The Dynamic Vision Symposium
Day 1 addressed what the role of the practitioner is and the maintenance of perennial plantings. This was framed with talks questioning how we should update our thinking about planting, given issues of climate change, shifting populations and use of technology and mechanisation.
Day 2 focussed more on the role of plants in the environment and how to plant when the city is the environment.
A diverse range of views were presented about how we approach our designed landscape. Speakers from the UK included Noel Kingsbury, Nigel Dunnett, John Little, Tom Stuart Smith and Sue Stuart Smith. It was interesting to see these speakers (with whom I was already familiar) alongside a range of international presenters with wider scope of work. These included:
Mariana Siqueira (Brazil), a landscape architect, presented her work bringing the plants of the Brazilian Cerrado (savannah area) to gardens for the first time. She has faced great challenges as no one was growing native plants in Brazil and the special ecosystem in the Cerrado does not get the same national or international focus as the Amazon rainforest areas. She has worked with a range of players – botanists, ecologists and nursery owners – to bring native keystone plants to the commercial market and to garden design, many of which feature vast underground root systems. She has also found combatting invasive plants a core problem at the start of any new native planting.
Roy Diblik (USA) who grows and designs with traditional and native plants, talked of using sturdy plantings which withstand minimalist but mechanised maintenance – for example mulch mowing over perennial beds once a year with a ride-on machine. He provides strong naturalistic plantings in mainly urban environments.
Jonas Reif (Germany), editor of Garten Praxis magazine and landscape designer, advocated a municipal planting approach where what is planted is simply left without maintenance for several years (three to ten depending on planting). The suggestion here is that plantings are then simply replaced, with the overall effect being less intrusive, complex and costly than constant maintenance to help a planting live over many years.
Veronique Mure (France) treated us to an illustrated ode to the root systems of plants and their strength in adversity. She showcased a range of root systems whereby plants store, move their growth areas, adapt and avoid obstacles, using their roots. This featured many examples from Mediterranean plantings such as Suaeda vera or Helichrysum arenarium. The message was to consider the complexities in the relationship between plants and their environment, and what the plats are doing for the ecosystem overall. This therefore highlighted the importance of “wilder” plantings in our landscape thinking. Veronique is the founder of Botanique-Jardins-Paysages (https://www.botanique-jardins-paysages.com/) which specialises in the study of Mediterranean flora and links this to gardens and landscapes.
Gilles Clement (France) took the opportunity to talk humorously of his lower interventionalist work in his own garden, including living with fallen trees and Heracleum mantegazzianum. He talked of the process as “gardening by subtraction” – namely waiting to see what happens and then whittling it down – rather than actively planting a garden with exact specifications. He advocated that this approach helps everyone as it allows the natural processes to continue, but also means less work in the garden.
Jacques Soignon (France) talked through the far-reaching project to create green corridors through the city of Nantes, where he directed the Parks and Gardens. The scale and creativity shown in relandscaping so much of the city was incredible. He commented that native plantings become irrelevant as the modern city environment is more akin to a canyon, a mineral environment where heat and wind persist, that is contrary to the environment needed for endemics in the region to thrive.
Overall, the conclusions from the symposium pointed towards mixed plantings of perennials which reflected compatible and varied root systems (over just varied flowers or foliage), and that woody plants should also form part of matrix plantings rather than solely herbaceous. This was not just from a structural and design perspective, but an ecological one. Using woody plants better reflects longevity of plants, ability to act as carbon stores both above and below ground, and gives wildlife and climate benefits by providing different plant structures.
The consensus also seemed to be that a planting mix would not necessarily focus on native plants, due to the changing climate and the artificial conditions created in city plantings. Therefore, we see the frequent occurrence of Mediterranean plants as part of mixed plantings in sustainable city contexts. The practice does not focus on creating plantings using a specific flora to showcase them from a scientific angle, but on finding the plants from a range of environments which will suit the conditions and interreact – often those of North American prairies, Central Asian steppe, alongside Mediterranean species.
The skills of practitioners to design and maintain these plantings was at the heart of everyone’s discussions, with an acknowledgement that it does not simply take “maintenance” for plantings, but an understanding of the ecology, wildlife and wellbeing impact, and longevity of plantings. A lower intervention level boosts the natural balance in the plantings, but takes knowledge to create and for us to know how to oversee its establishment and subsequent development. This was the meaning implied by “Dynamic” gardening and vision, that we plant with the expectation of change and that the stewardship of the garden involves overseeing and curating that change.
Plantings around BUGA and Mannheim/Ludwigshafen
We viewed the plantings by Harald Sauer at the Luisenpark site of BUGA and those by Bettina Jaugstetter at the Spinelli Park – a reclaimed industrial site. I also visited the planting by Harald Sauer at Ludwigshafen’s Erbertpark.