5 Inspiring Spaces with a Sustainable Twist

By Will Beament

Looking for some fresh inspiration? Yearning to become a more responsible gardener? Here are 5 inspiring spaces that break the norm and help motivate you to bring life to your own landscape.

1. Chimney Meadows – Wildflower meadow

Ecology is undoubtedly the soul of a landscape. As the famous conservationist, Aldo Leopold once wrote:

‘The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘what good is it?’’

This statement is profound and holds true several decades later – bearing an ever-greater importance in the contemporary setting. In reality, the environmental crisis we face is also a design crisis and for anyone who wants to create their own ‘Eden’ in their back garden; they should consider the benefits of catering for nature. Helping wildlife can be done in a plethora of ways – cultivating a wildflower meadow is often a popular and effective strategy – such as was done here in Chimney Meadows, Oxfordshire. The area saw a drive in conservation efforts in 2003 when it was passed on to the BBOWT as part of a drive to re-vitalise the landscape. Presently, the area is a haven for native species and serves as an extremely important, bio-diverse area. Domestically, wildflower meadows are relatively straightforward – one can even buy turf or ready mixed seeds that favour colour, species, soil type etc. This is a fantastic option for disused spaces with ample light and is hugely beneficial to much of Britain’s (unfortunately dwindling) wildlife population.

5 Inspiring Spaces with a Sustainable Twist

2. Piet Oudolf’s Hauser & Wirth Somerset prairie planting

Typically, the attraction of a flower is seen in its ability to inject colour into a landscape – however, the element of structure is often overlooked. A current trend that appears to be on the rise is Prairie Planting – a favouring of perennial planting which produces a colourful miasma during the warmer months and bears a more anatomical, skeletal structure during the winter. This planting style has existed domestically in some form for many years, however it has more recently been popularised and moulded into a more contemporary form by renowned plantsman, Piet Oudolf. The Dutch planting style utilises structural flowering species such as Echinacea (coneflower) or Actaea (baneberry) as well as a number of different grasses in order to form an aesthetically ‘seamless’ plume of planting. Many of these flowering species are fantastic for pollinators which means that it is a fantastic option for those who enjoy insects in their garden. Hauser & Wirth in Somerset is one of his most notable planting schemes – all of which are hand drawn designs (which I would highly recommend that you look at!).

5 Inspiring Spaces with a Sustainable Twist

3. New York Highline: Less is more

‘Less is more’ tends to be a popular phrase in the field of design. Often, subtlety is key when producing an attractive and functional landscape. From the standpoint of sustainability, this phrase can suitably be applied to ‘hard landscape’ – materials such as stone paving and concrete. A comparatively high carbon footprint combined with low water-permeability means that many of these surfaces have a largely negative environmental impact – especially when applied in large surface areas. There are, in fact, simple ways to overcome this: one could choose a more permeable surface such as gravel, simply avoid large stretches of paving, or break up paved areas with planting pockets. New York’s Highline utilises the latter, adopting a bespoke paving system that integrates planting within ‘cracks’ unifying both natural and man-made elements of this landscape. This system is an effective mitigator of sitting water and has a uniquely appealing aesthetic quality. Moreover, this principle could quite capably be recreated in a domestic setting using standard slabs and planting pockets – softening and creating a more sustainable paving feature.

5 Inspiring Spaces with a Sustainable Twist

4. Shepherd’s Bush living wall

Living walls are another feature that often goes overlooked either due to their apparent use in solely commercial projects or simply because of their obscurity to the majority of people outside of the landscape industry. These features are often used in urban areas for the purpose of screening walls or sequestering carbon in the atmosphere. Visually, they are extremely effective and serve as a complimentary feature to most architectural styles – both traditional and contemporary. There are many different types of living wall available now – all with varying levels of maintenance, plants, construction and so on. Interestingly, these are becoming considerably more affordable as the industry grows and advances and there appears to be a plethora of options out there for domestic use as well as commercial. Pictured is a living wall in Shepherd’s Bush that I recall seeing when visiting the area – this example is particularly memorable as it demonstrates the sheer scale to which these walls can get. I find these walls very interesting and I hope they appear more in future projects outside of the commercial world – the consideration of nature within architecture is vital.

5 Inspiring Spaces with a Sustainable Twist

5. Gartenart’s Natural swimming pool in Kent

Natural swimming pools are another interesting feature that are slowly gaining in popularity. These pools are further from a traditional, chlorine-treated swimming pool and closer to a natural pond – they utilise untreated water and allow nature to thrive.  Much like a traditional pond, these pools will often house water-thriving plants such as Iris as well as insects such as dragon flies. Furthermore, because chlorinated water is not used like a typical pool, the time required for maintenance is usually very low. More companies are increasingly appearing that specialise in building these features. A notable company that have caught my eye are Highbury-based Gartenart. As you can see in this pool they created in Kent, the features blend beautifully into the surrounding landscape and provide a subtle, sustainable alternative to the typical tiled mass of a chlorine pool.

5 Inspiring Spaces with a Sustainable Twist