Uncertainty – political, economic, meteorological, you name it - hangs heavily over the year ahead but there are some clearly emerging trends landscape designers could profitably tap into in the next 12 months.
Water conservation pressures are growing. SUDS (sustainable drainage systems) are increasingly being promoted across the UK, and are now mandatory in Scotland for all new developments. Nature’s way of draining, and of often reusing water in an environmentally friendly way, SUDs may soon be required everywhere, and it won’t be long before retrofit pressures start growing too.
There are various ways to achieve better water use – filter strips, green roofs and flow attenuation, and so on – all of which can also improve biodiversity. But the important thing is to plan them in early, right from the start of any project.
Edible gardens could catch on in new developments with communal areas. Blocks of flats would be ideal areas for people to cultivate their own vegetables in planters. As well as providing a healthy and inexpensive food source, the activity that goes into edible planting can promote wellbeing and pleasurable physical activity. With the fast ageing population, you’ll also need to consider wheelchair access and whether the flower beds should be raised for easier access. North-facing walls will be particularly suitable for growing plants or vines in containers.
As well as water conservation measures, climate change is encouraging more ecological gardens. Planting schemes that are drought resistant are being seen more and more, as are developments incorporating wildflowers and perennial meadows. The beauty of these types of schemes is that they also provide a habitat where insects can thrive. Metal arches, hanging baskets and pergolas, making extensive use of Corten steel, are perfect complements in these settings.
So too are well populated planters, which offer great pickings for bees. Plant them in threes and fives, so they conserve energy while hunting for pollen and nectar.
Biosecurity will increasingly become the watchword of every landscape designer this year. Awareness is growing of the danger posed by imported semi-mature trees. Nine plants are banned because of Xylella risk, unless they have been in the UK for 12 months: lavender, rosemary, hebe, coffee, prunus, polygala, olive, oleander and Spartium junceum. Semi-matures must now be sourced and grown in the UK (from seed or in the UK for 12 months), or if imported, held and monitored for three months.
This year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show will feature all these trends in action and should be firmly penciled into every landscaper’s diary (21-25 May). The main theme of this year’s show will be designs that explore the positive powers of plants and, says the RHS, will tackle hard-hitting issues – from climate change, pollution and the fragility of ecosystems to improving the mental and physical health of people.
One garden exploring the positive effects that plants have on human health has been designed with a practitioner of Kampo – a system of Japanese herbal medicine – and celebrates the route to health and happiness through plants.
Plants that feature in the garden will be carefully selected for their health-giving, beneficial qualities, with some of them able to help with curing a fever, relieving aches and keeping the body warm.
Another garden will use trees, plants and grasses to illustrate a sustainable woodland clearing in a city garden. The garden has a host of sustainable features that can benefit the environment, including biodiverse large trees, an air-purifying wetland area, a green wall and permeable surfaces.
There’s also what’s called a Resilience garden, which explores how woodlands can be made resilient to a changing climate and the increasing threats of pests and diseases. Commissioned to celebrate the Forestry Commission’s centenary and inspire a wider appreciation of forests, the garden features exotic species alongside native species which can thrive in the face of climate change – and every other change 2019 may throw at the sector.