This Week's Podcast: A Replay: Nearly Wild — Modern Landscape Design with Thomas Rainer
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Thomas Rainer is a landscape architect, teacher, and writer who has designed landscapes for the United States Capitol grounds, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the New York Botanical Garden. His new book, Planting in a Post-Wild World, written with co-author Claudia West, is a kind of manifesto pointing the way to what he believes is, or should be, the future of planting design. This is what they call ecological landscape design, based on how plants fit together in nature – what we call plant communities — and how we can use this knowledge to create landscapes that are resilient, beautiful, and diverse. Thomas says, “We have driven nature out of our cities, but we can invite it back in by designing landscapes that look and function more like they do in the wild.”
Amateur gardeners could enjoy this book with examples of modern, alternative landscape designs shown in photographs from the US and Europe. I had the privilege of visiting one private garden featured in the book. It is “Federal Twist” (below), created by blogger James Golden. Jim has reached a balance of native and exotic plants in the style of a community promoted in Planting in a Post-Wild World.
I see the book more as a guide for professional designers and landscape architects telling them how to make cohesive plantings in cities, on rooftops, on the edge of developed sites, and more. The book includes drawings and plans describing the layers of plant growth, for example, in human-made plantings in the style of communities.
Like the popular modern trend towards prairie-style plantings, the book says there is little point in banning exotic species since these landscapes are made in unnatural places – long free of native plants. People want color and clients demand it. Yes, but it would be good to also create examples with local plants from time to time.
Shouldn’t a plant community be sustainable, or stages in succession as meadows turn into forests? Is location and eye-appeal justification? You can decide for yourself.
In the meantime, look at what places like the Lurie Garden in Chicago and the High Line in New York City have done for commerce, and, frankly, for horticulture. Just be mindful, these are ornamental plantings that simulate nature and I suppose, make a good case for landscape design.