British approaches

The Lebensbereich style has had some influence over practitioners outside Germany, and this could well grow as knowledge of Hansen’s work and the spectacular park plantings becomes more widespread. Additionally, there are practitioners, often working on a small or local scale, who have evolved a broadly similar approach, whose work is characterised by its natural inspiration, an awareness of the importance of matching plants to site, and a desire to design plantings that reflect a more naturalistic aesthetic with regard to plant groupings. The interest that Walser has in making use of the full ecological amplitude in combining plants in the garden has particularly great potential in Britain. As Plenk notes, the ‘distinctive pragmatism of British gardens, a product of climate and species-poor and limited natural environment offers few models for ecological planting, but the combination of native and exotic by no means excludes an ecologically orientated planting design’ (Plenk 1998). The maritime British climate, which makes it possible to grow plants from a wide variety of different origins, is a factor that makes the development of a truly adventurous version of ecological planting highly likely.

The author’s own work tries to use the principles established by Hansen in an English concept, for both private clients and for an institutional client at Cowley Manor in Gloucestershire (Figures 3.9-3.11). The maritime west of England climate is favourable to the growth of a wide variety of aggressive perennial weeds, particularly evergreen grasses, which makes the growing of winter-dormant perennials more problematic than in more continental climates. Soil fertility, moisture and light levels are generally high, so plant selection has been based on robust perennials from moist habitats (mostly Eurasian) and North American prairie species. The inclusion of some locally native species is important in order to make a reference to local habitats but, at the same time, the inspiration of wild-plant communities in Central Europe and North America is vital. Kingsbury states that it is important to challenge the orthodoxy of the English garden style that limits perennials to relatively narrow borders and which has never really explored the possibilities of intermingling plants in a naturalistic way (Maguire 1998; Kingsbury 1998a, 1998b).

‘Gravel gardens’ are an increasingly important part of the British horticultural scene, partly because the layer of gravel mulch greatly reduces the amount of weed-seed germination that occurs and, thus, the level of maintenance. Beth Chatto, arguably the ‘grandmother’ of ecologically-inspired British gardening, was a pioneer in developing and promoting the gravel garden, as she was in making the British garden public more aware of the relationship between plants (particularly perennials) and their environment. However, neither hers nor any others that the author is aware of, use plants with a naturalistic design philosophy. The design possibilities of the ‘ecological gravel garden’ might be attractive were it not for the fact that gravel extraction has a negative impact (at least in the short term) on the British countryside.

On a heavy soil in an area with high rainfall and a maritime climate, Keith Wiley, Head Gardener at The Garden House, Buckland Monachorum in Devon, has created a spectacular garden based on a series of different ecologically-inspired plant communities. Wiley is an articulate exponent of the importance of those in the horticultural and landscape professions learning from natural plant communities. Some of his plantings involve annuals (see below) but most involve perennials and shrubs. Self-seeding, for example of the short-lived South American Verbena bonariensis or the South African dierama species, is encouraged to provide spontaneous ‘foundation’ plants that create a sense of unity to link several very disparate areas. This is an important aspect of what Wiley refers to as ‘diversity with a strong theme’ (Wiley 2001).

Wiley describes his design approach as being ‘the repetition of a small number of species providing a framework…in informal groups with outlying singletons’. Further species are added to fill in the gaps between these and space is allowed for self-sowing, which is a vital part of the whole concept (Wiley 2000). The freedom allowed for self-

British approaches


The steppe area of Munich’s Westpark has become the best – known example of contemporary German Lebensbereich planting design. During June, Iris germanica hybrids are the main feature along with a variety of ornamental grasses and other drought-tolerant species. The alternation of tall, clump­forming and very low-growing species is a notable feature (June)

British approaches


Other areas of the Westpark receive less management. This area, with a very free-draining soil, includes several species which maintain themselves through self-sowing, including a Verbascum spp.,

Oenothera fruticosa and Dipsacus fullonum, as well as long-lived Echinops ritro (July)

seeding, and the advantage this gives to short-lived species, many of which are brightly coloured, gives The Garden House an exuberant, indeed almost playful, atmosphere. A similar approach has been adopted by James Hitchmough to create North American prairie plant communities by sowing, supplemented by the planting of species that cannot be established by seeding. A large-scale example can be seen at the Eden Project in St Austell, Cornwall.

Self-sowing is also a key to the management of Bolton Percy Cemetery, a very successful naturalistic planting that has received relatively little publicity. Roger Brook, a professional horticulturalist, has managed a 0.4 ha cemetery for 25 years, almost entirely through the use of glyphosate-based herbicide, for four hours per 100 m2 per year. Plants are introduced but there is no overall design. By eliminating competitive grasses and other unwanted species, the ground is left open for colonisation by ornamental species, either through seed or vegetative means. As there is a minimum of ‘design’, the plant distribution is achieved largely through ecological processes (Dunnett 2000).

The same conclusions that Hansen came to have also been reached by British nurseryman Peter Thompson, whose book The Self-Sustaining Garden (Thompson 1997) is an approach to planting design that attempts to present an essentially ecological approach to the general gardening public. His key concept is that of the ‘matrix’, a largely self-sustaining plant community whose members are chosen to reflect the ecology of the site and which are compatable with each other. He stresses the different layers of vegetation that should occupy space and the dimension of time, recognising the dynamic nature of plantings. Aiming at an amateur audience who have more time to devote to their plantings than money—and time—pressed local government or commercial bodies; his maintenance regime includes a number of practices which would be uneconomic, or perhaps aesthetically

British approaches


Rheum palmatum dominates a planting, inspired by the Lebensbereich style on a moist fertile soil at Cowley Manor, Gloucestershire. Other species
include Persicaria bistorta ‘Superbum’, Euphorbia palustris, with later flowering species including many geranium taxa and Filipendula ulmaria (June)

British approaches


The grass Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ stands above Rudbeckia fulgida and Carex comans. The planting also includes various geranium, monarda and aster taxa. Like all the plantings at Cowley Manor, a long flowering season is an important aspect of the design (September)

British approaches


A native species, Lythrum salicaria, is included as a theme plant in one of the plantings at Cowley, its magenta being complemented by monarda taxa and the grey leaves of Macleaya cordata (August)

unnecessary on a larger scale, such as deadheading, cutting back perennials mid-season to reduce height, regenerating plants through pruning, etc. (Thompson 1997).

Updated: September 26, 2015 — 2:24 am