Systems, Lifestyle, Imagination: Designing Gardens With Rick Darke

When Rick Darke approaches a landscaping project, he doesn’t begin by telling anyone to start planting natives. Instead, he approaches his projects – ranging in size from miles of area along Delaware’s highways to a quarter acre home in Florida – by focusing on lifestyle, ethics, and systems.

I caught up with Rick while he was aboard a train headed for one of his many presentations, this one at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn entitled: The Art of Observation:  Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary Landscape. Our call dropped five times, but Rick’s passion for creative, ecologically sound gardening could not be intercepted by a wireless signal!

Rick’s frustration with pushing native plants from a purely moral perspective came through loud and clear:

I am loathe to constantly talk about native plants out of context. I talk about a system.
We really have to understand systems, dynamics, intervening vegetative dynamics... We have to teach people to see the wonder of useful function and how they can be engaged.”

Rick believes managing the systems involved in a particular landscape is much more difficult than what might simply be called gardening. While we hear the anthem, “plant more natives,” the challenge is to learn how systems work and deal with them creatively, starting literally in our back yards.

How to think creatively think about landscape systems and design a garden space to meet the many needs of end users is one of the main issues Rick plans to cover at the upcoming conference. He believes negative examples aren’t motivating (don’t ever plant that!), and instead he plans to inspire the attendees to be imaginative. “Think about the benefits that a community of regionally indigenous plants brings to modern living.”

For example, Rick asks a homeowner about their “landscape ethics” by looking at the values they bring to their life. What do they do in their house, in their yard?  How do they enjoy the space? What do they expect the space to do for them or their area? “Places to walk, talk, eat, read, throw a ball for a dog or a child -- the landscape can do so many things.”

Rick notes that the desire for diversity, expressed by homeowners as, “pretty birds and butterflies,” is one of the first reasons he hears gardeners request natives. The point is, starting with the desires and lifestyles of the people in our gardens is a more effective way to encourage the use of natives than starting with a type of plant and asking people to work around it.

Just how creative is Rick going to get? Well, I’m pretty sure he was telling me about the outdoor shower in his garden in Pennsylvania – when two things happened.  First, a woman fell off the platform at the Newark stop (she was fine) and as soon as Rick recovered from that, our call dropped for the fifth time. Want to find out more – come to the conference!!

Thanks to our roving reporter from Washington, D.C.
Jessalyn Dingwell

see also:

Our own Everglades: delivering important ecosystem services


Desert Dweller said…
"Landscape ethics" and systems we are a part of - I think that says just about everything! Though how we can be a part of it is what designers do (or forget to do, for various good and bad reasons!)

WIsh I could attend your conference; it all looks good, and I highly recommend seeing Rick Darke's presentation.

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