All Eyes on ‘Plan Bee’

Pollinator Week Draws Diverse Attention

The third week in June is home to National Pollinator Week, a week that the U.S. Federal Government and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) officially set aside in 2006 to steer our focus toward the plight pollinators are facing. It’s estimated that a quarter of all invertebrates are pollinators and in the past 35 years, invertebrate populations have decreased by about 45%, while the human population has doubled (University College of London, 2014). In earth time, 35 years is about as long as it takes for a person to blink. If this much diversity can be lost that fast, our actions must also be as swift. Fortunately this year, all hands were on deck, from local parks departments all the way up to the President of the United States. But what was accomplished? And…is it enough?

Monarch populations are at a mere 10% of what they were just 20 years ago (Center for Biological Diversity, 2014) and domesticated honey bee stocks have decreased 58% in 58 years (National Research Council, 2007). In response, POTUS announced the release of an unprecedented action plan to call national attention to the population devastations happening to wild and managed pollinators. The White House Pollinator Research Action Plan outlines issues pollinators are facing and highlights priority actions for a cornucopia of public and private groups. This is the first administration to actively address the issue of pollinator decline to the public and that is a huge step. It is also following through with its promises of creating databases of more accessible information.

But the problem is the document is filled with words like “identify,” “understand,” “determine,” and “research.” The key word lacking here is “do.” How can this be called an action plan when it is missing key action words? Even when action is mentioned, some of the measures have existed for years already. These are not necessarily new advances to protect pollinators, but rather are a distraction from our relatively unbridled pesticide use and the paucity of suitable habitat as a result. I can’t say I am surprised though. When 25% of the global agrochemical market is neonicotinoids, you are bound to run into some red tape (National Resource Defense Council, 2014). Luckily, there are groups spreading the message to put pressure on the government to make big changes…and fast.

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Spring Cutback: A Model for Maintenance

image: Liz Ligon

image: Liz Ligon

“Landscape design is the art that engages with all aspects of a sustainable world: elemental forces, materials, humans and other living beings. Thus it is the responsibility of landscape artists to create the work and develop the aesthetics that will make experiences of a sustainable world highly enjoyable and desirable.”
–Diana Balmori, FASLA, A Landscape Manifesto

In late March, the Friends of the High Line team began its annual “Spring Cutback.” For most perennial gardeners, and especially those who align themselves with the Piet Oudolf “New Perennial” aesthetic, the process of cutting back ornamental grasses and the skeletons of last season’s herbaceous perennials is as much a harbinger of spring as the first bulbs poking through the soil. In New York City this process is no different, as volunteers flock to the High Line to play a part in the preparation of the park’s plantings for another year of glorious, wild exuberance. This community event has quickly become a tradition that many New Yorkers mark on their gardening calendars, and it has particular relevance to landscape architects who are interested in creating well-maintained, long lasting, and luxuriantly planted urban environments.

The most limiting force exerted on planting design is maintenance. A recent ASLA survey of emerging trends for 2015 in residential landscape design emphasized “low maintenance landscapes” as one of the top consumer demands. Landscape architects often justifiably associate complex planting maintenance requirements with increased operational costs and consider it a potential obstacle to the long-term sustainability and viability of the landscapes they design. These constraints have spawned an exciting branch of planting design research in Europe, where pioneering horticultural ecologists like James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett at the University of Sheffield are developing seed mixes and modular planting systems that can be implemented in public spaces to provide an exuberantly diverse aesthetic spectacle with minimal maintenance involved.

These are indeed exciting developments and must continue, but what the High Line Spring Cutback illustrates is that there is another strategy to ensure diverse, ecologically functional and aesthetically engaging plantings thrive in urban public spaces. Rather than propose a planting like those being developed in Europe that thrive on neglect, the High Line’s model requires that the planting designer craft a vegetal environment that is so undeniably beautiful and easy to fall in love with that its life will never be in danger, regardless of economic circumstances.

