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Category: Landscape Architecture

Visual harmony in landscape design: edge effects

There is more than planting a bunch of native plants to creating a landscape design that has ecological and aesthetic value. This article introduces edge effects in biodiversity briefly while focusing on how these processes can shape our aesthetic vision for our gardens.

Human beings can detect the difference between natural and designed landscapes easily. Where many designers slip when attempting to design a natural garden is by missing the visual cues that speak to us subconsciously. Paying attention to the concept of edge effects in biodiversity helps in designing landscapes that seem more aesthetically natural, if that is one’s goal.

Edge effects in biodiversity refer to the changes in population at the boundaries of plant communities. In natural boundaries, these changes are due to factors such as a change in growing conditions, microclimates, or disturbance (fire, human intervention).

There is rarely an abrupt transition from one plant community to another…there is a transition with overlap of plant species in these boundary areas. Often these edge communities are the most species diverse and valuable places in an ecosystem.

A transition of many plant communities from water to mountains. What can landscape designers learn from edge effects in the truly natural landscape?
A transition of many plant communities from water to mountains. What can landscape designers learn from edge effects in the truly natural landscape? It is ironic that many gardeners who plant so-called natural gardens then rigidly control these very same gardens out of fear of losing control.

Thinking in terms of tapestry vs. groupings is a useful way of considering edge effects in landscape design. In the natural landscape and our gardens allowing overlap and intermingling of plant groupings is healthy and visually beautiful.

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Saving Monarch Butterflies. Get rid of the Roundup

Monarch butterflies are dependent upon milkweed as their primary food source. As butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has been systematically eradicated from the landscape through the use of Roundup and crops resistant to Roundup, monarch butterfly populations have decreased dramatically.

Reports from the World Wildlife Fund and numerous other research studies indicate that the monarch butterfly population is at its lowest point in more than 20 years. According to the studies the primary reason monarch butterflies are disappearing is the effects of Roundup and the use of Roundup resistant crops. In their winter habitat near Mexico City, monarch butterflies covered only 1.65 hectares in 2013, down from 44.5 hectares in 1996…a stunning collapse.

butterfly weed and monarch butterflies
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is vital to the reproduction cycle of monarch butterflies.

Monsanto & Roundup
Monsanto introduced Roundup in the 1970’s as a broad-spectrum herbicide (Monsanto also developed Agent Orange). In the mid-1990’s Monsanto brought so-called ‘Roundup Ready’ crops to American farmers. The one-two punch of Roundup and strains of plants resistant to Roundup proved an unbeatable combination for farmers desperate to increase yield. The problem is that it also changed the ecology of the landscape so drastically that the monarch butterfly population is in full retreat.

Farmers can plant crops that are not susceptible to the effects of Roundup, giving them the ability to spray comprehensively to kill anything not Roundup Ready. Corn, sorghum, canola, and soy are a few examples of Roundup Ready crops developed by Monsanto. Milkweed is not roundup ready.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

I rode a Triumph motorcycle to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater (Kaufman House). I mention this because it was hot, and the house is near Bear Run, Pennsylvania. I have never been to Pennsylvania and I got lost, purposefully at first, on the highways of this beautiful state. There was lots of pie eating. I remember that. Finally Fallingwater appeared…or at least the parking lot did.

After signing in, off I went down the path to the most iconic residence in American architecture.

fallingwater frank lloyd wright
The landscape envelops Fallingwater.

To the staff’s credit I was allowed to roam around the place pretty much at my whim.  So many things disappoint when we finally experience them, but not this place. Fallingwater is stunning and so is the landscape, the testament to Wright’s commitment to both architecture and the landscape and their meaning as one.

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