25th Annual New Directions of the American Landscape Conference


Larry Weaner, photo from nybg.org

This last week, the 25th Annual New Directions of the American Landscape was held on our Temple, Ambler Campus. Hosted by one of our local favorites and president of the NDAL, Larry Weiner! The theme of the conference, Assessing and Reassessing Ecological Landscape Design, touched on topics of horticulture, landscape architecture, ecological restoration, and novel ecosystems in the framework of design, intent, and science. The speaker list included Nancy Aten, Travis Beck, Kurt Culbertson, Nigel Dunnett, Carol Franklin, Carol Gracie, James Grimes, Rebecca McMackin, Darrel Morrison, Marc Pastorek, Thomas Rainer, and Larry Weaner.


Carol Franklin photo from csld.edu

Two of our local favorites, Larry Weaner and Carol Franklin spoke on day one of the conference. Larry Weaner’s talk was informative and innovative, as was his talk at the 2013 ASLA conference in Boston this past November. His message: plant what is appropriate, know what your landscape is trying to tell you and know what plants will thrive. He discussed his own backyard experiments with the lovely Aquilegia canadensis, Wild Columbine, and how it simulates nature as well as how to utilize growing season and smart matinence to encourage your native landscapes to thrive. Carol Franklin, founding principle at Andropogon, provided incredible energy in her closing talk on day one of the conference. Carol somehow was able to preach less is more in the landscape by using language that was so decorative and unique (written in my notes about not so artistically placed shrubbery: “hiddly-piddly pimples on the landscape”). I look forward to hearing her speak again in the future.


From a more horticulturalist stance, Carol Gracie provided a great overview of how specific wildflowers such as dutchman’s breeches and may apple grow, are dispersed and pollenated in nature. Her book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History, displays beautiful photographs telling the story of their life coexisting with their environments. Rebecca McMackin, Director of Horticulture at Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, discussed how the park faired after Hurricane Katrina. Going through an extensive plant list, she and her staff have carefully monitored what plants thrived or barely made it in the flooding.


Nigel Dunnett photo by Anthony Charlton © ODA, London 2012

As a landscape architect, it was especially thrilling to hear Nigel Dunnett discuss his plantingplans for the London Olympic park, offering thoughts on novel ecosystems and serving purpose for beauty and function. Beginning with an overview of his travels, and how nature organizes itself in such stunning ways in the natural environment, he makes a case for putting vegetation in the place it will thrive. Slide after slide, he demonstrates how knowing plant communities can help bolster design, and ecology- knowing how to mix them in an ecologically sound way is what evokes a sense of awe in the general public. By utilizing succession, he creates landscapes that are incredibly dynamic and take on completely different faces as the seasons change. Thomas Rainer also discussed this idea of novel landscapes, in what is appropriate. One of his most important take aways was how, as a horticultural community advocating for native plants we need to get people involved through the beauty and function of the plant, not because “ITS THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!!!!” I found his talk thoughtful, and quite appropriate for much of the discussion within the ecological restoration community.


Darrell Morrison photo from carlisleflowers.net

Closing the seminar the last two discussions were led by Travis Beck of the Mount Cuba Center and a team of Darrell Morrison and his mentee Nancy Aten. Darrell and Nancy discussed their projects and closed with a wonderful exercises, where they each had large swaths of sketch over a map of our Temple Ambler Campus and demonstrated conceptual designing to a classical medley. A powerful experience, and one that each audience member was visibly touched by.  The third-year graduate studio has Darrell come as he leads similar design exercises (we are excited to have him back next fall!)

Overall, the conference was an enriching experience, covering a wide spectrum of issues within landscape architecture and horticulture. We are looking forward to the 26th annual NDAL speaker list!


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