Contemporary overview of naturalistic. planting design

Noel Kingsbury


This chapter provides an overview of contemporary approaches to the use of plants in designed landscapes that are described as being ‘ecological’, ‘natural’ or ‘naturalistic’, or are said to operate or be inspired by the principles that lie behind these words. Needless to say, definitions of ‘ecological’ vary widely: commercial pressures, fashion – consciousness and a simple desire to be on a bandwagon are major factors in the labelling of practices and philosophies in the horticultural and landscape industries. It is emphatically not the task here to sort sheep from goats, but to develop a framework that describes a variety of practices and opinions from which others may draw their own conclusions. In compiling this chapter, the author undertook personal interviews with a very wide range of practitioners who are actively involved in this area across Europe and the US. This does not pretend to be an exhaustive list of everyone active in the field, but it does give a representative flavour of what is being undertaken. What emerges is a clustering of different working practices and philosophies, each cluster defined by an adherence to a particular aspect of the desire to relate to nature. On occasion the use of the words ‘ecological’ and ‘naturalistic’ can be seen to be ambiguous, with certain practices being described as, or perceived to be, in some way ‘ecological’ when others would deny that this is the case. The importance of developing a framework is that it enables those interested in the field to gain an impression of the variety, flexibility and adaptability of different approaches. It is also useful for gaining an insight into possible conflicts, and in highlighting areas where more research is needed.