ecological design using native plantings 04/2016


When choosing the plantings to landscape your home, key considerations will most likely include beauty, functionality, longevity and cost. Why not add environmental sustainability to your priority list? Choosing the right "native" flora goes a long way in promoting a healthy ecosystem around your home.


We had a great lesson on plant material selection during a recent visit to a wooded property in New Hampshire. On the property was the foundation of a house that burned to the ground 25 years prior. An old timer who was familiar with the area described the extensive formal gardens that had originally surrounded the house and had been undamaged by the fire. After the misfortune, the property was abandoned and nature took over. Fast forward 25 years and there is almost no sign of the original landscape design. Some evidence remained of the lawn terraces, but otherwise only two plantings from the original gardens remained: a few of the original lilacs and some rhododendrons. In place of the original manicured lawns and formal plantings grew native ferns and river birches, red twig dogwoods and mountain laurel. It was an absolutely beautiful sight to behold. Rather than showing us simply that the original design had failed, the lesson here is to choose plant materials that are beautiful but also thrive in your gardens natural environment.



Of course, there is beauty in non-native formal gardens and there’s nothing better than a lawn for playing with your kids. But why not just dial back on their use in your landscape design? A small lawn area with good sight lines from the house provides a great play area for kids or a place to lounge in the sun. You’ll save money and improve the natural ambiance. Native planting often suggests a rambling woodland garden in New England or a desert landscape out West, and if you’re a lover of symmetrical formal gardens, this can present a conundrum. Working with the talented landscape architect Stephen Stimson on our Modern Blueberry Farm proved that there is a solution to this perceived dilemma. The outdoor space he created has striking geometric plantings that complement the horizontal lines of the architecture. The design extends the line of the house into the landscape with linear and horizontal plantings. The sense of entry to the home’s front gate is heightened as one passes though layers of clipped hedges. Rather than a privet or boxwood hedge to define the entry, Stimson chose a red twig dogwood pruned to form a hedge. It's a hearty drought tolerant plant that has a beautiful fall berry and winter branching structure. Complementing the dogwood hedge is a geometric planting of cinnamon ferns. A linear planting of New England Maples provide structure and shade to the composition.


Try to lean towards what makes sense for the natural surroundings of your outdoor spaces. I guarantee that the final product will be more vibrant and alive than you ever imagined.


Text by Colin Flavin, AIA
Flavin Architects