecologically informed planting is a crucial part of this reestablishment and will help us to reconnect to seasonal changes and cycles of life and death. This re connection will improve the acceptance of ecologically informed plantings in an urban context.

Design elements

An important design element in ecologically informed plantings is contrast. As people learn about the benefits of ecological plantings you could argue that ecological plantings themselves provide contrast to the surrounding element of urban areas and therefore become the design element.

A new ecological approach to plantings? Finally the definition and our approach and idea of ecologically informed plantings is part of a dynamic process. We are constantly going to have to allow for change in our use of ecological plantings as the world changes. With this the definition and approach will change as well. Reevaluating will be crucial in making sure that ecologically informed plantings are as sustainable and diverse as they could be. Landscape architects shouldn’t be afraid of promoting use of ecological planting. There are exciting possibilities with this approach that do not compromise design or aesthetic qualities, some highlighted in this essay. You could finally argue that in a time where sustainability is common practice in design, and provides at least partial solutions to the effects of climate change, that ecologically informed plantings could be the new trend in plantings across landscapes.

Fig. 23 A varied ground cover below trees is a vital part of an ecological habitat.



Books Archibold, O.W. Ecology of world vegetation. London: Chapman & Hall, 1995. Benson, J. F & M. Roe. Landscape and Sustainability. ed 2. London: Routledge Taylor & Franics group, 2007. Dunnett ,Nigel & James Hitchmough. The Dynamic Landscape – Design, ecology and management of naturalistic urban planting. Eds. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2008. Emery, M. Promoting nature in cities and towns. Beckenham: Ecological Parks Trust, Croom Helm Ltd, 1986 Ernest W.G. Earth Systems, Processes and issues. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Gilbert, Oliver. L. The Ecology of urban habitats. London: Chapham and Hall, 1989. Kaplan R. & Stephen Kaplan. The experience of nature: a psychological perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Jackson, Andrew R. W & Julie M Jackson. Environmental Science, the natural environment and human impact. London; Longman Group Limited, 1996. Jorgensen, A. The social and cultural context of ecological plantings. The Dynamic Landscape – Design, ecology and management of naturalistic urban planting. Eds. Dunnett ,Nigel & James Hitchmough. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2008. 293-325. McHarg, Ian. Design with Nature. Philadelphia: Falcon Press, 1969. Montero, Martha I. Roberto Burle Marx, the Lyrical Landscape. London: Thames & Hudson, 2001. Orr, David, W. The nature of design; ecology, culture and human intervention. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Prigann, Herman. Ecological Aesthetics: art in environmental design: theory and practice. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2004 Roszak, Theodore, Mary E. Gomes, Allan D. Kanner. Eco psychology: restoring the earth, healing the mind. San Francisco; Sierra Club Books, 1995. Thayer Jr, Robert L. Gray World, Green Heart. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1994. Whiston Spirn, Anne. The Granite Garden, Urban Nature and Human Design. USA: Basic books, 1984. Woudstra, Jan. The changing nature of ecology: a history of ecological planting. The Dynamic Landscape – Design, ecology and management of naturalistic urban planting. Eds. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2008.


Websites Natural England - (accessed 04.03.2009) Nigel Dunnett - (accessed 05.03.2009) Grass Roof Company - (accessed 16.03.2009) Landlife - (accessed 07.03.2009) Garden visit - edited__by_john_claudius_loudon_(jcl_)/introduction_by_jc_loudon/loudons_gardenesque_style_ of_garden_design (accessed 30.04.09) Documents Catherine Heatherington. Ecological Design – a new aesthetic. Society of Garden Designers, (2007): no paignation. Online. Internet. 04.03.09. Town and Country Planning Association TCPA. Biodiversity by design – a guide for sustainable communities. London: TCPA, (2004): no paignation. Online. Internet. 06.04.09. CABE. Making contracts work for wildlife: how to encourage biodiversity in urban parks. London: Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, (2006): no paignation. Online. Internet. 06.04.09. CABE. Public space lessons Land in limbo: making the best use of vacant urban spaces. London: Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, (2008): no paignation. Online. Internet. 06.04.09. Articles Mozingo, Loiuse. The Aesthetics of Ecological Design’, seeing science as culture. Landscape Journal: no 1, (1997): pg. 46-59. Online. Internet. 04.03.09. Stephen Lacey. Beth Chatto exhibition; a revolutionary revisited. (2008): no paignation. Online. Internet. 05.05.2009. Exhibition The Museum of garden history. Beth Chatto exhibition; a revolutionary revisited. 2009

