Messy Landscapes.

Status Quo decisions on landscape, lead to a reduction of biodiversity in the built environment–but it doesn’t have to be this way.  Key choices of species and maintenance routines can enhance wildlife and human connectivity as to increase biodiversity.   More and more uninformed land developers, business owners, property owners, and the economic inertia of “what works” leads to more and more habitat loss, high frequency maintenance (weekly) and upkeep fees.  Despite the dominance of neatness as a form of the care aesthetic, “messy” landscapes look attractive if people know the ecological function of what they are seeing, or if the landscape context indicates that the messy look is intentional.1

entry perspective

Ecosystem Restoration

Ecosystems are complex, fragile, resilient,seasonal and can offer services usually benefiting both humans and non-humans.  Ecological services include production of oxygen from carbon dioxide, pollination of plants, and countless other process that humans have not yet been able to recreate alone.

Ecosystem restoration is ideal for clients of landscape architects, commercial property owners and companies who pay for routine maintenance of turf grass with mowing, edging, and blowing of grass clippings.  These maintenance routines use gasoline/carbon emissions, create non-habitat areas,  produce air pollution with blowers, and create an non-sustainable “aesthetic” linked to the seduction of the American lawn.  Often these mowed lawns areas are never used beyond looking pretty.

Native and Invasive species

When considering what species to plant you can consult your regional wildlife center, wildflower center, or parks and wildlife management organization.  Also regional seed banks have formulas of seed mixtures that can be planted to create wildflowers or an artificial prairie.  Tallgrass restoration can eliminate mowing and weekly maintenance while attracting more desirable species.

Small Scale Landscape Restoration

Wildscapes and backyard wildlife habitats are ideal for residential property owners and home owners. With the intention of linking patches and corridors of habitats we can create a network of habitats.  These can allow displaced species to once again have the ability to inhabit the ‘original’ territories.

wildscape drawing_texas

Aren’t you tired of just seeing grackles, starlings, black birds, crows, pigeons, and buzzards?–these are common signs of a harsh urban landscape–and only these most adapted birds can survive.  Providing food, water, hiding places/cover, native plants and chemical reduction can be the steps needed to create a backyard wildlife habitat and reintroduce new and desired species into your area.

Code compliance

Various ways exist to work around the any infractions or fines that may come with a perceived “unkept” looking lawn.  The certified backyard habitat program allows home owners to create a certified wildscape, that creates habitat for birds and small wildlife, and insects (from the National Wildlife Federation).  This can save a home owner hundreds of dollars a year in mowing fees and create a more pleasant and inspiring landscape.

Applying for a variance to the code of keeping your lawn cut, can solve any city fees and complaints by others. This can be done by simply calling your code compliance office and inquiring about common infractions before it happens to you.

Security and Functionalism

With many companies worried about security, in terms of someone “hiding in the bushes,”  solar landscape lighting can be used to illuminate parking areas.  There are sustainable options that cost little upfront and keep utility bills down, all to create a beautiful landscapes that are MORE functional than the ubiquitous mowed lawns.  Growing food for humans is a way that increases functionality and creates a direct human link to the immediate environment, as well as any active human intervention that increases biodiversity.  Novel landscape designs that improve ecological quality may not be appreciated or maintained if recognizable landscape language that communicates human intention is not part of [that] landscape. 2

Biophilic Landscapes

Integration of human and non-human habitats can create a more pleasant, interesting habitat that signals a love of life or living systems, recognizing deep affiliations humans have with nature that are rooted in our biology.


1. Nassauer, Joan Iverson. 1988. The Aesthetics of Horticulture: Neatness as a Form of Care.  American Society for Horticultural Science. HortScience, vol. 23, no. 6, December 1988, pp. 973-977 <>

2. Nassauer, Joan Iverson. 1995. Messy ecosystems, orderly frames.  Landscape Journal [0277-2426] vol:14 iss:2 pg:161 -170

Ecological Scarcity and Biological Abundance


Architecture will forever be linked to humans; it is part of our cultivation of the earth.   And when we cultivate that earth we are driven by market forces, mainstream notions of sustainable architecture and housing are mostly focused on energy efficient measures, as in, ‘in addition to” what an architect/builder conventionally does, not on how people live.  In Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: The Place of Technology, Guy and Farmer write, “typical are suggestions that if we are to achieve sustainable buildings then architec­ture should become more ‘objective,’ and ‘until a consensus is attained, the ability of the architectural community to adopt a coherent environmental strategy, across all building types and styles of development, will remain elusive.” 4


   Attaining a consensus will take time, but I reckon that an overall environmental strategy will come from the need to increase the earth’s ability to process our pollution and impact rather than only conserving resources (energy efficiency).  It will also require humans to be stewards of the earth, propagating nature rather than only being consumers.  The choices in the way we live will carry heavy weight in the health of our biosphere, the ecosystems in it, and the well being of humans and non-humans.

The choice of greater ecological health versus hermetically sealed boxes, seems like a simple choice. Make buildings more green, with nature not marketing.  More and more of our built environments are becoming hermetically sealed boxes rather than integrating connections between people and the natural environment.  Most of these choices are guided by standards to avoid sick building syndrome and create boxes that are energy efficient, due to a mindset of resource scarcity.

Kenneth Framton agrees on such reductionism on our non-place cities/suburbs, where we make spaces and not places, “outside the ‘mass’ engineered somnambulism of the television, we still indulge in the proliferation of roadside kitsch—in the fabricated mirage of ‘somewhere’ made out of billboard facades and token theatrical paraphernalia the fantasmagoria of an escape clause from the landscape of alienation…with ‘newspeak’ overtones, they testify to a fundamental break in our rapport with nature (including our own), they speak of a laying waste that can only find its ultimate end in ourselves.” 5

4. Simon Guy and Graham Farmer, “Re-Interpreting Sustainable Architecture:

The Place of Technology,” in Journal of Ar­chitectural Education 54:3, p 140-148.