Oct 12, 2011

The Wild One

Margie Ruddick
Designers Gone Wild:
Letting Things Happen in the Parks and Gardens
October 11, 2011
Metro Hort

"From skeptical to appalled to angry" is how Margie Ruddick describes her neighbors reaction to her front lawn. Going WILD;  letting trees, shrubs and plants seed in isn't a new idea, but coming from a prominent landscape architect it's heresy.

For me, this was possibly the most important lecture of the year.  I've been studying how to create plant communities, how to let them go, but not too much. Ruddick came to the attention of a lot of people after an article about her front yard appeared in The New York Times. Ann Raver wrote Ruddick   receiving a summons from her town for her messy patch of non-grass. 

According to Ruddick her 15 minutes of fame has lasted a lot longer.  Her email box was clogged after the NYT article appeared.  Ruddick has been working her way down a WILD  path for a long time. 

The mistake most people make when they hear you have a garden that you let go; think you actually let it go.  This is totally untrue.  Ruddick made the distinction between tending her garden, not nurturing it, because it doesn't need nurturing.  When you create habitat, birds and butterflies come, species spread.  "It feels good."

"Almost every residential client I have worked with at some point wants a weeping cherry.  My horticulture karma was good. God sent one over to my yard."  And this is the part of fun of managing this kind of garden:  you are surprised by what seeds in.  It's still work, make no mistake about it.  Even Ruddick weeds out invasive species and prunes her trees to keep the yard manageable.

Ruddick's title for her presentation was Going Green or Going Wild.  In the horticultural world, many people might think these are the same thing.  Ruddick makes a distinction.  Green is product driven.  It's really about shopping.  I had not made the connection, but when a slide came up with logos for almost every Green business and product you can think of, I was convinced she had a point.

Wild disappears, it's layered and rich in wildlife. 
       Wild uses what's there.  Accept some invasive, see what they can do for you.
                 Wild minimizes impact. 
Working with the conditions that are there and figuring out strategies to keep the landscape as you find out.
                                  Wild amplifies a sense of place. 
It grows organically out of the place.  If you are making a landscape that impacts a people, a culture.... integrate those people....see what their culture has to offer.  For the design of an eco-resort in India, Ruddick realized that the people that live in this valley, know more about propagating plants than anyone else.  They run the nursery at the resort.

As a landscape designer, Ruddick designs landscapes.  She calls into questions the reason for her entire profession.  Look at the plants that grow in place you are designing; what are they telling you?  How much do you design and how much do you leave natural?

This is what we are all trying to do.

I walked down East 64 Street on my way home, past the Wildenstein Gallery.  In the window was a beautiful Bonnard.  This was a serendipitous moment. Bonnard was always merging interior and exterior worlds in his paintings.  As one reviewer said of Bonnard, "he makes us see."  So does Margie Ruddick.