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Razende reporters – Planting for the future

Artikel door Shanna Koppejan

There I stood, with a huge backpack and a suitcase I could not carry, in a new country that looks surprisingly much like the Netherlands. Moving to another country does not guarantee more topography apparently. However, I luckily quickly realized that the landscape changes a lot when only driving up for an hour (from the south of Sweden). There you will actually find some hills and big forests. Nonetheless, I kept coming across a lot of similarities and Dutch peculiarities. First of all, at least 1/10 of the exchange students there were Dutch.. I knew Dutch people always seem to be everywhere, but I did not expect us to be with that many. Also, during my course Advanced planting design I discovered that the swedes seem to be huge fans of Piet Oudolf. His book Dream plants was almost directly translated to Swedish even though it is a language spoken by only around 11 million people. It also meant that during my course I was learning more about a Dutch guy than about any other designer.

In this text I would love to share some ideas I learned in the course on planting design, because I felt like I was lacking this knowledge and it is such an important part of a design in landscape architecture. Planting design can have a lot of impact on the atmosphere of the overall design. Think about the impact a tree or bush can have. We, for example, had a lecture about research that discovered that the removal of the understory in a small park had a significant positive influence on perceived safety.

Figure 1: Planting in Stadsparken, Lund

Also, choosing certain plants can contribute to or worsen sustainability in a design. A certain budget can limit a design, but irrigation of a design for example is also highly unsustainable. The Swedish designer Peter Korn works with gravel as a soil for the plants. He grows highly-drought tolerant plants in this soil that can be seen as future plants for cities, because cities are warming up significantly due to climate change. He also experiments with different plantings for rooftop gardens in his nursery. In his book Peter Korn’s garden, Giving plants what they need he shows how easily different micro-climates can be created within your own garden. He also explains that looking at landscapes from nature with similar conditions is the best source of inspiration. Think about mountain sides in warmer countries for example. The higher up the slope, the similar the climate is to parts of Sweden. Therefore these plants can be grown in this country. Peter Korn also grows several plants from a French nursery in his garden. This way the hardiness of species can be tested in a colder and wetter climate.

Figure 2: A try-out rooftop garden by Peter Korn

Still, I cannot ignore Piet Oudolf in a discussion about sustainable plant design. He is a professional in choosing plants that work extremely well together. They compete in similar strengths and handle the climates of his plantings great. A distinction can be made between his previous work and his work nowadays. You all probably know the beautiful drawings of his with the blocks of plantings, which look like abstract art. These drawings are mainly his earlier work although he still does work with block plantings sometimes. However, he started using mixes later on. For these mixes a module is made, which is mostly a plant design for 1 m2 which will then be repeated over a certain area. This often reduces costs, but it can also be more sustainable, because the plants support each other and can fill up appearing holes in a design. Therefore, for these mixes it is common to choose the following types of plants: structure plants, companion plants, weavers, and ground covers.

Figure 3: A Piet Oudolf design in Halmstad

In this short text, it is already apparent that there are many ways of thinking about sustainability and maintenance in a design. To me it was an important realization that these play a big role in landscape design. It also gave me a bigger appreciation for the plantings I was seeing around me in Sweden and back in the Netherlands.

Of course, not only was the course a valuable and educational addition, but also all my other experiences in Sweden. More than anything, I recommend anyone to take their opportunities to go abroad.

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