Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Intermingling and the Aesthetics of Ecology

Is intermingling really more ecological? Or just the stylized look of ecology?

This summer the Highline had its four year anniversary. Perhaps the greatest testament to its massive success is the extent to which the strategy of “intermingling” plants—as opposed to solid massings of single species—has been accepted as a new ecological best practice. The traditional horticultural practice of massing plants together in solid blocks is now seen as static and old school. Mixing plants into carefully woven tapestries is the expression of the ecological zeitgeist.  Almost all of the world’s planting avant-garde (Oudolf, Kingsbury, Sarah Price, James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett, Cassian Schmidt, Dan Pearson, Roy Diblik) have projects that celebrate this mixed style.

Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf’s latest book, Planting: A New Perspective, is a celebration of rise of a more intermingled style. Kingsbury has long been an advocate of this mixed planting style, but this latest book positions intermingling as a part of a new international movement. Intermingling is seen not only as a new design trend, but as a way of creating better ecological function. In a recent article in the journal Topos, Kingsbury writes:

Creating intermingling plant combinations, whether aesthetically driven or strictly functional, creates an ecology. In a conventional horticultural planting, plants are discouraged from interacting, but when they do, ecology starts to take over. "Trends in Planting Design." Topos, 83, 2013

Statements like these raise several questions in my mind: is intermingling really more ecological? Or is it just an aesthetic that imitates ecology? And what about function? Does intermingling plants result in more stable, lower maintenance plantings? Or does it require more intensive gardening to maintain it? 

My own experiments with intermingling have been eye-opening. I wanted to record a few of my own thoughts about intermingling and also hear your reactions to this rising trend.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Design Trend: Collage

Why Landscape Architects are Getting Beyond the Grid.

A spate of recent landscape architecture projects are loosening up the traditional orthogonal geometry that has dominated both traditional and modern design and instead embracing a more layered, intentionally incongruous approach to space-making.  

These projects use design strategies closely related to collage and montage.  For much of the past century, strength in design was assumed to be a result of closely adhering to a single geometric framework. Classical design relied on axial arrangements; modern design relied on the grid.  The result has been over a century of primarily orthogonal geometries underlying landscape architectural projects.

But a new trend is emerging that breaks the grid and embraces incongruity.

Friday, August 16, 2013


While I still feel like a complete blogging newbie, Grounded Design is now over three years old.  Since blog years are like dog years (a year on the internet = at least seven years in reality, right?), I am feeling a bit reflective about all the great interactions that have happened here.  I may not blog with the frequency of my first six months (17 posts in one month--was I on amphetamines?), I still feel a fire in my belly when it comes to creating honest, content-focused posts that fosters dialogue. 

So it is with a sense of renewed commitment that I announce Grounded Design 2.0.  Ok,ok so maybe I just updated a dreadfully outdated banner and a few fonts. But I want to use the much needed graphic update to symbolize a revived charge to engage in more relevant content, cutting-edge design, and deeper immersion into where we connect with our landscapes.

So here is to you: thank you for reading, engaging, and sharing your own trials and tribulations. The interaction with so many talented designers, gardeners, and thinkers has stretched me in so many wonderful ways.  As I dig deeper into the process of writing a book and in engaging with some of the top minds in our field, I want to promise more of myself through this journey.  I look forward to sharing my adventures with you.

With the deepest gratitude,


Monday, August 12, 2013

Fab Late Season Annuals

My favorite selections from a year of experimentation

Thomas Rainer

The wet spring and early summer has been a blessing and curse in the border this year.  Moist-loving perennials like Mondarda and Eupatorium have swelled to gigantic proportions, growing several feet higher than they've grown in the past two years. All the while, my drier-loving perennials have melted with fungus and mildew.  I've just finished ripping out several dozen fungus-covered Perovskia and Agastache ‘Black Adder’.  It’s funny, because if you asked me last year what kind of plants would be on my list of “plants of the future”—that is, climate change worthy plants--I probably would have listed those two.  But one wet season and they are gone.

I have long complained that summers in Washington, D.C. area are essentially subtropical.  While perennial gardeners in cooler climates like Maine, England, and the Netherlands enjoy spectacular bonanzas of July and August blooms, we humidity-bound gardeners watch all but the most thuggish of our perennials flop and generally poop out.  Of course, it is entirely possible to have a beautiful late season perennial garden in the mid-Atlantic; it is just hard to have both a beautiful early season and late season perennial garden here—particularly for space-challenged gardens.  Our growing season is so stretched out (with a thirty degree temperature differential); what looks good in May most definitely does not look good in August and vice versa.    

So this year, I've invested heavily in annuals and tropicals to pump up the late season border.  I can’t tell if my foray into annuals and tropical is a strategic master-stroke or a sign that I have slipped too deep into horticultural self-indulgence. Whatever my diagnosis, I've learned quite a bit this year about combining these plants in perennial garden—including quite a few missteps (such as giant Colocasias shading out half a dozen sun-loving plants).  But there have been enough happy accidents that I thought I’d share a few of the better moments.  I've seeded almost two dozen different plants this year and tried a range of different tropicals. Here are my favorites:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mulch Addiction

The United States of Mulch.  Why do we use too much mulch?  What is the alternative?

One of the idiosyncrasies of the built American landscape is our fascination with mulch.  It’s in our yards and gardens; it is in the parking lots of our fast food chains and grocery stores; and it is in our airports and along our highways.  We spread it everywhere.  We spread it thickly.

Our use of mulch is so ubiquitous and so frequent, it is easy to forget how unusual this habit is.  Traveling through Europe or Asia, however, the contrast is clear.  In most other countries, it is the plants themselves that occupy the most space; here, however, mulch is often even more visually dominant than the plants themselves.   I remember a friend from Europe asking me once, “Why are Americans so proud of their mulch?”  At the time, it had not really occurred to me that we use mulch more than other parts of the world, but slowly I too began to see that he was right.  What is curious to me is that our mulch addiction is not limited to socioeconomic class or status.  The liberal use of mulch is as prevalent on wealthy estates as it is on strip malls and tract housing.  And it has little to do with training.  Thick blankets of mulch are specified by landscape architects as often as maintenance crews.  

Where do we get this peculiar habit?  Perhaps part of the issue is that mulch is abundant and cheap.  We’ve always had lots of trees.  Mulch is a byproduct of the large timber industry, making it relatively affordable.  Perhaps our use of mulch is a result of the fact that our landscapes regenerate so quickly.  A recent blog by Noel Kingsbury remarked on how quickly the American woodland regenerates compared to English forests. It’s true: if you leave a piece of cleared land alone almost anywhere east of the Mississippi River, it will likely revert to an invasive-choked woodland within a decade.  Below our lawns and suburbs, there is a feral landscape just waiting for its chance.  Perhaps we mulch (and mow) to keep the beast at bay.  

If you liked this post . . .

Related Posts with Thumbnails