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On Trend

Cityscape taps into the genius of Canopy Landscape Architects’ Gabe Ross and Paul Roper-Gee for the lowdown on the international landscape design trend of New Perennial Planting. New Perennial Planting or Contemporary Naturalism has been sweeping landscape and garden design in Europe and North America for the last couple of decades. Designers like Dutchman Piet Oudolf (who created the brilliant planting schemes on the New York High-Line, pictured left, and the Lurie Garden in Chicago, right) evoke the look and feel of wild landscapes, and take their design cues from how plants grow naturally together in the environment. Formal, highly-structured layouts are eschewed for an informal style inspired by the natural plant associations and ecological communities found in grasslands, forests and wetlands.

This naturalistic planting approach makes extensive use of ornamental grasses combined with flowering perennials and bulbs massed together in a seemly chaotic but overall cohesive mosaic of texture, colour and forms. The natural life cycle of a plant is celebrated throughout the seasons – the ‘skeletons’ and frosted seedheads of perennial plants in winter are considered as valuable as their blooms at the height of summer.

We are interested in how this planting style can be adapted to a New Zealand context, and incorporate our unique native plant species with additional colour and vibrancy provided by locally adapted exotic perennials. We can find inspiration from the tussock grasslands and forests of the high country, wetlands, and coastal areas, as well as pockets of urban wilderness like roadside verges and vacant land that have been colonised by a mix of exotic and native weeds and wildflowers.

Tips for creating your own naturalistic planting design:

  1. Look at how plants in our natural environment grow together for ideas.
  2. Choose plants that suit the specific climate and soil conditions in your garden – work with what you’ve got and you will be rewarded with a great landscape that requires less maintenance.
  3. Use ornamental grasses (native and exotic) as the backbone of your planting, supported with a succession of different bulbs, annuals, and perennial plants to give year-round interest.
  4. Experiment with different plant combinations – value the form and texture of plants as much as their colour.
  5. Be aware of problem weed species that can become a maintenance problem on and off your property.

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