It is clear from this survey that ‘ecological design’ covers a very wide range of practices. There is a need for practitioners to appreciate that this range and the flexibility offers a wide range of solutions for many different situations. Public and, indeed, large privately owned areas of green space often involve a patchwork of different situations, each with their own potential and problems. These can often be most easily appreciated as existing on one of several gradients:
– formal/architectural to wild/natural
– urban character to rural character
– the importance of aesthetic and cultural values being greater than ecological value to
ecology and biodiversity being more important
– intensively used to not intensively used.
These complex and often geographically, aesthetically and functionally juxtaposed situations need practitioners who have a clear idea of what is appropriate for each area and who can handle the transitions between them subtly and skilfully. Understanding the full potential of the range of ecologically-based design options, and the relationships between them is crucial for the effective development and management of green space.
The desire to use locally native plants is an important part of the ecological planting movement. Yet, as this chapter indicates, there is a wide range of possibilities that involve the use of non-natives too. The normative and ideological aspects of the debate over the use of natives is arguably impeding the development of more adventurous strategies by creating divisions between people and professions who should be working together. More useful would be constructive debate over the role of natives and nonnatives in different situations. Designing an aesthetic into native-only or native- dominated plantings is clearly an important issue, and one that needs more attention if these plant communities are to achieve recognition from the public and from decision makers. The native planting movement tends to be dominated by ecologists, yet a greater involvement of those with more of a design background could arguably do much to produce more aesthetically pleasing work.
Walser and several other practitioners, including Cassian Schmidt, the current curator at Hermanshof, stress how maintenance is the key issue for the long-term success of Lebensbereich plantings in public spaces. There seems to be a widespread feeling that there are not enough skilled personnel to maintain large plantings in public spaces, and that the relevant local government institutions do not provide the necessary resources or organisational support. A few cities that train their own staff, usually with one senior person who has a personal commitment to high standards and a genuine interest in the style, are able to keep plantings going. These include Stuttgart and Ingolstadt. It is not that a great deal of maintenance is needed, but it needs to be skilled and the timing of operations is crucial (Schmidt 2001). Walser also points out that ‘overmaintenance’ can be a problem, for example winter stems and seed heads cut down that could be a structural element (Walser 1998).
Ecological planting design faces a similar fundamental problem in both the private and the public sectors: a shortage of personnel skilled in the maintenance techniques necessary for successful and biodiverse development, and a frequent lack of understanding on the part of owners and managers of the importance of appropriate longterm management. Public landscapes, in particular, suffer from a combined and interrelated series of problems, lucidly described by Ktihn: cuts in local government spending, a loss of the autonomy of open-space managers, and a consequent loss of pride and motivation. The increasing tendency for private companies to maintain open space is also a problem, tendering is all too often based on price and there is little continuity as contracts often have to be regularly renegotiated. Private sponsorship can sometimes help, but it is rarely of any use as a source of funding for long-term maintenance (Ktihn 2001).
In the final analysis, only social and political changes can ensure a more certain future for wellmanaged green space. However, there is much that can be done under present circumstances to produce environments that are functional, aesthetically rewarding, sustainable and biodiverse, but understanding the full range of practices and the possibilities that they offer is vital for developing flexible strategies that can adapt to changing financial and political circumstances.
Green space needs designs and management techniques that minimise maintenance costs, for example a greater use of extensive management. With confidence in successful maintenance, decision makers and communities would be in a much stronger position to implement forward-looking and adventurous designs. Research geared towards extensive management and other ways of reducing maintenance costs could therefore do much to strengthen the hands of those who wish to see ecological plantings used more often.