Restoration gardening

Why would a garden designer create a restoration plan for a degraded gully? The scale, landscape and client are almost on opposite ends of the ‘outdoor design’ spectrum.

Garden designers like me generally work in urban landscapes: designing for intimate spaces around the home and striving to meet a brief that generally aims to create a private oasis for the owner, that is low maintenance, looks beautiful and allows for activities such as urban agriculture or children’s play. In contrast, restoration aims to turn the tide in a degraded landscape, supporting or returning plant and animal communities that once thrived in the local area. How can a garden designer be useful for such an enterprise? Particularly for restoration on public land around urban and peri-urban areas.

The ecologist in me thinks that for restoration to be a success, the human element in the landscape needs to be considered. If a landscape is degraded, it has a human history and likely people are still part of the landscape you are hoping to restore. Often restoration plantings commence with an enthusiastic community who want to get plants back into a denuded landscape. A species list is derived from descriptions of local vegetation, plants are ordered and the community gets out and has a happy time digging holes and scattering new plants across the area. Then they sit back and watch the successes and failures of plant survival and hopefully see a greening of the landscape.

But how often do these haphazard plantings create a corridor of vegetation that is impenetrable and uninviting to the local community that planted it? And then how often do these plantings get neglected because they haven’t created a space that people want to go back to, to check on, weed, nurture and celebrate?

By incorporating principles of garden design into planning for landscape restoration, I reckon restoration can be win-win for wildlife and people. The garden designer needs a good understanding of ecology to make planting choices that will create habitat for wildlife and communities of plants that will survive and coexist. But bringing a designers sensibility to restoration planning will help create spaces for people to connect with nature; spaces where people will feel comfortable and welcome in the landscape.

I’ve been taking this approach in designing a concept plan for a degraded gully near my home. So far the gully hasn’t inspired many folk in the local community to spend time there or care about what happens, let alone feel motivated to plant trees and weed. I’m hoping that by designing restoration plantings in a way that will create human spaces, good views and opportunities to enjoy the burgeoning natural communities, the gully will have the best chance to thrive, for people and wildlife.

Click here to read more about plans for this degraded gully.

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