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    August’s Agenda

    Should designers be encouraging clients to have more naturalistic gardens?


    Ben West, owner, Landscaping Solutions

    For me the question is not ‘should’ but ‘how’ do we encourage our clients to embrace naturalistic design.

    As we continue to hear stories of insect population crashes and the associated ecological effects we have a responsibility to spread the word about how important our client’s decisions are to the bigger picture. For me, the problem is how to make this shift in consciousness more desirable?

    As landscape professionals, we are well positioned to exact change as we are invited by the general public to offer advice and guidance as how best to use their gardens. I acknowledge that gardens are spaces for humans but it is it crucial (as the wider and wilder landscape becomes eaten up by development and intensive farming) that we recognise their significance for wildlife.

    As young people around the world wake up to the need for practical action in addressing environmental degradation, we have a great opportunity to underline how instrumental our profession can be in influencing change in our client’s daily lives.

    David Keegan, owner, David Keegan Garden Design

    It’s an interesting idea and an interesting question, but then I find myself asking, what exactly does naturalist planting mean? Is it softer, gentler, textural, less formal, mimicking nature, or is it something else? Perhaps it’s the balance between the hard and soft.

    My own view is and always has been it’s all about the planting stemming from the fact that far too many schemes seem to place plants as secondary, or of less importance. The right plants used in the right way can provide structure and form in a way that no timber, block, or stone can as inanimate objects.

    The drawbacks have got to be the potential of pushing a client in the direction of “More Naturalistic Planting” which they then don’t have the skill, or mind-set, to look after so it ends up very quickly looking a mess.

    Whilst my approach is always plant-centric I would not necessarily encourage a client into a more naturalistic style of planting as I think it’s too narrow a palate from which to fill a picture and too restrictive a frame of reference. Rather, an approach to increasing the use of plants that encourage and sustain biodiversity and wildlife would seem more a more appropriate call to the wild.

    Ruth Willmott, owner Ruth Willmott Associates

    According to research by the University of Sheffield, the BBC and the ONS’ estimates suggest that between 88% and 99.9% of the UK isn’t ‘developed’ or built on.

    Roughly, half of the UK is either pastures or land where crops are planted, a quarter is forest and other natural land (such as beaches or moors) and 11% is wetlands.

    Agricultural, land and forest practices can clearly make a big difference in supporting our nature and wildlife in the UK. So what of our garden designer role in the urban areas that make up to 12% of the rest of UK?

    As designers we challenge ourselves to consider the percentage of hardscaping to planting in our designs.  We look at our planting plans with a nature lens and consciously choose (within the mix) beautiful trees, shrubs and plants that are also good for nature and wildlife.  Our client brief is usually much broader than a purely naturalistic design, however we believe we can and should urge clients to consider gardens, which fulfil their needs, are sustainable and consider nature and wildlife too.

    David Dodd, managing director and Owner, The Outdoor Room

    No. I think garden design needs to be as broad as possible with huge diversity in design and style. The benefits of naturalist gardens can certainly be explained but clients should get a design that suits their taste and lifestyle, not that of the designers.It’s also vital that the house or building should marry into the garden or landscape and not clash with it.

    All gardens should, by their very nature, be environmentally friendly and sustainable. If not, the designer hasn’t done a very good job. Water features, clipped hedging and perennial planting in a contemporary garden can still be a haven for wildlife.It doesn’t always have to be wildflower meadows and bug hotels to be good for nature!

    Michelle Brandon, owner, Michelle Brandon Garden & Landscape Design

    If we didn’t know already, now that the earth is in trouble, we certainly do. As an industry where we encourage people to spend time outdoors, we impart our experience and knowledge to advice on the best materials for that particular garden.

    So yes, we should also advice and encourage clients to choose gardens that are nature friendly, which create low impact on the environment. Starting from, low landfill input, breaking down existing materials for hardcore, keeping established plants and incorporating them within the new planting scheme. We should be encouraging habitats for wildlife, planting shrubs that provide food for birds throughout the year.

    As a horticultural therapist and garden designer, I am very conscious of creating spaces that allow the client peace and tranquility.

    Noemi Mercurelli, landscape designer, PC Landscapes

    Whether we want to accept it or not, we are in the mid of the sixth mass extinction and a severe climate emergency. The figures are irrefutable.

    In the UK alone, we have destroyed well over half of our biodiversity since the Beatles broke up. The populations of birds, butterflies and wildflowers that once made our landscapes so lively have been utterly devastated. We seem blind to the notion that nature, climate, food and our own wellness are all linked.

    More naturalistic gardens (providing a wide range of habitats and food to wildlife), the avoidance of pesticides,  and the promotion of wildflower meadows instead of sterile lawns, can all be part of the solution.

    We have the duty to educate ourselves and inform the unaware clients, but also to respond professionally to those expecting sustainable solutions from us.

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