In putting forward these arguments we are not suggesting that all urban green spaces should be treated in the same way and incorporate the same approaches to landscape planting. Instead, we are proposing that if quality is to be maintained and the benefits of landscape planting are to be extended
Vegetation with a strong local character such as this Scottish Birch forest may form the basis of plantings that reflect the arrangement and patterns of vegetation around a site, but is it always possible to do this in an urban environment?
Model describing the relationship between three factors: availability of
resources for management (—— ),
public acceptance of ‘wild vegetation’ (—-) and the importance
of nature conservation (…… ) that
determine the potentiai character of amenity plantings. Key to vegetation types: S= spontaneous vegetation; H=horticultural vegetation;
CCL=creative conservation landscape; AL=anthropogenic landscape
then radical solutions may have to be considered that involve a more ecologically- informed basis for the use of plants in designed landscapes. In this chapter we have sought to provide a vision for what an ecological approach might mean in the urban context. Perhaps above all we have stressed the importance of the social and cultural dimension—that plantings must be publicly acceptable, as well as environmentally sound, if they are also to be sustainable in the long term. We have also stressed the utmost importance of the promotion of the ecological process as the basis of a dynamic and self-sustaining landscape, rather than a rigid concentration on native species lists. Within this framework, however, there is a wide spectrum of planting styles, as will be evident from reading this book, ranging from evocations and distillations of native plant communities and landscapes through to highly abstracted plantings that, although naturelike, may bear no resemblance to any natural vegetation.
So, how might this all fit within the network of urban green spaces? In order to maximise value in plantings, the appropriate style must match with available resources and the degree to which ‘wildness’ might be publicly acceptable. It is possible to recognise three major factors that determine the type of amenity planting in any given urban area. Firstly, the availability of resources for management (such as maintenance budgets, and the level of knowledge of those responsible for maintenance) will be critical determinants of what is possible. Secondly, the cultural context will determine the degree of public acceptance of ‘wildness’ in vegetation on, or within, any given site. These factors are related to aesthetics and include public preference for colour or tidyness, the character of a site (for example, whether it is an historic landscape) and the use of the site (whether, for example, it is primarily sports-based, recreational or horticultural). And the third determinant is the relative importance of nature conservation (either actually through site designation or perceived through the attitudes of major users). This factor determines, to a large extent, whether species content should be predominantly native or mixed and also, to some extent, the structure and appearance of the vegetation (i. e. a high nature conservation value can mitigate against a relatively neglected appearance).
Figure 1.14 shows a hypothetical model that integrates these three strands and shows the types of vegetation possible under different relative combinations of these three determinants. The internal grid lines follow bands of low, moderate and high values for each factor leading from each appropriate side of the triangle. It is possible to locate different combinations of resource availablity, importance of ecology and public acceptance of naturalistic plantings within the triangle, using these gridlines. For example, under a combination of relatively high resource availability, low public acceptance of wild vegetation and a relatively low requirement for nature conservation, standard horticultural plantings (H) are a potential solution. Such situations may include city centre parks or conventional commercial landscapes. Where available maintenance resources are non-existent,
Colourful, flower-rich spontaneous vegetation on a brown-field site in Sheffield, featuring Goat’s Rue (galega officinalis). Can designed and enhanced naturalistic herbaceous vegetation that captures some of this visual spectacle, become an important part of the urban landscape?
and wild vegetation is acceptable and justified for nature conservation, spontaneous vegetation (S) will be tolerated. Such situations may include the banks of urban rivers, canals, railways and roads, or, in a more managed state, areas of tall grassland and woodland in urban parks (Figure 1.15). Certainly in the UK, the horticultural and the spontaneous are the two extremes of vegetation, and the majority of sites are left somewhere in the middle, with little beyond standard trees, mown grass and shrub mass. The great value of the vegetation types described in this book, the ecologically-based creative conservation landscape (CCL) and anthropogenic landscape (AL), is that they fill this middle ground, providing new opportunities where resources are restricted. However, the model indicates that the benefit of reduced resource consumption is not enough on its own. There must also be a shift in public attitudes away from formal horticultural styles.
This shift can either be achieved by aesthetic enhancement and moderation of the characteristics of truly spontaneous vegetation, as described throughout this book, and/or through demonstrable wildlife benefit. Indeed, it is the experience of the authors, and of many others working in this field, that one of the best ways to ‘sell’ anthropogenic and native nature-like plantings is that
Robust sculpture helps increase the aesthetic appeal of spontaneous urban vegetation (birch woodland and grassland) in the Natur Park Sudgelande in Berlin
they will increase visible wildlife, mainly birds and butterflies. So, again we come back to the fundamental importance of public support.
The differing relative importance of aesthetics (as defined above), resources and ecology can form the basis of a vegetation strategy within a single site, or can inform the dominant planting approaches between sites throughout an urban area. We believe that to achieve a wider application of naturalistic vegetation, in all its forms, in towns and cities we need to begin championing the visual and aesthetic benefits of urban nature as well as the conservation and biodiversity benefits. The authors anticipate that the rest of this book will begin to provide a theoretical and practical basis for designers and managers to create rewarding urban landscapes that