From young to old

Before having a look at the different vegetation and planting forms, it is necessary to ponder the meaning of time and continuity in heempark management. As soon as the soil has become available to the plants one wishes to use—i. e. immediately after groundworks have been completed and the plants have been sown or planted—the time factor comes into play. The clock of succession starts ticking immediately, independent of the construction or vegetation type. The manager cannot escape this factor and must take it into account very seriously. Many plant communities become more valuable as they grow older. It is not just the aesthetical and sensory values that increase, the ecological and natural values are also raised: 20, 30, 50 years or even longer may be required before they are at their most interesting. These types of vegetation are the result, so to speak, of a harmonious combination of evolutionary processes in combination with constant and careful human intervention across time. Of these elements, the continuity factor is decisive for the success of heempark management. The development and maintenance of a heempark is a long-term investment.

The early stages of heemparks are usually characterised by a fast, often spectacular, change in the vegetation. After sowing and planting, open soils are increasingly colonised by plants and reach full coverage. Shrubs may reach canopy closure after three years; ponds, lakes and canals see a rapid growth of pioneer plants; herbaceous plants produce colourful displays, especially in sunny spots, right from the start. Then, gradually, the vegetation will start to slow down in growth, environmental disturbances become less frequent and intense, and management is aimed towards reducing these as much as possible.