A big thank you to everyone who returned the ecological planting questionnaire Ecological Planting Questionnaire. Personal communication. 2009 17

Illustrations list

Fig. 1 authors own Fig. 2 - (accessed 10.05.09) Fig. 3 LandscapeGardeningAndThePicturesque/HumphryReptonsTradecard.aspx (accessed 08.05.09) Fig. 4 Montero, Martha I. Roberto Burle Marx, the Lyrical Landscape. London: Thames & Hudson, 2001. Fig. 5 - (accessed 08.05.09) Fig. 6 authors own Fig. 7 (accessed 22.04.09) Fig. 8 (accessed 08.05.09) Fig. 9 Fig. 10 Fig. 11 The Garden, May 2008, The poppy estate, pg 324 Fig. 12 Fig. 13 authors own Fig. 14 jpg&imgrefurl= 00&w=1200&sz=1212&hl=en&start=20&um=1&tbnid=pKR9C83EMrwnxM:&tbnh=150&tbnw=113&prev=/imag es%3Fq%3DS%25C3%25BCdgel%25C3%25A4nde%2Bnatur%2Bpark%26ndsp%3D21%26hl%3Den%26sa %3DN%26um%3D1 (accessed 08.05.09)

Fig. 15 (accessed 08.05.09) Fig. 16 (accessed 08.05.09) Fig. 17 (accessed 08.05.09) Fig. 18 (accessed 10.01.09) Fig. 19 (accessed 11.05.09) Fig. 20 Town and Country Planning Association TCPA. Biodiversity by design – a guide for sustainable communities. London: TCPA, (2004): no paignation. Online. Internet. 06.04.09. Fig. 21 Town and Country Planning Association TCPA. Biodiversity by design – a guide for sustainable communities. London: TCPA, (2004): no paignation. Online. Internet. 06.04.09. Fig. 22 The Garden, May 2008, The poppy estate, pg 325 Fig. 23 18

Appendix A Ecological Planting Questionnaire

To help me to get an insight into factors that landscape professionals consider in the design of planting in the UK in urban environments I sent out a questionnaire to Landscape Architects. The purpose of this was to get a general feeling about the how planting is used in projects and to see what the overall attitude about this subject is.

allow for this. Another answer pointed out that most schemes are managed to stay static and therefore do not allow for ecological processes.

The questionnaire was sent out to 35 practices in UK. Only practices that work in urban areas where emailed. The practices were randomly picked from the Landscape Institute directory to vary in sizes and differences in projects they carry out. The return was 25% and from a mixed range of practices. All the returned questionnaires can be seen in Appendix A. The results showed that 80% considered planting schemes to have an important part in their projects. The other 20% thought this was mixed. All of them considered if the plants they are using are native – but with different opinions on why. The overall impression was that the biggest challenge to overcome is people’s perception – both client and public – about this kind of planting and the concern that people might think it looks ‘messy’. Maintenance was also pointed out as a decision making factor in terms of where to use this kind of planting. Most thought that high profile areas that require a lot of maintenance does not suit this kind of planting. Most of the responses thought that a horticultural approach incorporated an ecological approach as well and that this was good practice. Ecological planting thought to be suited to be used in areas such as habitat creation, SUDS, greenroof, large scale schemes, wildflower meadows, floodplain management and land stabilisation. A few mentioned public parks as well. Larger scale schemes were pointed out to be more suitable than small. The answers concluded that is it hard to allow for ecological processes in schemes. One answer said that if they knew that the site was going to be poorly managed then they would


Urban Planting and Landscape Architecture  

Can ecologically informed planting satisfy the public in an urban environment?

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