Some gardeners react to any mention of ecological landscaping — the merging of environmental science and art — as if it were a compromise or concession meant to limit their creativity. Darrel Morrison, a landscape architect who has been practicing and teaching this philosophy for some five decades, begs to differ.
“There is the implication that you are suggesting a vegan diet,” said Mr. Morrison, the creator of influential designs at Storm King Art Center, in Orange County, N.Y., the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. “A lot of people, when they hear a phrase like ‘ecologically sound landscaping,’ they think they are giving up something. But they are not — it only enhances the experience.”
From his perspective, the real compromise would be focusing purely on the ornamental aspect of our landscape designs, large or small. It’s in the boxwood-and-vinca world that we risk suffering from sensory deprivation, he asserts — not when we use native plants in designs inspired by wild plant communities.
What happens when each plant is chosen and placed purely for show, with no other potential attributes considered? “It looks good,” he said. “Then it’s gone.”
Round House, in Wilton, Conn., or an early successional deciduous forest at New York Botanical Garden’s historic Stone Mill — he wants to know it intimately, firsthand, before he starts designing.
Ulrich Lorimer, who was then curator of the botanic garden’s Native Flora Garden. Mr. Lorimer said he was struck by Mr. Morrison’s “joy and enthusiasm for projects, plants and places.”
“He was as happy as a 12-year-old, trying to see what Mother Nature does there and then work it into a design,” said Mr. Lorimer, who is now the director of horticulture for the Native Plant Trust in Massachusetts. “Science has kind of divorced itself from spirituality and emotion, but Darrel cultivates that experiential side of what landscapes evoke in us.”