Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Most Important Landscape Book Since McHarg's Design with Nature


I rarely write book reviews, but I am making an exception for a remarkable new book.

Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, written by Travis Beck and published by Island Press, is the first attempt to write a comprehensive text addressing how ecology can and should inform the design of landscapes and gardens.  This may be the most important landscape book since Ian McHarg’s groundbreaking work, Design with Nature, pioneered the concept of ecological planning.

Most ecologically-based designers rely on a handful of truisms to guide their designs: use natives; right plant, right place; consider biodiversity.   But when it comes to actually selecting plants, one quickly realizes that eco-slogans provide few answers to complex questions.  How many different species should we include, and in what proportions?  Do you mass plants, or mix them?  And how should different species be mixed?  What happens when the plants start to compete with each other?  How do you maintain a designed community to encourage the right outcomes?  How do we measure success?

Travis Beck’s book delivers answers.  The book’s scope is sprawling.  Each chapter could itself be its on book.  It covers biogeography and plant selection, assembling plant communities, competition and coexistence, designing ecosystems, materials cycling and soil ecology, plant-animal interactions, biodiversity and stability, disturbance and succession, landscape ecology, and global change.  But this very broadness of scope is the book’s strength.  Beck gives us a survey of the last fifty years of ecological research and boils it down in an accessible language for the designer.

This book could be the defining textbook for ecological planting.  As more landscape architects and designers seek information about how to design sustainable landscapes, Beck’s book will be an invaluable resource.  If you are a designer and are interested in getting beyond greenwashing, Beck’s book provides principles, strategies, and detailed instructions.   

I will be including an interview with Travis in an upcoming post.  Stay tuned!

20 comments:

  1. A high recommendation. Amazon says "Only 5 copies left." I ordered one.

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  2. Thanks for the heads up on this Thomas! Just added it to my wish list.

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  3. It is on my wish list now too!

    By the way, have you been keeping 'your ear to the ground' to hear all the news about the South Carolina Botanical Garden? and Patrick McMillan? The Natural Heritage Garden?

    We heard him speak at the Georgia Native Plant Society and we are thrilled with their plans for the future!

    http://herekittykatkat.blogspot.com/search/label/Gardens

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  4. Sounds like what we all need! Thanks for telling us about it Thomas.
    Heather

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  5. The author's handling of the subject matter sounds almost as impressive as your succinct review of it. Not an easy publication to review, yet you wrote it so effortlessly.

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  6. Sounds like a great book, thanks for doing the review. Be great to have one of your future classes focused on ecological planting design!

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  7. Too bad I have 10+ books in my reading queue...should be a good one, from your recommendation alone. Greenwashing...too bad I'm not rich or feeling generous, or I would send out some anonymous copies!!

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  8. This is perfect. I've been preaching this for years! Just ordered the book. Thank you!

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  9. Thank you for this uncommon but very useful review! I immediately added "Principles of ecological landscape" to my wish list.

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  10. Thanks for the heads-up, Thomas; it sounds wonderful. -Jean

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  11. Just ordered it and will take it with me to Haiti for a deep read for the next month. I am admittedly cynical and suspect of these books because most I have read are about extraction and manipulation (Biomimicry); little to do with integrating our living spaces with the environment and more about imprinting our cultural bias on it. I look forward to reading about his principles of ecological design. I hope for a fresh and natural perspective.

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  12. As I write this I am waiting for my copy to arrive -- ordered last week. Thanks so much for the review!

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  14. Congratulations! This is the best thing, Thank you so much for taking the time to share this exciting information.
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  15. Excellent Book. Read it, affirmed many things I've learned in ecological design and what we do in permaculture. A little light on diagrammed applications... I like graphic tools.

    Thanks Travis.

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  17. I wanna learn more on Landscaping and it's importance... been doing some landscaping I might apply what I learn from here thanks for this post :)

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  19. LOVE your blog! I'm ordering the book today. Happy Thanksgiving.

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  20. Article contains so many fruitful information which will be liked by the readers as in my opinion this is the best article in this category.

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