One of the most varied planting styles that fulfils our criteria of being ecological involves the use of plants that are not necessarily native to the area but are chosen on the basis of a close match between their ecological needs and a careful analysis of the conditions prevailing at the planting site. Such plantings also possess what could loosely be termed a’naturalistic aesthetic’. Practitioners in this area are aiming for an effect with a strong visual appeal for the public—colour, length of seasonal interest, structure, etc.—but also with an awareness of the potential value of the planting for local wildlife.
It could be argued that this is what a large number of landscape and horticultural professionals, and a greater number of private gardeners, are doing anyway. There has been a steady rise in what could loosely be called ‘environmental awareness’ over many years, resulting in a number of developments
A woodland—edge habitat at Hermanshof, Weinheim in Germany, with a matrix of evergreen carex and luzula spp. and a wide variety of visually attractive species, including Aquilegia vulgaris forms, Euphorbia amygdaloides spp. robbiae and Meconopsis cambrica (May)
that are making many much more ‘ecological’ in their approach:
– more closely matching the perceived ecological demands of plants to the ecology of the
site—garden writer Beth Chatto has been instrumental in this respect, at least in the English-speaking world (Chatto 1978, 1982)
– a greater awareness of the role of managed landscapes in supporting faunal diversity—
Chris Baines’ (1984) writings in the UK and Sara Stein’s (1993) in the US have played major roles here
– a growing number of ‘organic’ practitioners.
The most articulate, self-consciously ‘ecological’ practitioners have been concerned mostly with the role of herbaceous plants in public space, with plants chosen arranged in a way that is radically different to that of conventional planting styles, and very much inspired by the way that they would grow in natural plant communities.
The use of plants from a wide range of countries of origin is very much closer to the traditional horticultural mainstream than many of the approaches discussed in this chapter. Not surprisingly, the role this planting style plays is almost entirely for relatively small areas of high visibility: frequently used areas of public parks and private gardens that may or may not be open to the public. As high-visibility plantings, there is often a considerable investment in plants and design costs, which limits their size. Their visibility, and the need to protect the original investment, also means that there is a readiness on the part of owners to put more into maintenance than in more extensive plantings. In some cases, there is also more need for maintenance, particularly in the face of weed infiltration. This greater need for maintenance also indicates that these planting schemes are very often less ecologically stable than those which rely heavily on native plant communities. Nevertheless, new developments with seed-sown plantings point towards a future where initial costs can be dramatically reduced and where a more extensive and lower-cost maintenance regime can be implemented.