Category The Dynamic Landscape

Character and location of urban woodland

In her study of public perception of urban woodland in Redditch, Bussey (1996) came to certain

conclusions regarding the character and location of urban woodland that are relevant to large scale ecological plantings of woody vegetation. Bussey found that people have a surprising need for woodland close to their home:

Character and location of urban woodland


An urban meadow in a formal context—Parc des Poteries in Strasbourg, France

A woodland visit is not an ‘occasional event’ that has to be planned and prepared for. Where the resource is locally available, it is an important part of everyday urban life...


Safety and freedom to choose

Safety is the single most important issue relating to all kinds of naturalistic ecological planting in public urban settings, but particularly to woody vegetation. Whilst both anecdotal evidence and research suggest that thoughtful design can contribute to a sense of safety (Jorgensen et al. 2002), it seems clear that there are many people who will remain wary of naturalistic ecological plantings. Equally, there is evidence that such people might value the existence of such plantings whilst not wanting to interact with them (Tartaglia-Kershaw 1980; Kaplan and Kaplan 1989). Ways of addressing these concerns are suggested below.

– One method is to provide a gradient from intensive and overtly designed landscapes to

extensive and naturalistic ones (Manning 1982; Dowse 1987)...


Public involvement in relation to naturalistic ecological planting

It seems likely that a clear consensus as to the appearance and characteristics of ecological planting will be uncommon among the general public. Sharing information is therefore likely to be an important part of the involvement process (though not the only part). Realistic photomontages showing the anticipated appearance of the new plantings may be a helpful means of both giving information and getting feedback about people’s reactions to the proposals. Visits to sites where successful ecological planting has been employed may also be useful. Information giving should not be restricted to issues such as appearance, form and siting, but should include more fundamental issues, such as the whole raison d’etre of ecological plantings, and there should be an emphasis on consensus building.


Future focus

This final section does not seek to lay down hard and fast rules for the social dimensions of planning or designing with ecological plantings, naturalistic or otherwise. This chapter has shown that the state of knowledge about public attitudes to ecological plantings in public urban settings is patchy and much more research is needed to fill in the gaps. More importantly, it shows that the perception goal posts are always moving, and that we must constantly re-evaluate public attitudes. Setting out rules would be repeating the mistakes of the past by suggesting that one solution fits all, once and for all. Instead, this section summarises the most important contemporary issues or problems, and suggests possible solutions in relation to naturalistic ecological planting. Kaplan et al...


Non-naturalistic ecological herbaceous plantings

As previously indicated, changes in the context or the nature of the planting, particularly in plant density and spatial organisation, can determine whether an ecological herbaceous planting appears designed as opposed to natural. So, on the one hand, there is the Garden of Movement in Parc Andre Citroen in Paris, and, at the other extreme, are some of the designs of Piet Oudolf, such as his planting design for the ABN/AMRO Bank in Amsterdam.

If there is little research regarding public attitudes to wild-looking herbaceous ecological plantings in urban public settings, there is even less about its non-naturalistic equivalent. Consequently, in order to try to evaluate public opinion, we have to examine current fashions in planting design and the views expressed by commentators.

For the last...


(Extract from questionnaire research carried out by Landlife (1994))

A recent study examined public preference for flowering as opposed to green herbaceous vegetation (Dai 2000). The impact of vegetation height (low, medium and tall), colour (yellow or multi-coloured), and pattern of colour distribution (spots or patches) was examined. Again, respondents were asked to rate digital images depicting different combinations of the variables. The variations were inserted into an urban scene including people and a number of residential buildings. The respondents liked the colourful vegetation (both yellow and multi-coloured) distributed in patches as opposed to spots regardless of whether it was low, medium or tall. They disliked the exclusively green herbaceous vegetation, particularly when it was tall. In the study by Jorgensen et al...


Ecological herbaceous plantings

Dividing herbaceous ecological plantings into the two categories of naturalistic or wild­looking and non-naturalistic is an artificial exercise in one sense, suggesting that such plantings fall into one category or the other. In reality, there is a continuum from wild­looking to highly-designed, with many intermediate points. Naturalistic or wild-looking herbaceous planting tends to rely for its effect on the overall appearance of the plant communities, whereas non-naturalistic planting tends to rely more on the properties of individual species. However, although it is usually the nature of the planting that defines the perceived degree of naturalness, this is not always the case. The context of the planting can also play a very important role...


Non-naturalistic ecological woodland plantings

These might involve using a multi-layered vegetation structure typical of natural wood or scrub whilst imparting formality through context and layout. Arguably, the deployment of flamboyant exotic species can also make a multi-layered woodland planting look more designed; but this approach depends on the viewer’s ability to recognise the species as exotic. Ecological planting using woody vegetation arrayed in a formal as opposed to informal spatial arrangement is rarely seen, but is likely to be equally valuable as wildlife habitat. This approach is largely untested in recent years but certainly provides interesting possibilities for innovative new designs...


Ecological woodland plantings

Naturalistic ecological woodland plantings

The key distinguishing feature of ecological plantings of trees and other woody species is the presence of one or more layers of understorey vegetation. Conversely, conventional urban parkland in the English Landscape style consists of mature trees limbed up to several metres above ground level in a setting of mown grass.

From the earliest days of landscape preference research in the 1960s, there have been a number of lines of research that have consistently found that images depicting multi­layered woody vegetation of the kind one would expect to find within ancient woodland or along a woodland edge in a state of natural succession attract lower preference scores than images of parkland in the style of the English Landscape movement (Ulrich 1977;...


Public preference for ecological vegetation types

For reasons of time and space, this review of the available research about public attitudes to ecological plantings in public open spaces concentrates predominantly on the UK, but comments are also made about Europe and the US, where evidence is available.

Different countries and cultures have very different planting traditions in their public landscapes and this needs to be borne in mind when interpreting the literature. It is noteworthy that, whilst theorists and practitioners such as William Robinson in the UK and Herman Jager in Germany, were writing about how to establish naturalistic meadow – style plantings from the late nineteenth century onwards (Woudstra and Hitchmough 2000), these ideas appear to have had little impact in, for example, southern Europe...