In the wake of environmentalism’s fervor for untamed nature, we find that many left over urban spaces are simply neglected and left to their own devices in the name of some idea of “naturalism”, this added to the decline in public spending on landscaping and urban public space upkeep, has led to most areas along public roads and smaller urban public parks looking like abandoned lots – in fact some vacant lots really do look better than the mish-mash of decrepit indigenous or wild native plants long past their prime that is usually now associated with “green space” and unfortunately this is often due to the lack of plant knowledge of landscape architects and horticulturists themselves who are swept up with this idea of planting indigenous or native. The use of improved varieties of “wild” plants and ecological design that artistically and in an intensely designed way sets out to create urban plantscapes that are colorful and interesting all year round, and blend many plant species together for a specific result, sets this “new wave” landscape apart – garden designers such as Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf, (Dutch master: the garden design genius of Piet Oudolf – Telegraph) have been influential in this regard as have the founders of the firm Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, this new garden The New York Botanical Garden will doubtless increase the exposure and the popularity of this trend, which might even thus spread to the Middle and Far East where the style I dub “Cake Decoration Style” of little clipped variegated hedges and trite masses of plants in serried ranks like so many ordered soldiers, still prevails. From the Washington Post By Adrian Higgins
Ramin Talaie/RAMIN TALAIE FOR THE WASHINGTON – Sheila Brady, principal with the DC firm of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates and the designer of the Native Plant Garden at The New York Botanical Garden stands for a photograph.
The garden rejects a conventional idea of presenting native flora as replicated eco-systems and instead gathers American plants with a gardener’s eye for color, texture, combinations, seasonal peaks and other aesthetic ambitions. The planting schemes are complex, and besides the mind-boggling number of plants involved — 90,000 perennials, grasses, bulbs, shrubs and trees in a 31 / 2-acre area — Brady and her collaborators have used varieties bred for improved garden performance.
For Brady, the project is a huge professional milestone. In Washington, the firm’s high-profile public work has included the National World War II Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the diplomatic campus in Van Ness known as the International Chancery Center.
The new garden sits on the site of a wildflower garden that has origins in the 1930s. Over the years, various habitats in miniature lost definition and coherence. “The inspiring display went out the window,” said Todd Forrest, the botanical garden’s vice president of horticulture and living collections.
The idea driving the new garden might be clear, for all its novelty, but its execution was anything but simple: Brady and Jody Payne, director of the native plant garden, pored over lists of as many as 3,000 species before whittling them to less than 500. Over two years, crews have installed such familiar fare as goldenrods and asters, and others known only to the cognoscenti. Brady points out a carpet of a wispy grasslike sedge that grows in dry shade and whose botanical name tells of its origins: Carex appalachica. “This is the finest textured of all the carexes,” she said.
At this point in her career, Brady had little difficulty finding the scale of the water feature; finding the form was far less so, until she saw a winglike sculpture by Martin Puryear on show at the National Gallery of Art. “I went to see the show and bam, I got it,” she said.
Art as a source of inspiration has been an abiding facet of her work. After she graduated from George Washington University (many of her classes were at the Corcoran), she moved to Boston, where her husband, architect John Lederer, was working. Brady, then a graphic designer, one day saw a set of plans in her husband’s office. Intrigued that lines on a page gave life to a physical world, she decided to follow her husband as an architect. But then she stumbled across the Harvard Graduate School of Design and chose instead to become a landscape architect.
In the 1970s, it was a profession gripped with the ideals of modernism and the issues of postwar suburbanization. At best, plants were thought of more as architectural elements than organisms that could form ecosystems; landscape architects viewed themselves as design professionals, not gardeners.
“The profession was almost ashamed of the word ‘landscape,’ ” said Eric Groft, who now owns OvS with Brady and a third landscape architect, Lisa Delplace. The firm is headquartered in a former bank building next to the Marine Corps Barracks, in Southeast Washington. “There were firms who didn’t let their staff touch a plant, whereas Wolfgang was out there half-naked installing gardens,” he said, referring to Wolfgang Oehme, a German designer and plantsman who settled in Baltimore and later formed the firm with James van Sweden.
This is especially found at the Chicago Botanical Garden, where Brady led the design of two major areas.
Her work there helped convince the New York institution to award what was a plum contract to OvS amid stiff competition. The botanical garden occupies 250 acres in a green oasis in the Bronx. OvS was selected because of its long history of using plants boldly, Forrest said, but it was “Sheila’s recent work that sealed the deal,” he said. “It was only going to be successful if the plants read beautifully.”
Purists talk of using “indigenous” plants found close to a given locale, but Brady and Payne freely used plants from Virginia to Maine.
The interface of ecology and horticulture is often a fractious one. Native plant advocates argue that the widespread use of introduced plants — burning bush, privet and wisteria, for example — has led to the degradation of natural areas and the wildlife food web by invasive exotics. But the new garden is meant as a positive example, Forrest said, not as some sort of gardening imperative.
“If it was a scolding idea, we would have impaired our ability to inspire people,” he said.“It’s our generation’s contribution to the institution’s 120-year history of engaging people with plants of the Northeastern United States,” Forrest said.
Its contemporary design anchors it in its time. Brady said when future generations look back on the garden, she hopes people will see it as “the real integration of ecology and site and design and horticulture.”