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  • Martin Ford

‘Tidy’ versus ‘natural design’ in your landscape


When our home gardens and naturalized public spaces are subject to the formal expectation of being tidied easily and designed to look acceptable in the neighbourhood, then we interfere with nature’s ability to establish a healthy and balanced green space for us to enjoy.

A naturalized space is both tidy and designed, yet not to the visual expectations we normally ascribe to a traditionally ‘cared for’ space – especially when it is young and still establishing.


However once trees, shrubs and perennials are established, there are only seasonally important times we would minimally remove material from the space – plant material such as invasive seedlings (Norway and Manitoba Maple, Buckthorn or Virginia creeper, etc.) so that the plants we have selected are not outcompeted by more vigorous ‘intruders’.


Initially, naturalized spaces require some care until they establish, but after those first couple of years the work needed to keep them attractive and functional becomes a lot less than with traditional spaces – largely because our expectations and ‘standards’ of what a ‘cared for’ space looks like is replaced with the pleasure of noticing nature’s ways.


Lawns can be part of landscape design where there is sufficient direct light for grass to grow (e.g. Fescue types) and be able to endure foot traffic.


Otherwise, most of the naturalized area will have leaf matter and mulch on the surface, or flat stones set in the soil as stepping paths, or sitting areas for us to enjoy being present in nature.


It is essential that the leaves become food for the soil, so if they are collected for aesthetic reasons then they should be mulched and returned to the soil to enable the roots to remain healthy and the soil aerated.


It is preferable to leave them where they fall so that worms, in particular, can come to the soil surface and create air channels through to the deeper layers of soil.

Darwin’s final paper was about how the worms he studied for decades were the creators of the soils we rely on all over the world.


We know now that mycorrhizae are also fundamental for the plant to be able to access sufficient water and nutrients, and mycorrhizae rely on organic matter as their food source.


When we know the value of leaves to the soil we become able to enjoy including them in the landscapes we create and so what is ‘tidy’ changes.