This final section does not seek to lay down hard and fast rules for the social dimensions of planning or designing with ecological plantings, naturalistic or otherwise. This chapter has shown that the state of knowledge about public attitudes to ecological plantings in public urban settings is patchy and much more research is needed to fill in the gaps. More importantly, it shows that the perception goal posts are always moving, and that we must constantly re-evaluate public attitudes. Setting out rules would be repeating the mistakes of the past by suggesting that one solution fits all, once and for all. Instead, this section summarises the most important contemporary issues or problems, and suggests possible solutions in relation to naturalistic ecological planting. Kaplan et al. (1988) have already addressed many of these issues in their comprehensive text With People in Mind.
Aiming for diversity
As has already been discussed, one of the shortcomings of the so-called green deserts of the second half of the twentieth century was their monotony: the fact that they did not afford opportunities for the different experiences and activities that are such a valued part of more natural landscapes (Burgess et al. 1988). Monotony was possibly also one of the shortcomings of some of the applications of ‘the ecological approach’ in British New Towns, and may partly explain the adverse reactions to some of these plantings. Whilst large areas of flowering herbaceous vegetation may have a dramatic impact that justifies a uniform approach, the same cannot always be said of large-scale ecological plantings of woody vegetation. Thus in the case of woody vegetation particularly, the emphasis should be on creating landscapes with the maximum amount of diversity in terms of the character of the plantings, the nature of the spaces and the uses and activities they accommodate. The planting itself could be varied by the use of colour, exotic species, varying the species selection along a continuum from a monoculture to a species mix, varying the rhythm and pattern of the planting, the vegetation structure (one or more layers), combining with herbaceous vegetation, application of differing management techniques (coppicing, pollarding, standards) and generally by applying many of the techniques that are normally associated with conventional planting design.