According To Dunnett ... Shaping the future of great British planting design

Times change slowly in the world of planting design. Sometimes it seems as though we are stuck in a time warp dating back to the 1990s and before. The "new perennial movement" still dictates the tone of the predominantly naturalistic approach to working with plants that holds sway in garden and landscape design circles.

As someone who has been closely involved with this whole movement, I am very happy to see that it is has now become relatively mainstream and that there has been a widespread move towards more diverse and ecologically informed planting.

And yet within this framework it can feel as though there has been relatively little innovation - there's a sort of uniformity as the same plants and combinations are used again and again in "prairie planting" schemes.

Much of what we see today would not look out of place in similar schemes from the 1990s and 2000s. Do we still wear the same clothes, listen to the same music or eat the same type of food as we did 20 years ago? It starts to feel like it's time to move on.

I lived in the States for a year-and-a-half in the late 1980s, at the time that the "new American garden" movement was taking shape. They were exciting times. The movement called for a move away from imported European/British garden planting and design to something that was much more inspired by the landscape and flora of the region, and to develop approaches that were much less maintenance-intensive than the standard British garden style.

The whole interest in prairies and their use in designed landscapes was linked to these ideas, and then in turn it fed into the wider new perennial thinking.

Perhaps we should take note and think about what a "new British garden" might look like. Taking the best of our romantic horticultural past and feeding in the most exciting elements of the cosmopolitan influences that are all around us.

But we should also be looking to the meadow, the copse, the glade and the hedgerow as well as new and exciting urban plant communities that are springing up all around us, as our own starting points for a distinctive direction against the growing uniformity.

Nigel Dunnett is Professor of Planting Design at the University of Sheffield


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