Every June I take a few days off to visit public gardens of all sorts in the northeastern US to observe firsthand what horticultural trends are new, what design ideas are being expressed, in short what can I glean for inspiration, and incorporate into my own gardens and design practice? This is relaxing, great fun and especially important when considering tactics for crafting educational content geared toward suburban Long Island, NY college students studying horticulture and landscape design who overwhelmingly favor formal gardens abundant with clipped foundation plantings, turf, heat loving tropicals and trendy annuals, supercharged with seemingly never ending inputs of chemicals and water.
My preference? Informally designed gardens, with sweeping curves, utilizing the practice of designing systems modeled from ecological relationships, and incorporating food-producing plants, collections of mostly native plants arranged in a matrix according to like-minded needs, with plenty of spaces for people to sit and observe their surroundings.
After another day of solitary weeding in my school’s Sustainable Garden I started to wonder what triggers young suburban students — heck the majority of American suburban dwellers — to favor formality over informality, turf over flowering pollinator-friendly gardens, cookie-cutter placement of the same plants grounded within wide swaths of bark mulch, versus employing a myriad of plants suitable for the suburban, residential landscape, selected for each unique setting and artfully arranged together so they can take the place of mulch?
As the summer sun beats down daily I wonder, while working in the garden, what can be done to encourage everyone, everywhere, to reconsider the making of landscapes grounded in the geography of nowhere, and employ aspects of the alternative models I’ve recently seen firsthand — from Burle Marx, to Chanticleer, to James Rose, and Mt. Cuba, and utilize sustainable practices too.