The Provisions of Landscape
by Sophie Krause
Whether it is in reference to the place you sit reading this, to the farms that grow your food, or quite literally to the Earth itself – landscapes make our lives possible. I am a gardener and landscape designer studying to become a landscape architect, and the more I work the more I see landscapes as a lens to view the world.
Land is the ultimate provisioner. As human populations grow we alter and shape the world around us. In order to continue this growth, we must do so responsibly. Here are 5 ways you can treat your surrounding landscapes more responsibly:
1. Grow Something
Most things around you started as a seed.
The food you eat, the fibers you wear, the materials we use to build, the wood for our homes and the paper we write on – all began as a seed. Even the craft beer I am currently enjoying while writing this came from a plant.
The majority of the world around you is part of a living and growing landscape, even if that landscape sits on a rug of concrete. When we plant something, we start a chain reaction of growth, and therefore give back to our landscape.
A tomato seed on your balcony becomes not just a mid-day snack for you, but a home to millions of bacteria and other microscopic creatures. That tomato plant might produce a flower for a bee, or become a symbol of growth and beauty that breathes life into passersby.
2. Recognize Urban Dirt
When thinking of growing something, recognize that there is opportunity in the “urban dirt” around you. If you have access to open land – great. If not, re-purpose your urban environment.
Atop Chicago City Hall's Green Roof, 11-stories high and surrounded by 33 skyscrapers, I worked to plant and maintain a native rooftop prairie. As part of an Urban Heat Island Initiative with the Environmental Protection Agency, I studied rooftop gardens used to effectively cool buildings.
Unlike plants, steel and concrete do not transpire water nor generate oxygen. The heat given off by the urban environment makes it very expensive to maintain cool ambient temperatures in office buildings, but plants help.
Ever walked into a park on a hot sunny day and the grass felt cool? That is because plants are continually going through an evaporative cooling process. This is one of the many reasons they are being used on urban rooftops. Over 150 native plants to Illinois are growing atop Chicago City Hall's Green Roof, cooling the building upwards of 70 degrees F on a hot summer's day.
It was a powerful experience to work in such a landscape, to be in the heart of a city planting native species that not only helped our human populations, but also the surrounding flora and fauna.
3. Look to the Past to Address the Future
Many of the answers to today's questions of sustainable land use can be answered by looking to our past.
Before we lived such a mechanized existence, landscape was taken into much greater consideration when we were designing cities. Cities were constrained by the distance a person could walk or carry a bucket of water from its source. Today's vast systems of pipes, pumps, and pulleys transport the resources we use, while cars, buses, and trains transport people to and fro.
The limitations of landscape are easy to forget in a world rich with technologies that separate us from our environment. By looking to our past, we can learn how to re-create systems to more efficiently reflect their true environmental landscape.
This past summer I worked in France, restoring historical landscapes. The youngest garden I worked in was just over 500 years old. In France the romantic horticulturalist in me fell in love with French classical gardens, and with the idea of classical thought.
While the biologist in me knew that the beauty of the ornate French gardens came from their healthy and complex soil, years of organic fertilizers, and a rotational cycle of ever-present beneficial bacteria, the landscaper in me simply marveled at their design.
The design of classical French gardens is rooted in organic and biodynamic (a method of farming that employs a holistic understanding of agriculture) methods– methods that existed long before their popularization here in the United States in the 1970s. These designs continue to work today, and remain a valued part of the French culture and landscape.
4. Re-Design Your Landscape to Re-Design Your World
We can revolutionize the way we live by first redesigning the spaces we inhabit.
Take a look at your surroundings and ask, what is missing? What was here before I was? What do I want to see here in the future?
The landscapes we design today impact the world we live in tomorrow, because they provide us with space to develop. A school garden teaches children about their connection to the physical world, and a prison farm teaches inmates green job development for occupational security later on.
Each time we grow something we start a chain reaction of growth, and every time we re-design our surrounding landscape we re-design a part of the future too.
5. Enjoy Your Surrounding Landscapes.
The natural world can be an idyllic or urban playground. Get out there and use it!
By enjoying our surrounding landscapes, we are voting for their continued use and development. The next time you find yourself idling, take a walk and explore the landscape around you. Start thinking about the designed world, and what you can do to make it better.
Interested in what you can do with your own urban plot? Check out the links below:
Sophie Krause is a gardener and landscape designer studying to become a landscape architect. She has enjoyed putting her hands in the dirt since she was a child, and uses her B.A. degree in Biology and Environmental Science from UC Santa Cruz to influence her design work. She works to re-connect communities with their environment, specifically with urban populations. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org