If we think of landscape gardening, we tend to imagine a country estate or park, but most landscape gardening happens in an urban setting.
The value is more than just aesthetic, important though that is. The Guardian reported last year on findings that link urban landscape gardening to public health, pointing out that “There is growing evidence that recognises planning, design and management of all landscapes should be guided as much by their importance for health as for all other functions. Even if public health is not the prime objective of a development it should be a consideration.”
This underlines the importance of the holistic approach to urban landscape architecture illustrated by ideas from landscape architects Liz Lake. Whether the project is a private garden or a public open space, a wide range of issues must not only be taken into account, but brought into harmony:
- The needs and budget of the client.
- The opportunities and constraints of the space.
- The proposed use for the space, by residents or the public.
- Horticultural needs and opportunities.
- Health opportunities.
- Environmental issues, such as handling of existing wildlife or tree protection zones.
- Aesthetic issues, including harmonising the space with the surrounding environment.
Challenges and Opportunities of Urban Landscapes
Although the issues of urban landscaping are important when designing gardens, it’s the planning of new residential, commercial or industrial developments that really offer the choice whether or not to help make the city healthier and more beautiful.
An article on the Gardeners’ World website, for instance, points out that many brownfield sites provide rich habitats for rare flora and fauna, while the well-manicured lawns they’re usually replaced with can be almost sterile. The challenge here is to turn unappealing demolition sites into beautiful landscapes sympathetically, without destroying the elements that created these habitats.
Planting for the City
The choice of what to plant is about far more than making the garden pretty, and this is especially true in urban landscaping. As the Telegraph points out, “Trees and woody plants…absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen during the day, making the air much cleaner.” This means, for instance, that planting hedges instead of building fences and walls not only makes the environment greener and more pleasant — not to mention attracting bees and butterflies — but also makes the whole city healthier to live in.
A new housing development, industrial site or shopping centre doesn’t have to mean more relentless urbanisation. In the hands of a landscape architect sensitive to the project’s holistic needs, it can become a beautiful, harmonious place that benefits the natural world as much as the countryside. And it may even contribute to the population living longer, healthier lives.