Increasingly interwoven with the sustainability project is the idea that notions of place and local character should, where possible, inform the design of planting. This can also operate at a variety of scales and levels.
– Planting may simply replicate the vegetation that is found around the site. This habitat
restoration approach is most common in rural landscapes where planting is used as background low-key ‘filler’.
– Alternatively, planting can reflect the arrangement and patterns of vegetation found
around a site, whilst at the same time involve different species. For example, until sown prairie vegetation flowers it looks perfectly in character with European native shrubs and trees, and will be perceived by the general public to be native. When in flower it is far more distinctive, however due to its complex, naturalistic, spatial patterns it continues to remain within the ubiquitous character created by tall swards of native species, such as nettles, rosebay willowherb and meadowsweet. Finally, vegetation may respond to ecological processes in the local environment at a more subtle level and sometimes in ways that are invisible to the lay observer, for example on a site with wet, poorly drained soils, and species that tolerate these conditions but which are not native to the site might be used to supplement those that are native. The same might be true for dry sites,
Coppicing is a valuable woodland edge maintenance-technique. Here, a mix of the North American species, Rhus typhina and Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, are coppiced and cut back each winter, in a planting at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate
or shady sites, or highly alkaline or infertile soils. With vegetation it is possible to respond to local character far more subtlely than is generally seen with built form.
Responding to local character is often a sensible principle to follow, however should it always be a goal of urban practice (Figure 1.13)? Can one be over sensitive to context to the point that plantings are just too dull to the public? In some cases, plantings should aim to stop people in their tracks irrespective of local character notions.