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Inspiration for Garden Design Round Table

One of my great joys in life is spending time in nature.  I find this is the best way for me to be recharged and inspired to solve the many riddles we face as landscape designers.  Studying how plants, rock, water, and sky combine in a place with little human disturbance gives me the best clues to move forward with design details.  This includes land shaping to move water.  Transforming it from a waste, where it is not needed, to a resource, where it gently soaks into the soil, providing long-term benefits to nourish those plants as well as recharging that watershed.

Raingarden at work
Raingarden at work

ESI Raingarden June 2012 Raingarden in Bloomprairie-5

This knowledge from nature helps me discern proper selection of plant diversity that, when added back into a highly disturbed site, will thrive with only minimal care.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of backpacking through the Olympic Mountains in mid-summer.  There was plenty of snow still melting in July.  On one south facing slope, covered with fine rock scree sliding down the steep pitch, we hiked through a stunning display of wildflowers.  There were masses of color all artfully arranged by a designer who knew how to hold back this temporary moisture, and ensure a gorgeous display of blooms to attract the essential pollinators.  Without them there would be little viable seed.  Of course, we were in the middle of a million acre wilderness.

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This designer was the time required for colonization and succession ever since this valley was full of glacial ice ten thousand years ago.  The natural process of selection guided an assemblage of plants that could thrive despite a short growing season, freezing overnight temperatures even in mid-summer, and other stresses we rarely face as garden designers.


Now, when I recall that mountain slope, it is my dream to recreate as much beauty when faced with urban challenges of hot pavement and walls, drought followed by floods of runoff, winter deicing chemicals, trampling by pets or people, and grazing by too many rabbits and deer.  Natural settings give me the inspiration to create a community of plants that can stand up to comparable challenges and stresses.  Taking time to find settings where plants have evolved to handle similar conditions is a key to successful urban ecological restoration.

Nursery growers inspire me.  Those experts who are able to harvest seed from plants adapted to these tough conditions, get them to germinate, and grow seedlings up to a size that are viable when we transplant them out into our projects.  Without their expertise we would not have the diversity of species to choose from when we are planning our roof top meadows or raingardens.

Educators inspire me.  They are the wondrous few who have the special ability to translate their understanding of plant ecology, landscape design, and construction techniques; and then communicate those ideas in books, lectures and projects they design and install to inspire us to go beyond what we had thought possible.  I am grateful for all these ways I’ve grown, and will continue growing, as an ecological designer.

Please follow these other links to other Garden Designers Roundtable blogs and hear how other designers have been inspired.

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Jenny Peterson : J Peterson Garden Design : Austin, TX

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA