When Cities Grow Wild - Natural Landscaping from an Urban Planning Perspective

by John Ingram

2.0 Natural Landscaping: An Introduction

Across the continent, many private landowners and, to a lesser degree, public authorities, are adopting natural landscaping as an environmentally responsible alternative to conventional, horticultural landscaping. The objective of natural landscaping is to create ecologically sound and aesthetically pleasing sustainable urban landscapes through the use of plant species and communities native to the region. Natural landscaping, or naturalization as it is referred to by many public authorities, may be defined as:

The practice of designing, cultivating and maintaining plant communities which are native to the bioregion with minimal resort to artificial methods of plant care such as chemical fertilizers, watering other than natural precipitation, and mowing. The ultimate goal of natural landscaping is the harmonization and restoration of landscape features and functions with the ecosystem of the surrounding bioregion4.

In comparison to urban and residential landscapes dominated by mown grass, naturally landscaped areas are neither dependent on intensive human management for their upkeep, nor do they impose an entirely anthropocentric aesthetic order on the land (Meiner, 1997 in Nassauer, ed., 1997). Instead they represent inherently low maintenance, self-renewing landscapes that seek not only to restore elements of ecological integrity to the larger urban landscape, but also to foster new relationships between civic culture and the natural world. Indeed, landscapes realized through the process of natural landscaping can be extremely important teaching tools in helping reconnect urban populations with nature, a widely recognized first step in the direction of urban sustainability (CMHC/Federation of Canadian Municipalities 1995; Hough, 1995; Hough, 1994 in Platt et al., 1994). Given the larger ambitions of natural landscaping to create sustainable landscapes and their complementary societal values, many of its proponents think of it as both a process and a larger objective (Feagan, 1997). Considering the scope of its ambitions, its growing body of theory, its rapid growth in popularity and its open dismissal of commonly held notions of civic aesthetics, many of its advocates think of natural landscaping as a legitimate social movement. This thesis accepts the notion and will occasionally refer to the practice as a movement.

This chapters first section, The Problem with Conventional Landscapes, offers an explanation for what is wrong with the current landscape model and provides an overview of the conventions that natural landscaping seeks to replace. Separate sub-sections offer an historical explanation for the current standard and examine the associated environmental and economic costs and the negative societal implications of conventional manicured landscapes.

The next section, Natural Landscaping: a New Landscape Ethic?, returns to the subject of natural landscaping. Separate sub-sections expand the societal and environmental arguments for its adoption as a new landscape approach and provide an overview of the practices many associated ecological, societal and economic benefits. A further sub-section explores the potential applications of natural landscaping in the urban region in addition to discussing its limitations.

ing100.jpg (44016 bytes) hspace=Figure 1.0

Natural Landscaping in the Suburbs


A new development with a naturally landscaped area in foreground and naturalized storm water retention pond

(source: Urban Land Institute, 1994)

ing101.jpg (53379 bytes)Figure 1.1

...and in the City


A naturalized area in an urban park in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

(source: Platt et al., 1994)

leftarro.gif (913 bytes) ritearro.gif (931 bytes)
Back Next

Text and graphics copyright (c)1998, 1999 Wild Ones -- Natural Landscapers, Ltd.
All rights reserved. Updated April 17, 1999.

Return to the When Cities Grow Wild Contents Page

Return to the Wild Ones Home Page