This week’s blog highlights our landscape division and its creative work. We’re featuring an Asheville landscape design done by Amy Nies, Landscape Designer, and project manager, Jason Hanna, General Manager of BB Barns Landscape. The goal is to show you, from beginning to end, the transition of an ordinary landscape into an extraordinary one.
This blog post highlights the incredible talent of B.B. Barns landscape and the visionary work of Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect and co-author of the book, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes. This is phase one. Two more blog posts will be posted in the upcoming months to allow you to follow the transition to the finished project.
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Let’s start with Rainer’s call to action.
The front lines of the battle for nature are not the Amazon rain forest or the Alaskan wilderness; the front lines are our backyards, medians, parking lots, and elementary schools. The ecological warriors of the future won’t just be scientists, engineers, or even landscape architects. The ecological warriors of the future will be gardeners, horticulturists, land managers, Department of Transportation staff, elementary school teachers, and community association board members. Anyone who can influence a small patch of land has the ability to create more nature. And the future nature will look more and more like a garden. Thomas Rainer (Quote from Rainer’s blog post, “Nature in the Future will Look More Like a Garden”.)
How does this translate to design work? Does it translate to the modern suburban landscape? Let’s find out.
the before picture
Rainer, a Washington, D.C.-based designer, is passionate about using plants to naturalize under-planted areas and create plant communities. In his book and many talks, he details the need for using plants not as “individual objects in a sea of mulch” but as “plant communities of interrelated species.” He urges designers to look closely at modern landscapes. How much is bare soil? How much is grass? Even in beds of shrubs and trees, how much-mulched soil is there?
Homeowners almost always ask for low-maintenance plantings, yet the design and implementation are done with acres of mulch, and few plantings are the exact opposite. Rainer suggests designers use herbaceous plantings grouped into naturalized plant communities to create a green mulch that is not only visually appealing but ecologically friendly, instead of the yards of mulch. . Using the tools of horticulture combined with the diversity of ecology, designers can create a well-designed, ecological landscape, using a three-tiered layered planting (refer to schematic picture #3 above). This design technique is what Nies and Hanna used in their design concept.
Below is an example of a designed but naturalized plant community. Designed by Rainer, this herbaceous border requires little maintenance, provides year-round color, and is more natural than our mulch beds with a tree, three shrubs, and a few perennials.
Nature is no longer “out there,” Rainer states because there is no pristine area of nature we haven’t disturbed. Nature is now suburbia or city-dwelling backyards, courtyards, and rooftops. The miles of green space spreading through backyard suburbia can be planted “for the pleasure of the homeowner and the butterflies,” for “the visual aesthetics, the ecology, and the community.” As development continues and more nature is removed, adding it back becomes the responsibility of each of us, and we do that in our backyards and communities.
So, can this concept indeed be used in a traditional landscape? Absolutely. Zoom in on Nies’ design below. It includes many plants and aesthetics in a typical, modern landscape–hydrangeas, Japanese maple, thunderhead pine, boulders, but look closer and notice the carex (‘Bunny Blue Hobb’), planted 150 plugs in one area, 300 in another (notation SF). There’s also green and gold (a shade groundcover), little bluestems (short grass), creeping thyme, and tiarella (foam flower). And no, Hanna won’t be installing 450-gallon containers of carex but will use plugs instead for quicker planting and tighter spacing.
Look again at the picture below. The present plantings are sparse. Notice in Nies’ design how densely the plantings are, but turf, trees, and shrubs still exist. Rainer’s concept can and does translate to a traditional landscape, but what is primarily open space now will be, as Rainer puts it, “nature in a garden.”
As we progress through this design process, we’ll delve deeper into Rainer’s concepts but encourage you to purchase his book. And we’ll discuss the after-design, real-time reality of this approach. Please join us as we move forward, and join our conversation. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank yous to Thomas Rainer for his pictures and inspirational book, to Amy Nies for the design, drawing, and photographs,
Written by Cinthia Milner, landscape consultant and blog writer.
B.B. Barns Garden Center serves all Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.