Ecology + Design

Highlights from the 30th Annual New Directions in the American Landscape Symposium 2019

Last week we had the pleasure of attending the 30thannual New Directions in the American Landscape (NDAL) two-day conference at Connecticut College. Founded by Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, NDAL has a stacked history of assembling leaders in ecology, restoration, landscape architecture/design, sustainable agriculture, and community development, to name a few. This year was no exception—the speakers were informative, inspiring and grounded (the power of case studies!).

See bottom of page for a full list of speakers and their presentation topics.  I’ll attempt to summarize my favorite talks for those who couldn’t make it!

Larry Weaner – Reflecting on New Directions in the American Landscape

Landscape Architect and NDAL founder Larry Weaner spoke on the need for landscape design to address and solve pressing issues of our time.  He iterated three categories:

“Culture: Use an anthropological lens to reintroduce lost cultural landscape practices; particularly where contemporary trends have given them renewed relevance. 

Agriculture: The role of farming in landscape design and the role of landscape design in farming. 

Social Justice:How can landscape designers more frequently and more effectively provide services to underprivileged communities.” 

Weaner gained international accolades for his expertise as ‘the meadow guy,’ frequently designing acres of native wildflower meadows for his clients.  Larry reflected on his decades of meadow experience with lessons learned about meadow seed mixes and management. Some takeaways I found notable:

  • Many invasives are early succession colonizers.  If you can shade them out with taller desired plants, they wont stand much chance.
  • Mow your meadow in June for shorter plants that still have time to flower.
  • Be patient! Some wildflower species don’t emerge for 8-10 years! Others will only be present for the first 1-2 years. The dynamism is part of the fun!
  • Observe which species can compete with each other, and which get over powered. For example, Larry noted that Canada Golden Rod is usually quite aggressive, but New England Aster can compete well with it.
  • Study the natural microclimate of your species.  For example, Larry observed that Coneflower prefers the woodland edge to the open, sunny meadow. Mirror these preferences in your design and your plants will thrive.

[Above photo: Larry Weaner Associates]

William Young – Managed Ecological Succession as a Response to Major Disturbance Events 

Wetland scientist and landscape architect William Young walked us through three case studies of mitigating extreme pollution and contamination through ecological restoration.

One such example was over 100 acres of riverfront Brownfield land in Woodbridge, New Jersey Young and the Dawson Corporation designed an ecological wetland restoration plan for the area, which would eventually become a public park, dubbed Woodbridge Waterfront Park.  The plan involved using phytoremediation to remove toxins from the soil – industrial wastes from the site’s former owners Nuodex and later, EPEC Polymers.  I was reminded that in phytoremediation, the plants are not up-taking the toxins in the soil, but rather, the plants are creating a hospitable habitat for microbiology that can decompose the toxins in situ.  It is far preferable to detoxify on-site rather than haul materials out and in.

The design involved choosing which habitat, which stage of natural succession after a disturbance, to restore through grading (manipulating the hydrology) and planting. The Dawson Corporation team designated specific areas as wet meadows, scrub-shrub, riparian forest and swamp forest and planted them with species found in nature in each of these ecosystems.  Plant It and They Will Come, the saying goes, and here was no exception.  Young kindly provided these informative charts of what species to expect at what level of ecological succession.  Fascinating!

Tama Matsuoka Wong – New Perspectives on Edible Landscapes

Tama Matsuoka Wong is a professional forager for elite local chefs; she forages on her 45-acre property in New Jersey.  Wong’s passion for truly wild ingredients is one part ethnobotanic historian, one part eccentric foodie, and one part upcycling genius, turning obnoxious invasives into culinary delicacies.
Wong recently co-published with chef Eddly Leroux  Foraged Flavor a foraging guide and cookbook detailing her foraging forays and Leroux’s delicious, inventive recipes.  Some fascinating inclusions from her presentation are:

  • Shagbark Hickory Bark Icecream – recipe here
  • Garlic Mustard Pesto
  • Daylily shoots and buds used as a vegetable reminiscent of French beans x leeks, and asparagus, respectively.
  • Fading Queen Anne’s Lace flowers as a spice, whose flavor she described as a combination of coriander, carrot and paprika.
  • Japanese Knotweed as a Rhubarb substitute in yummy dishes like Strawberry Knotweed Crumble

Alexa Bosse – Landscape Design in Underserved Communities: Part 2

Alexa presented on the growing need and awareness for community-centered design in communities that are often overlooked and underserved in landscape architecture, architecture and urban planning projects.  She spoke of her work in Philadelphia with her design firm Hinge Collective, whose mission is “to support communities in realizing public places, that reinforce what makes those communities unique and powerful.”

They do this through a lengthy participatory design process; one that involves showing up at community events completely unrelated to design or the space; surveying and listening to community members about what their community needs and doesn’t need in a public space; and involving them in the design process through community meetings and design charrettes.

[Above photo: Hinge Collective’s project in Tusculum Square, Philadelphia, Pennslyvania]

Community involvement doesn’t stop there, either.  It was inspiring to see how Hinge Collective orchestrated community installation days—with residents of all ages—to complete planting, painting, and other elements of landscape construction as a team.  The community vision doesn’t stop at the installation, either.  For example, in one such project, Frankford Pause Park, they partnered with the Frankford Community Development Corporation to host a small business “shark tank” for the vacant store fronts surrounding the new park; winners received one year of free rent in their new store front.

For more information on Hinge Collective projects and case studies, visit their website.

Full List of Speakers & Presentations

Larry Weaner– Reflecting on New Directions in the American Landscape

William Young – Managed Ecological Succession as a Response to Major Disturbance Events 

William Cullina – Vignettes from Coasta Maine Botanical Gardens

Chad Adams – New Perspectives on Edible Landscapes: Regenerative Agriculture 

Tama Matsuoka Wong – New Perspectives on Edible Landscapes: Foraged Flavors 

Rick Darke – Imposition or Revelation? Design and the Nature of Contradiction 

Teri Rueb – Listening to Landscapes: Augmenting Environments with Media Overlays 

Charles Birnbaum – Managing Change with Continuity 

John Swallow – Reality Check: Soil Science During Construction 

Kofi Boone – Landscape Design in Underserved Communities: Part 1 

Alexa Bosse – Landscape Design in Underserved Communities: Part 2

Thomas Baker – Advancing Science and Design: Exploring the Science of Ecology in Contemporary Landscape Architecture 

Jeffery Longhenry Culture, Ecology, and Equity as Drivers of Contemporary Landscape Design  


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