Is intermingling really more ecological? Or just the stylized look of ecology?
This summer the Highline had its four year anniversary. Perhaps the greatest testament to its massive success is the extent to which the strategy of “intermingling” plants—as opposed to solid massings of single species—has been accepted as a new ecological best practice. The traditional horticultural practice of massing plants together in solid blocks is now seen as static and old school. Mixing plants into carefully woven tapestries is the expression of the ecological zeitgeist. Almost all of the world’s planting avant-garde (Oudolf, Kingsbury, Sarah Price, James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett, Cassian Schmidt, Dan Pearson, Roy Diblik) have projects that celebrate this mixed style.
Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf’s latest book, Planting: A New Perspective, is a celebration of rise of a more intermingled style. Kingsbury has long been an advocate of this mixed planting style, but this latest book positions intermingling as a part of a new international movement. Intermingling is seen not only as a new design trend, but as a way of creating better ecological function. In a recent article in the journal Topos, Kingsbury writes:
Creating intermingling plant combinations, whether aesthetically driven or strictly functional, creates an ecology. In a conventional horticultural planting, plants are discouraged from interacting, but when they do, ecology starts to take over. "Trends in Planting Design." Topos, 83, 2013
Statements like these raise several questions in my mind: is intermingling really more ecological? Or is it just an aesthetic that imitates ecology? And what about function? Does intermingling plants result in more stable, lower maintenance plantings? Or does it require more intensive gardening to maintain it?
My own experiments with intermingling have been eye-opening. I wanted to record a few of my own thoughts about intermingling and also hear your reactions to this rising trend.