Gardening for the Future: Why Responsible Beauty Matters

Gardening for the Future: Why Responsible Beauty Matters
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Guest Rant by Fran Sorin

There has been a tremendous amount of often rancorous debate about the use of natives vs. non-native plantings in designing gardens over the past several years.

Thanks to the internet and our ability to take advantage of viewing photos and videos of gardens around the world, if you’re curious, you can learn a tremendous amount about garden design, xeric gardening, and just about anything else that your heart desires when it comes to gardening.

But what is still lacking is a focus on beauty and how being surrounded by the beauty of nature is absolutely necessary in order for the human spirit to soar.

Oh, not that beauty doesn’t matter to gardeners! Indeed it does–as witnessed by the millions of us who are working non-stop to transform our plots of land into a personal paradise.

This is a tricky subject to discuss because Western culture, by in large, is of the firm belief that beauty is an individual undertaking; not to be disturbed by us disrupters who think that the concept of  “responsible beauty” takes precedent over “freedom of choice” when creating a landscape.

Now I’m not talking about the beauty of the natural landscape. Or sitting on a park bench and watching the sun glistening through the leaves of a tree.

I’m talking about the wholesale and retail nursery trade making a commitment not to market plants as clothing manufacturers and retailers would in the rag trade—always needing to come up with the latest fashion in order to keep their buyers’ appetites whetted.

I’m talking about our public parks and gardens raising their standards to a higher level so that we are exposed to and can take advantage of unbridled beauty. When we spend time in a public garden or park, we should have such an awesome experience that it leaves an indelible footprint on our consciousness and affect us in ways we can’t even imagine—but at the same time inspires us to plant responsibly.

I’m talking about home gardeners educating themselves on what specimens to plant that will attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and beneficial insects; as well as specimens that offer food and shelter to our beloved wildlife.

Quite frankly, the conversation about having the right to choose what we plant in our garden has run its course. Letting everyone define their own aesthetic makes no sense when the very existence of bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, wild life, and the native plants that they depend on is now in question–as well as our own health and survival.

We are at a tipping point in the world of garden making.

Responsible beauty in the garden not only matters but is critical!

We don’t need to re-create the wheel when it comes to designing glorious landscapes that will catapult us into a state of awe but at the same time create a healthy and thriving environment for all living things.

There are several talented designers throughout the world who already exemplify this model. Piet Oudolf, the world renowned Dutch landscape designer, may be the leader of the pack. But dozens of others, including my colleague Noel Kingsbury, are leaving a positive imprint on this treasured earth of ours.

So wake up and make the commitment to plant a responsible and outrageously dazzling garden! If you don’t want to do it yourself, then be discerning enough to hire the right people to do it for you.

After all, we’re talking about the future health and well-being of our children. Isn’t that enough of a reason to take action?

Fran Sorin is the author of  Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through GardeningSign up for Fran’s Newsletter and gain access to her free 1000 Digging Deep Book and Online Course Giveaway which has just gone live on her website.

Posted by

Fran Sorin

on October 14, 2016 at 7:59 am, in the category Guest Rants.


    • skr
    • 30th June 2016

    Responsibility isn’t an aesthetic. That’s like telling architects that they need to design buildings that don’t fall down in order for those buildings to be beautiful. I don’t know anyone working in the industry that doesn’t take environmental considerations to heart as part of their every day practice.

    • skr
    • 28th July 2016

    Yes new plants present a risk of invasiveness but considering that less than 1% of introduced plants become invasive, it’s a weak argument. Besides, most of the good growers that I know test new introductions in demo gardens for invasiveness these days. As far as displacing other plants, sure that happens. There are plenty of plants that aren’t being grown regularly anymore. Sometimes there is a good disease and pest reason for that but sometimes it’s just fashion. But they are only gone from the nurseries. They are still out there in gardens contributing to biodiversity and can be brought back with cuttings or seed. My experience is that it is typically just a specific cultivar that falls out of favor not the whole species.

    • admin
    • 30th October 2016

    I am an architect and designer. I believe many are responsible both in conscientious building of structures and in sustaining site design. My own garden is fully planted with many navitars and some true natives, but I have to admit some of the most bee attracting plants are non-natives and seeding annuals (Verbena bonariensis – butterflies love it) later in the year when other navitar plants are resting or have gone dormant. Bees swarm the Verbena, Perovskia and Caryopteris, even passing by the Rudbeckia, Solidago and Aster novae-angliae in the same garden. I think many times it has to do with how hydrated a garden is during the growing season. We have had severe drought and I have had to water just to keep even the water-conserving natives blooming. Keeping the gardens in bloom for wildlife is a responsibility too. As far as garden aesthetics, yes, many of these gardens are weedy looking, but they are the ones with a month of down time or huge spaces of brown “sticks”. The key is having the garden blooming all growing season long. There are many tricks to have the garden in bloom through the long growing season too. It may take annuals that reseed, sensible non-native plants as I mentioned, and native plants like those late bloomers all having differing and sequential bloom times. Just a few thoughts that not all professionals aim for aesthetics first and only.

    • Fran Sorin
    • 31st October 2016

    Dear Donna,

    • Cathy
    • 4th November 2016

    Fran, the same thing happened here in our community with the rebuilding and landscaping of one of our community parks. I asked the city manager about it. There is no garden club in this community and while the public works director apparently did ask some gardening people, thwere wasn’t a thoughtful design that combines aesthetics as well as xeriscaping and the needs of wildlife. Based on our discussion, that will change for future projects. But like Philly, we missed a huge opportunity here to plant a beautiful sensory and wildlife friendly garden.

    • Fran Sorin
    • 10th November 2016
    • skr
    • 11th November 2016

    Every single client I’ve had this year wanted to make sure they had plants that would attract butterflies and hummingbirds. As goes California so goes the country. It’s only a matter of time before it percolates out to the rest of the country.

    • Fran Sorin
    • 15th November 2016

    Dear Laura,

    • Leslie N Inman
    • 15th November 2016

    “You have probably never thought of your property as a wildlife preserve representing the last chance we have to sustain plants and animals that were once common throughout the US. But that is exactly the role our suburban and urban landscapes are now playing – and will play even more in the near future.

    • Leslie N Inman
    • 15th November 2016

    “Since we have taken 95 percent of the U.S. from nature, we can expect to lose 95 percent of the species that once lived here unless we learn how to add the native plants they need for their very existence. It’s our responsibility make our living, working, and agricultural spaces habitat friendly for wildlife. Ninety-five percent of all plants and animals! Now there is a statistic that puts climate-change predictions of extinction to shame.” Doug Tallamy

    • skr
    • 16th November 2016

    Tallamy is a bit of an alarmist that cherrypicks data. His 95% number is a ridiculous assumption based on the premise that only undisturbed land can support species. This is simply untrue.

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