Far beyond its decorative features, landscaping brings with it biological and cultural issues that need to be addressed in projects. However, what can be seen in most public, residential, condominium, commercial and business gardens is a series of approaches that distance landscaping from all its attributes, reducing it to a decorative layer in the construction. Next, we have put together strategies to avoid the main problems of landscape design, joining aesthetics with its environmental and cultural possibilities.
According to Ricardo Cardim, in his book Paisagismo Sustentável para o Brasil (Sustainable Landscaping for Brazil), “the usual landscaping in contemporary Brazil is, in general, devoid of major environmental and functional concerns”. He also states that the landscaping market, involving both the projects and the sale of ornamental plants, follows a fad that results in “gardens disconnected from local natural, urban and cultural realities, offering limited ecosystem services and few possibilities of use by people”. Therefore, the garden, whether public or private, whose imagery is connected with the idea of a refuge in the midst of routine, a place for rest, appreciation and health, often goes unnoticed by people or becomes an image to be appreciated instead of a space to be occupied and lived.
The planned and designed garden needs to be connected at different scales. First, the gardens have the potential to be a space that has ecosystem services, which are benefits obtained from ecosystems that generate human well-being, which have been degraded due to the contemporary urbanization process. A garden can connect with the local fauna and flora, responding to its natural biome, bringing benefits both to the surroundings and to its users. In addition, the gardens also represent an opportunity to experience local nature, learning about seasonality, climate, fauna and flora, reestablishing the connection between human beings and nature, which was lost in the urban environment. Finally, gardens are a space for people to use, promoting leisure and self-care activities that bring benefits to society’s physical and psychological health.
However, as stated by Cardim in his book, there are some design strategies that need to be outlined so that gardens can reach their full potential. Here are four issues to keep in mind when it comes to landscape design:
Studying the Natural Environment
The native flora of each location is the result of thousands of years of evolution of Planet Earth, responding to topography, climate, humidity, seasonality and many other natural aspects. Landscaping projects, however, resist studying the natural environment and the original species of each biome, often falling into the ease of purchasing the species available on the market without much reflection on the impact that this can cause, resulting in projects lacking cohesion with the local natural landscape. Gardens, often disconnected from the native flora, combine plants from the most different biomes, climates and regions of the planet, even if almost imperceptibly, as in the case of “tropical gardens” which, from their density and remarkable diversity, end up using invasive species from other regions with similar characteristics. Aesthetics must not overlap with biological demands and definitions.
Seek Species Diversity
A selection of palm trees, in addition to other supporting species that have similar characteristics and a few more shrubs, arranged on a grass plane. These gardens filled with exotic plants are arid settings, with no biodiversity, and with almost no ecological role. According to Ricardo Cardim, the landscaping market reproduces landscape compositions around the world based on the repetition of 15 species from the global market for ornamental plants, which results in entire neighborhoods with a continuous and monotonous landscape. This homogenization of urban flora creates regions considered “green deserts”, in which invasive species impact the natural environment, causing environmental damage and also cultural identity damage.
Understanding Dry Squares and Gardens
The modern dry square continues to be reproduced in cities as much as it is adapted for buildings, creating low-density, uniform gardens with entire surfaces of stones and gravel, facilitating maintenance and with almost no interference in the building. The problem with this practice lies in knowing how to read the place and understand if its needs and natural characteristics allow the existence of this type of space, considering not only the landscape, but also its use. The same happens for the use of xeriscaping strategies, a methodology that intends to reduce the water consumption of the designed garden. Both of them start from arid places with low insolation, which justifies these strategies, while in tropical regions where both the average rainfall and insolation are higher, it is not necessary to apply the same solutions, running the risk of having a result that pushes people away and prevents them from enjoying the garden.
Balancing Decorative Strategies
Contemporary landscaping is often based on strategies that seek to reproduce impressions of the imagination of the past, such as the use of species with saturated colors, or even topiary techniques, which is the pruning of trees and shrubs creating geometric shapes or animals. These two strategies refer to European noble gardens, especially the French ones, and are linked to wealth and power. Likewise, another strategy is to reproduce themed gardens inspired by other cultures. All these decorative strategies use mainly non-native species in their configuration, in addition to detaching people from the true local natural environment.
Therefore, landscaping has great potential if, during the project, the local natural geography is recognized. The study of possible species to be implanted, with priority to natural species, the critical look at the ornamental plant market and, finally, the recognition of possible parties are necessary actions to design gardens made to be used, not just to be seen.
Reference: CARDIM, Ricardo 2022. Paisagismo Sustentável para o Brasil: Integrando natureza e humanidade no século XXI.