Plant selection for ecologically minded gardens can be geographically wider-ranging; it need not be limited to a site’s native plants. Today’s cultural environmental consciousness sometimes tempts designers to try all- native plantings, but if a plant like blue flag(Iris Versicolor),which requires a lot of water, is planted with a little bluestem or Andropogon, which are adapted to dryer soils, one will fail. While all are North American Natives, they are not from the same ecologies. On the other hand, Echinacea grows wonderfully next to Salvia nemorosa, though they are form different continents.
It is useful to study naturally occurring plant communities in situ so that natural associations can be expanded upon and stylized in a garden setting. Another key component to the ecological style is choosing species that can be age and go dormant without grooming, by leaving forms with inherent structural interest or seed heads, for example. This celebrates the whole life cycle of a plant and is in opposition to planting styles where staking, deadheading, and generally intensive efforts are spent manipulating plants for compositional and/or aesthetic reasons.
Examples from Different Ecologies
Ecological plantings that blend species from around the globe create an overall effect of many different plants growing happily together, yet relating to one other in some perceptible way chosen by the designer. That being said, many designers take liberty with the various components of this technique. Piet Oudolf often plants in fairly defined groupings, for example, which creates a composed- looking and emotionally impactful design; he usually limits his color palette to muted tones to unite the whole. Roy Diblik, owner of North wind Perennial Farm in Burlington, Wisconsin, has fused the matrix style and plant choices similar to Oudolf’s into his own vocabulary that is painterly and sophisticated. His planting designs are inspired by the look and feel of the Midwest Prairies. He is adept at mixing plants from around the world, often combining grasses and perennials in equal parts. He looks to his native landscape for a point of departure and his planting plans strongly reflect the region he works and gardens in, as can be seen at his garden for the Art Institute of Chicago.
Adam Woodruff, a designer from Clayton, Missouri, has been strongly influenced by Piet Oudolf. He is a rising designer from the younger generation, with a deep knowledge of plants and a flair for visually intriguing combinations that result in artfully naturalistic gardens that look at home in this own corner of the Midwest. He has much to contribute and a long career ahead.
The talented group of gardeners at Chanticleer, near Philadelphia, never stop experimenting and never fail to put their own spin on current trends. The project featured here, a lawn near the pool, is a perfect example. The closely shorn, traditional prototype was thrown out in favor of a charmingly shaggy replacement studded with bulbs and self-sowing hardy annuals. The effect is imaginative and memorable. Elsewhere in the garden, they have mixed native cedars with little bluestem and backed them with the seed heads of sunflowers, they embrace innovative plant combinations and associations, much to the delight of visitors.
Ecological planting styles are perhaps even more useful and important for arid settings. Steve Martino, based in Phoenix, Arizona, has worked throughout the Southwest on projects that reflect this style, and which are based on his deep and direct experience with native desert flora. He relies heavily on native plants, but does not use them exclusively; he adds softness to his projects by incorporating desert perennials and ephemerals with the stronger and more expected forms of various cactus. The final result is a mood of lushness in the desert, although this at first seems like an oxymoron. He also creates bold architectural statements both with plant material and with a fearless application of color to hardscape elements. His gardens are dynamic and invigorating, making them a welcome respite in hot climates.