A Perfect Landscape?

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The art of gardening, like any other art form, remains a personal and individual expression. The idea of applying rules to gardening seems almost inconsistent with its aesthetic outcome. Although gardens are judged according certain pre-set criteria when entered into various landscaping and green industry competitions, narrow prescriptions on exactly how gardens should be designed and installed, should never be too restrictive as gardens are places where freedom of creativity is expressed.

A garden’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

However, rules are there for good reason, especially where garden installation is to be done within ‘vulnerable’ environments where ecosystems are already under threat and

legislative requirements apply. Green building requirements are giving new direction to landscape installations and determines specified fundamentals that are to be incorporated.

Natural phenomenons such as climate change demand a refocussed approach to resilient landscape installation and maintenance.

Therefore, although I am sometimes tempted to say: “When it comes to gardening, rules do not apply – just go with your creative intuition”, I know from my 20 years’ experience in the green industry, that guidelines and rules are constructive and if applied correctly, will result in a resilient landscape where the diversity of life and the elements thrive together in an interconnected system.

So what are the rules? Well, in an ideal garden, the mixture of colours, shapes, textures, lines and sizes are all artfully combined to form the perfect landscape. The application of these rules can be basic or complex depending on the landscape and the client’s requirements. Truth is, there is no ‘perfect’ landscape. We deal with sensitive and ever-changing ecosystems. These are fragile but dynamic systems affected by living things (animals, birds and humans) and, predominantly, the climate. Here lies the challenge: try not to disturb the already-fragile ecosystems. Always attempt to improve, or at least work in harmony with the existing landscape.

I agree, ecology, sustainability and landscaping are different fields, however when it comes to landscaping, these elements are intertwined. Thinking ecologically about landscaping is certainly not a “new” idea. These ideas have been around for decades, however some of the elements are becoming more prevalent as we try to cope with climate change and other environmental sustainability challenges.

It is all about water and it starts with good design and preparation

Despite doing what we can to limit our consumption and provide for the ecological future, natural resources like water continue to be an increased scarcity. The main focus behind creating a water-wise garden is to create a garden which is both attractive and thrives with minimal water. It starts with the design.

A good design makes installation and maintenance easier, and ensures correct application of water-wise features.

Soil preparation is important to ensure water-retention. The application of stones and rocks to serve as water insulation for root systems, may be effective. We could cut down on lawn areas and rather create an architectural feature that looks pleasing and is water-wise. Organic mulch is essential for retaining water and reduces evaporation. Irrigation systems are best for watering gardens as the amounts of water are controlled. Drip-irrigation is an even better water-saving tool, since it allows a set amount of water to drip onto plant beds and straight into the root systems, and can even make use of recycled rainwater. Rainwater and greywater harvesting to nourish eco-conscious gardens are becoming an essential landscape activity and innovations in this area are rife. Indigenous plants and shrubs are usually less thirsty than alien vegetation.

The list of things to do to create a water-wise garden is extensive and I have highlighted only a few in the paragraph above. The good news is that there any many new technologies driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) that are already available to make our challenges of taking care of the fragile ecosystems less daunting. Devices, drones and other items are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. These are already applied in the landscaping industry and will surely become more popular. All of these newly designed devices can help us to create the ‘perfect’ landscape. Question remains, do we want a ‘perfect’ landscape? Is a green space not supposed to be dynamic, evolving, growing, changing with its own set of ‘imperfections’? Ecosystems are dynamic and ever-evolving. Should we then strive to design and install ”perfect” award-winning landscapes, or should we focus on creating landscapes that are in harmony with ecosystems and that are, in the eye of the beholder, nevertheless beautiful?

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