Distance Over Time

A long-running workshop on native landscapes will move online for the first time.

By Zach Mortice

Ten years ago, this landscape was mowed turf. Photo by Larry Weaner, Affiliate ASLA.

Foraging for wild ramps to sauté, collecting and sprinkling seeds over a fallow field, watching how annual nurse plants and slower-growing perennials advance and retreat as a native meadow matures. They’re all ideal landscape experiences for the COVID-19 era: remote, contemplative, and socially distant. They’re also squarely in the wheelhouse of Larry Weaner, Affiliate ASLA, and the organization he started 30 years ago, New Directions in the American Landscape (NDAL). Weaner is a highly sought-after meadow designer, and NDAL is an education and ecological design nonprofit that emphasizes native landscapes and minimal maintenance practices. This spring and summer, NDAL will be bringing its long-running workshops online for the first time.

Weaner views designed landscapes and meadows as continually evolving layers of proliferation and withdrawal among native species, where maintenance can be kept to a minimum. These online seminars, which NDAL typically holds twice a year, are rough translations of the “very intensive native design workshops that go into all aspects of integrating ecological restoration into garden design,” Weaner says. But with the need for social distancing and the move online, Weaner elected to host shorter presentations for landscape professionals, and has programmed separate sessions for general audiences.

NDAL’s series of workshops for landscape professionals, “Ecology, Culture, and the Designed Landscape: Professional Practice Across Disciplines and Scales,” will run online from July 6 to August 18. These webinars (all approved for LACES credits) will focus on native planting design that balances ecology with aesthetics. Specific seminars hosted by landscape designers, restoration ecologists, and horticulturists will address cemetery design and planting, drawing design inspiration from site history, African American contributions to the American landscape, pollinator-plant relationships, responsibly harvesting wild plants for designed landscapes, and more. Registration opened in early June, and 1.5-hour sessions will cost $48, while three-hour sessions will cost $74.

For the residential garden workshops (running May 28 through June 24), Weaner specifically chose topics compatible with the retraction of public life required by COVID-19. “They’re the things we’ve been advocating for a long time, but [we’re] accenting the ones that might help people cope with being home more,” he says. Under the heading “Ecology and the Residential Landscape: At Home with Nature,” these sessions covered native meadow planting and maintenance; collecting, storing, and sowing seeds; foraging for wild food; composting; and exploring nature with children.

A path separates a managed shrubland and a planted meadow. Photo by Larry Weaner, Affiliate ASLA.

In managing native meadows, Weaner says, “a lot of what’s going on there are plants moving around [and] self-proliferating, with assistance from the gardener,” encouraging layers of vegetation to wax and wane. “A significant number of the plants that you may see populating a landscape maybe came from seeds from other plants in that landscape.”

In contrast, many designed landscapes are populated by plants and material brought in from off-site nurseries, populated by species that require more care and maintenance than natives. These landscapes become relatively high-traffic, resource-intensive places, and are not ideal for either ecological health or the dictates of social distancing. “A more self-sufficient landscape is one where plants are self-proliferating in addition to plants being planted,” Weaner says. “The COVID-19 situation certainly may encourage people to do more of that.

“Native landscapes are more than just individual plants,” Weaner says. “They are a composition of different species that are interacting both spatially and over time, and particularly, the ‘over time’ part is something that’s missing. It’s not just picking the plants; it’s picking the plant species that can form a changing composition.”

For more information or to register, click here.

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