exotic large leaved plants in a shady garden

Episode 181: Gardening in a Changing World

This week my guest is garden and landscape designer and writer, Darryl Moore. Darryl is one of the most, if not in my opinion, the most informed voice on gardens and design in the UK and his new book Gardening in A Changing World: People, Plants and the Climate Crisis presents an overarching perspective of the complexity of plant life, and the ways that we can begin to appreciate and work together with plants, rather than against them, in addressing the rapidly changing conditions affecting the planet.

About Darryl Moore

Darryl Moore is an award-winning garden and landscape designer and writer.  He is Director and co-founder of the innovative urban landscape organisation Cityscapes, realising creative approaches to greening city spaces through novel design ideas that ensure ecological, economic and social sustainability. He is co-curator of thehub.earth. He sits on the Society of Garden Designers Council, and is a fellow of the RSA. His most recent award was for the St Mungo’s Putting Down Roots Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022, showcasing sustainability and ecology in public places.


Gardening in A Changing World: People, Plants and the Climate Crisis by Darryl Moore – Pimpernel Press Ltd, Oct 2022

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Sarah Wilson (00:01):

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode, which features Garden and landscape designer and writer Darryl Moore. Darryl is one of the most, if not in my opinion, the most informed voice on gardens and design in the UK. And his new book, Gardening In a Changing World presents an overarching perspective of the complexity of plant life and the ways that we can begin to appreciate and work together with plants in addressing the rapidly changing conditions affecting the planet.

Darryl Moore (00:40):

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a long time. I’ve had a number of ideas around writing about ecological planting and I did a presentation at the Vegan Garden Show at Hortus Loci a few years ago. And so part of that presentation was looking at the history of 20th century British planting and what I in the book called The Colorists. So I was sort of thinking about that. I was also thinking about contemporary ecological planting. So the recent practitioners who are all sort of exploring these avenues of, of different ways of planting, thinking more ecologically about how we use plants. So I kind of just put everything together in one place and I’m very interested in issues of multi-species justice and how we relate to the rest of the world around us, the rest of nature. So that was an important part of the beginning of the book.

Darryl Moore (01:35):

And obviously it’s all framed by the ecological emergencies that we’re currently in biodiversity loss and obviously the climate emergency. So it was just framing all of those things together really to get people to think about all of these issues. I mean there’s a lot of different issues the book covers, it’s pretty wide ranging, so it’s just trying to create a sort of a thread between things connecting up a lot of different ideas and I guess the book address to anyone who’s interested in any of those aspects, you know, whether they’re interested in gardens or whether they’re interested in environmental issues. So I think it, you know, it’s sort of a addresses concerns that people may have but maybe haven’t thought about these other aspects which inter intersect with, for instance, gardening all the other environmental issues or if you are interested in the environment, you may not have thought about how gardening plays a role with that as well.

Sarah Wilson (02:30):

I think I’ve asked this question probably of other people, but I’d like to get your take on it and that is, why is it a problem if we see ourselves as other to nature?

Darryl Moore (02:38):

Because I think the way that we have othered ourselves from nature has been very detrimental and I think, you know, that’s part of the reason why we’re living through the crises that we are living through at the moment. So I think it is detrimental. I think it’s, it creates this hierarchical relationship where we don’t understand the importance of other life forms and we don’t respect other life forms consequently. So I think that is detrimental because everything does have roles to play in the world and all these interconnections are really complex. We don’t understand them fully. We understand some of them are beginning to understand some more of them, but they are all important. We understand that the diversity part of biodiversity is what drives all of the functioning world around us. So that’s why it’s so important.

Sarah Wilson (03:27):

And quite often you hear the phrase plant blindness bandied around and you do mention that in your book and you obviously say that you agree that that is a thing. And I wondered again what your take was on why plants have become so unimportant or unseen to us when really they form the fabric of our society in existence.

Darryl Moore (03:47):

You’re absolutely right there. I think it’s become more apparent since industrialization where we’ve become sort of disenfranchised from direct relationships with the rest of nature and was engaged in these mediated forms of engagement with it. So, uh, we, you know, obviously the expansion of urbanization as well. So we, we don’t have these kind of immediate relationships where we understand our dependence upon the rest of nature. I think that’s, that’s been part of it. So you know, people aren’t understanding the importance that plants play. I mean one of the very most basic things is, is the oxygen they provide, which, you know, which we breathe in, need to breathe in order to exist. So that’s a very simple thing, let alone all the other benefits they provide. We’ve just, you’ve become more and more distance I think over the last hundred 50 years or so. So we don’t see plants in the same way that we perhaps used to. And I think that’s varies culturally of course the different cultures, you know, some cultures still do have a closer relationship with plants and um, understand and respect them in different ways. But certainly thinking the global north and the sort of industrialized period of the last hundred 50 years, we have sort of lost those connections.

