Spontaneous and managed naturalism

When choosing the type of management, the manager will be led by the final results he envisages. He may thus discern between:

– vegetation with a spontaneous, self-regulating naturalism

– vegetation with a managed naturalism.

For the former, it is only the initial environment (especially the soil type), which decides the composition of the species in the vegetation. In later stages, the species themselves decide their spatial arrangement. The management type suited for these vegetations is extensive and consists of cutting and mowing, with as little influence or direction as possible on free competition between the species. They will basically behave in the same manner as they do in nature. In the end, the environment is the dominant factor in the selection process.

In vegetation with a managed naturalism, the initial environment in itself is not the only decisive factor: the manager will be the one who decides which species are wanted and which are not. Competition between the species is greatly reduced by management practice to allow species that would otherwise be eliminated to persist. The species, only to a certain extent, decide their mutual arrangement themselves; the role of the manager also comes into play. Such vegetations will require an intensive to relatively extensive management, involving pruning and weeding.

Experience demonstrates how some species may show a different behaviour when competition is restricted or even completely eliminated. The influence of the soil type, for instance, is no longer decisive. Many species turn out to be able to survive on different soils and in different environments than they require in nature. They become less restricted to soil type and show a larger ecological amplitude. Some species, such as ferns, may also turn out to be tolerant to positions in full sun, provided that enough moisture is available, whereas they usually require shade. In fact, they are not strictly shadowrequiring, but are shadow-tolerant species. Less competition may also result in species reaching larger sizes, in width or in height, or flowering more freely with larger flowers.

This is a rather surprising phenomenon, offering equally surprising options to the manager. It implies that a purposeful management of cutting and weeding provides the opportunity to realise vegetation with much greater visual impact than shown in nature, which could otherwise not occur at all in garden or park situations. Heather and bog vegetation and woods with a matching, differentiated undergrowth, are outstanding examples of this phenomenon. The choice of management practices in such plant communities depends largely upon the specific aims one has in mind. ‘Extensive’ management techniques (cutting and mowing) can only be used to create and maintain meadows, roughs, and water and marsh vegetation, unless one has very specific soils at one’s disposal. More intensive pruning and weeding types of management, i. e. the traditional horticultural techniques, allows one to realise many other vegetation types. And when both methods can be applied side-by-side and in combinations, with all possible shades, mixed forms and transitions, an extraordinarily rich variety and differentiation of vegetations may be achieved.