Developing an ‘ecological aesthetic’: altering native species mixes for visual appeal

Many of the US practitioners in the field are eloquent in their articulation of the need to sell ecological planting to the public by making it as attractive as possible, ‘we must seduce people into loving the landscape’ as Carol Franklin, a senior associate of Andropogon Associates puts it (Franklin 2001a). In particular, ‘homeowners’ must be ‘provided with an elegant and sensual alternative to the usual nursery fare’ (Franklin 2001b). Andropogon have established a reputation as being one of the foremost practices at integrating ecological plantings based on native species with relevent aesthetic, historical and social aspects. Franklin describes this as developing an ‘ecological aesthetic’. Developing a plan for a particular site begins with relating the basic concept of the design to the bioregion, and then bringing together an accurate listing of local species in the light of an artistic appreciation of the locality. Planting is designed to include ‘prototypical relationships of plant to plant or plant to place’, including ‘wonderful quirky or especially evocative relationships’ (Franklin 200lb). Public projects involve community involvement where possible, and linking to the historical design and use of the site where appropriate (McKormick 1991). Established in 1975, Andropogon work throughout the eastern US, and more recently has undertaken a number of projects in Japan. Wetland restoration, or creation, as in the case of stormwater detention systems, is a speciality.

Certain plant communities lend themselves more than others to an aesthetic interpretation. The native flora of the British Isles is one with relatively few possibilities, largely as a result of being rather limited, which gives the designer a very restricted palette, especially for environments that favour competitive species. Others have not only diversity but floras with major aesthetic appeal. A good example might be the desert of the south-western US, where landscape architect Steve Martino has made a major impact in and around the city of Phoenix, Arizona, ‘I had to convince people not just to accept but to pay for weeds’ but that now ‘the desert is seen as a place of value’ (Martino 2001). Trees, shrubs and succulent species have strong sculptural appeal, whilst the ground level flora of annuals and short-lived perennials can be spectacular in flower.