Sarah Wilson (05:02):

And it’s funny though because as you said that I thought, well yes we have lost those connections on a conscious level, but I think subconsciously they do really affect us even if we don’t realize it. And we were both at the Beth Chatto symposium the other week. It was really interesting to hear Dr. Gemma Jerome talk about how the Olympic parks were really popular with a lot of people who went to visit, but actually they weren’t particularly well loved by the local inhabitants. So I know that you do a lot of work with local communities and planting in public spaces and I wondered if you don’t get it right, you might not necessarily have people wanting to weigh in or manage it at a higher level, but obviously it does affect people who have to live with the planting and these schemes. And I wondered how much you feel that community involvement is needed in the actual design of public spaces in order for them to resonate with people.

Darryl Moore (05:54):

It’s a very difficult issue I think because public space in their very nature are contested spaces, so there always a lot of demands on them because there’s a lot of different user groups. So there’s inevitably I think going to be someone that who doesn’t like what’s done. So it’s about trying to find a balance and trying to make them as sort of a multifunctional and designed in ways that they will appeal to as many people as possible. So they’re flexible so that it can be interpreted by different cultural groups in different ways. It is really difficult to do that, uh, but obviously engagement with communities is the first step of of addressing those issues and that didn’t used to be such a thing obviously now that is becoming more important and I think designers are much more conscious of doing that. Again, it’s difficult because often within community groups you have certain spokespeople who are often more forceful and putting their views across. So again, it’s really complex but I think, you know, engagement with communities in the first instance is, is where the discussions begin and you know, trying to find creative ways of having those discussions as well. Not just sort of us against them and sort of situation of which design can often get into but scientists sort of work with people is really important.

Sarah Wilson (07:12):

Yeah, also continuing on that theme of not wanting people to feel excluded and kind of taking everybody’s viewpoint on board. Again at the best Chateau Symposium there was Professor Dave Goulson and also Professor Alistair Driver and they were directly asked the question about the debate of native versus non-native plants. And I know I personally feel based on the evidence that I’ve researched and I’m no expert, but I kind of feel that if I had to go down into one camp, I would have to go with the ecologists who are saying, you know, native plants are good for our native wildlife. I know there is a lot of pushback against that and I think probably it would be fair to say you might take issue with that whole kind of native, non-native plant debate. I wondered if you could explain why it doesn’t sit that comfortably for you.

Darryl Moore (08:06):

I think it’s a binary opposition which isn’t ecologically based. It’s the human based distinction as, as all binary distinctions are really, and the way that we view them anyway. And plants are a living life forms that like anything else kind of habitat and accustomed to certain sort of environments and we know that they thrive in those communities which all share those kind of similar criteria. So finding their niches is what’s really important. So the key thing about any plant is that it exists in its real life niche. So somewhere that will accommodate most of the requirements that it has. Obviously when plants develop over thousands of years in a particular place, then they, they become very well suited that they also develop and evolve in those spaces along with all the other life forms. And then so when we talk about native plants, that’s really what we’re talking about.

Darryl Moore (08:56):

Place specific plants that grow and you know, I mean we can talk about native plants in a country but if we take plants from a Finland then that they’re not going to grow in the highlands. So it’s place specific rather than nations specific. Because nations are again, cultural ideals. They’re boundaries that we, we create. So I think it’s about knowing where plants grow and how they grow. And it’s not just those conditions like weather, moisture, temperature, but it is also about the interactions with other species. So I’m fully aware of how what we determine native wildflowers here, you know, interact with other species. I see it all the time. I love it and I’m, you know, really keen on using these wildflower plants in, in my projects cause I am forming the bedrock of planting cause I think that is really important cause they do have those co-evolved relationships.

Darryl Moore (09:46):

What makes it more difficult is with a changing climates is how they’re going to adapt. I mean that a lot of them will, some of them may not do so well. So these are questions we don’t know the answers to these yet, but we do have to sort of start thinking about it and about how, how it works. So it’s really a, a very complex picture the way it all interacts. But so I think that’s why I would say, you know, we need to be thinking about these co-evolved relationships that they are really important but we also need to be thinking that evolution is an ongoing process of how are these things going to change as well.

