Public gardens: A new model blossoms

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 

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.

How do you open a $15 million public garden, New York-style?You invite a tramload of benefactors, give them an elegant lunch in a historic stone barn, and when you cut the ribbon, you sing a couple of verses of “America the Beautiful” — with the help of an international opera star — in this case, Simon O’Neill, a tenor also tackling Wagner at the Met.
Amid this cultivated scene one recent Friday, you might have noticed a petite woman in a black dress, a lime-green scarf and with piercing blue-gray eyes. She seemed both joyful and a little detached, as though she were an artist taking it all in, which, as it turns out, she was. “It was just a whirlwind, and really great,” said Sheila Brady, the designer of the New York Botanical Garden’s new native plant garden.Brady is a Washington-based landscape architect who has spent much of the past five years working on the garden with her colleagues at Oehme van Sweden Landscape Architects — OvS — alongside a team at the botanic garden.Together they have created an exemplary garden — important to the institution and significant to the cause of contemporary landscape design and horticulture.

The new Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Garden has been selected as a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative conceived by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden. The project will culminate in a display garden showcasing native plants of the Northeast region, including a wide spectrum of habitat and microclimate. To quote Todd Forrest, Vice President for Horticulture and Living Systems at the New York Botanical Garden, in his April, 2009 article for Public Garden, this will be “a new kind of native plant garden, one that distills the beauty of the region’s natural landscapes rather than simply attempting to replicate them.”

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.

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