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Pollinators & the City

image: Samantha Gallagher via Bee Safe Alexandria

image: Samantha Gallagher via Bee Safe Alexandria

Saving Native Bees to Save Diversity

Bees are one of nature’s biggest celebrities. They have been on the cover of Time magazine, written about in The New York Times, and featured in multiple documentaries with various celebrities. And there is good reason for it. Bees are responsible for the pollination of the majority of foods, including almonds, blueberries, avocados, and watermelons, as well as the pollination of many flowering landscape plants. Bees are a keystone species, and we need to rehabilitate their populations or face a serious change in the composition of our landscape and meals…which is not something I take lightly. Take away blueberries and avocados and I would have an anxiety attack. But my work is about much more than just saving the bees. It’s about biological design as everyday practice. It’s about changing policy and education to support the creation of living landscapes and not monocultures. It’s about diversity on all scales of life because diversity attracts diversity. And it all starts with bees.

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Piet Oudolf’s Garden for Hauser & Wirth

Design concept image: Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Design concept
image: Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Piet Oudolf’s planting designs for such high-profile projects as Chicago’s Lurie Garden in Millennium Park and New York’s High Line have created a definitive “new perennials” style that he describes as “romantic, nostalgic, not wild, organic, spontaneous” in an article in The Telegraph. His gardens can be recognized by their large sweeps or drifts of tall perennial varieties and more naturalized plant choices, which create blocks of color and texture that weave the eye through the garden. Veronicastrum, Sanguisorba, Cimicifuga, Miscanthus, Rudbeckia, and Eupatorium are several perennials that often populate his signature gardens.

At Hauser & Wirth Somerset, a new gallery and arts center in Southwest England that will open this July, Oudolf is further developing his style to include combination groups of perennials, grasses, and groundcovers in his stylistic development as a garden designer. Additional cultivars and variously scaled selections will be arranged in repeating clumps versus the usual expansive drifts.

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Creating a Native Planting Design Style

image: Adam Woodruff

image: Adam Woodruff + Associates

The Planting Design PPN, chartered in 2012 in response to ASLA members’ interest in the subject, creates many opportunities for examining the area of planting design and  horticultural selection within the bigger picture of categorical expertise in our profession. As PPN Chair, I am charged with seeking interesting contributions for The Field. So, traveling along the internet I came across a planting design style for a modern prairie picture that truly took my breath away! It turns out that garden designer Adam Woodruff, of Adam Woodruff + Associates in Clayton, MO, was able to travel extensively to develop his planting design style. Landscape architect Thomas Rainer found Adam’s work breathtaking, too, and in his spare time between teaching at the College of Professional Studies at The George Washington University and his position as Associate Principal at Rhodeside & Harwell, a leading national urban design and landscape architectural consulting firm, he’s written a great re-cap of Adam’s travels and professional thoughts. Check out Thomas’s blog, Grounded Design, for additional planting design-themed posts!
–Deirdre E. Toner, Affiliate ASLA, Planting Design PPN Chair

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Planting Design Annual Meeting Preview

image: Deirdre Toner

image: Deirdre Toner

With the ASLA Annual Meeting coming up fast, I would like to remind everyone about the PPN Networking Reception on Friday, November 15 at 5:15pm and the Planting Design PPN Meeting on Sunday morning, November 17, 10:10-10:45am, where we will look at a summary of the results from our 2013 Planting Design Survey and strategize together for the information you’d like to receive from your PPN in 2014. See you there!

Here’s a glance at the events and education sessions with a particular emphasis on planting design.

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Chelsea Flower Show 2013

RBC Blue Water Roof Garden image: Adam Woodruff

RBC Blue Water Roof Garden
image: Adam Woodruff

As May and June are such busy months for landscape architects and designers, the opportunity to visit the Chelsea Flower Show (CFS) is usually a far and away bucket list item.  Adam Woodruff, of Adam Woodruff & Associates located in Clayton, Missouri, visited CFS 2013 and created a wonderful post on his website that showcases a wonderful slide show.  He showcases every garden, including detailed pictures of plant material and design in each bed. There are some amazing combinations of plant materials, which can be inspiring to see in bloom!

View Adam’s images on the ADAM WOODRUFF + ASSOCIATES website.

by Deirdre Toner, Planting Design PPN Co-chair


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