‘Strictly Sustainable’ topic sparks lively debate at annual horticulture workshop

Collaboration and localism key to sustainable future says Palmstead conference

Collaboration, localism and listening to the land are essential to support sustainability and to avert ecological collapse according to speakers at the Palmstead Nurseries’ Soft Landscape Workshop last month.

The annual event, held this year on 16 September at the Ashford International Hotel, Kent, attracted 300 landscape architects, ecologists and garden designers from across the industry, including LI President Noel Farrer, to discuss the topic ‘Strictly Sustainable’.

Nature’s last stand
Irish garden designer Mary Reynolds predicted that ‘nature is being pushed to the edge of ecosystem collapse’ and that ‘our gardens have become nature’s last stand’ in a presentation based around her forthcoming book The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves (published 18 February 2016, Green Books, £19.98). ‘In order for us to embrace the changes we must face to live sustainably, we have to become a locally based economy and we have to contract,’ she told the audience. ‘We have to take our power back and become as self sustainable as possible; grow our own food and try to source the remaining from a local economy and forest gardens.’

Green-roof guru Dusty Gedge reiterated Mary’s warnings regarding nature’s fragile ecosystem. ‘Mary’s talk is very pertinent,’ he said. ‘Everyone wants everything instantly – we need to let clients know it’s going to take five years to reach where it wants to be. We have an avaricious nature – we want everything tomorrow – but we need to ask: “What does the land want to be?” And not: “What do I want it to be?” ‘

A new wave of optimism
Noel Farrer spoke about localism, referring to the example of local markets in Barcelona as key to community cohesion. Noel also expressed concern over the proliferation of greenfield sites lacking coherent landscape planning or forethought, but he also had a positive message for the conference: ‘Overall there is a new wave of optimism that things are changing and things are going to get better.’

Landscape architect Brita von Schoenaich reiterated Noel’s call to engage in localism as she made a plea for delegates to fight for the future of big trees and their inclusion in landscape planning. ‘Localism is key,’ she said. ‘You can’t underestimate how much power you have as an individual. Go to the local authority, take part in consultations – so few people actually take part in these consultations. Your voice will be heard.’

Big trees
Brita, who made her name pioneering perennial planting, said that as she reached ‘middle age’ she had become obsessed with the fate of big trees in our cities, especially in London. Referring to her recent work with Stanton Williams Architects on a new square in front of London’s King’s Cross Station, she said: ‘It was difficult getting agreement to plant any big trees and confirmed my fears for the long-term future of our cities.’ She added that in order to avoid the apocalyptic vision of a tree-free city, London needed a ‘Tree Tsar’ and she called upon the Mayor to provide one. ‘We need a Tree Tsar, someone with power who will say: “We are going to have trees here, here and here, and the developer will pay for it.”

Other key speakers during the day included: Ken Trew, head of public realm at King’s Cross developer Argent; Guy Barter and Dr Alistair Griffiths from the Royal Horticultural Society; and soil and landscape consultant Tim O’Hare.

Localism, connectivity and cohesion
Summing up the day’s presentations, Nick Coslett, marketing manager at Palmstead Nurseries, said: ‘All speakers promoted the drive towards localism, connectivity and community cohesion today and there was a unified call to be more collaborative as an industry. We must all continue and accelerate our individual contributions – every little helps and does make a difference.

‘We had different sectors here – developers, constructors, designers, landscape architects, and ecologists – but all of us have a common and cohesive voice and want to tackle the issue of sustainability.

‘Probably most thought provoking was the message Mary Reynolds gave that we are closer to the edge than we thought. This ought to push us forward faster as landscape professionals – we can make a difference to our environment. Without doubt, we have to consult more with government and also give our horticultural associations more information from the ground in order to strengthen our collective voice.’

Bob Field, chair of the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI), asked delegates to join his or other landscape associations in order to increase collective lobbying power. ‘Talk to us and then we can talk to government. We can then get our thoughts over correctly. You are not by yourselves.’

A full report of the day, including speaker presentations, will be made available on the Palmstead Nurseries website.

Palmstead Nurseries is also hosting an open week from 19–23 October.

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