Sarah Wilson (10:20):

Yeah, it’s really interesting. I mean that was really key what you said actually about having not an ideal conditions but conditions in which something can exist and survive it and hopefully thrive. But if we try and give every species it’s ideal conditions, it’s never gonna happen. And then also we are kind of taking ourselves out that equation of where we need to also fit in and our influences kind of have an impact. It’s a really interesting debate and I’m sure it will go on and on. Another person you mentioned in the book who I think is a really interesting character and we don’t necessarily know that much about his work outside of his native France, but that’s Gilles Clement and I wondered if you could, you know, maybe talk about his work and why perhaps you think he’s not quite so well known.

Darryl Moore (11:03):

Yeah, that’s a really good point. I came across his work about 20 years ago. I went to some lectures by him and you know, I was, I was fascinated by his work. It seemed really different to traditional landscape architecture and he was putting things in a much bigger context in a whole sort of ecological world view of things. And it is really strange that, you know, he’s so well regarded in France, you know, he’s, he’s considered a prominent sort of intellectual and he’s on TV shows, he does all sorts of work over there, but he’s not seen here. And I, I really don’t know why actually, apart from the just fact that that often happens where we, we don’t get things from France or other non English speaking countries don’t often get the same kind of prominence here that they should really. But his work is absolutely fascinating and I think, you know, he, he, he is a big picture thinker but he also does projects that actually put those ideas that he has into practice.

Sarah Wilson (12:00):

Yeah, he’s fascinating and I would encourage people to go and check out his work now kind of slightly changing the subject away from design. You and I both attended, I think it was actually one of the salons that you run and there was talk about how we need to give natural assets and economic value in order to try and protect them and value them, particularly a political level. And I seem to recall both of us doing a bit of an intake of breath and saying, Mm, you know, actually that’s quite problematic. I know you didn’t really mention that in the book, but I wondered if you did have any thoughts about quantifying nature in terms of economic value and, and the kind of the new natural based asset class that’s emerging. I thought if anybody could weigh on on it, it was probably you. So have you got any thoughts about that?

Darryl Moore (12:46):

Yeah, I do. I mean you’re right. I think it is really problematic. I can see the logic of doing it to convince some people, but it then just reifies everything back into the same profit system basically into the whole capitalist mode production and we’re not valuing things for that for themselves then that is a problem. You know, I think you could possibly have both of those things going on as a transitionary thing, but it is really problematic. And I do talk a bit about the sort of economic ideas around the rest of nature about how we commodify it. But yeah, I do think it’s problematic. We do need to value things for themselves in the first instance, but getting there is, is a big step. So I think if it, if it helps people in the interim perhaps then maybe it’s a useful tool, but we need to get to that end point. And you know that there’s the crucial thing because that is at the heart of a lot, the problems we’re facing really that we’re not facing up the value of things have in themselves for themselves.

Sarah Wilson (13:47):

There’s a bit of of face required on that front maybe and is a big one thinking of things in terms of their economic value. There’s in a really interesting sentence that you wrote, which is plants are more than purchases push up property prices. We need to stop arranging them like furniture to match the wallpaper of our consumer lifestyles. And I wondered, is there an alternative to that viewpoint? And if so, what might it be? Because I feel maybe a lot of designers and landscape architects are guilty of doing just that.

Darryl Moore (14:21):

They are, and I think increasingly so, you know, if you just sort of look at garden magazines, it’s become about all these ideals of sort of luck through lifestyle and living outdoor lifestyles, which are, you know, just the same as indoors, having TVs outside, you know, all these sorts of things. Again, it’s about having these commodities and these idealized value systems that we accord to lifestyles. Uh, not appreciating the fact that you are outside in the first instance, which is different to inside and you, you should be appreciating that in itself, whether there are plants there or not, it’s a different thing. So yeah, plants, we should be appreciating plants as being amazing, living carbon based life forms, you know, which they are, like other species as well. We need to be appreciating plants for what they do or these wonderful things they do and just, you know, respecting them for that.

Sarah Wilson (15:15):

Your book is so detailed, it’s full of so much information. It is just a complete state of the nation. It addresses where we’ve been, where we are now in terms of where we are going. How do you feel landscape architecture and garden design’s gonna develop over the next 10, 20 years?

Darryl Moore (15:35):

That’s a very good question. I think there’s a growing awareness that things need to change. Just the whole sort of sustainability agenda that is being adopted by a landscape institute and the society garden designers in the UK. So people are more aware of these things. It is moving, but there’s still a long way to go. You know, certainly a long way to go before we start addressing how we use plants and respect plants and all the rest of it. So that’s a huge thing. I don’t quite know how it’s going go. I mean, things take strange changes where it seems so many things happen over the last, you know, 10, 20 years that we didn’t think would happen. And so it’s, it’s quite hard to predict in the future. I would certainly like to see it accelerate from now, now that we’ve sort of made the first tentative steps and that people can start to unpack these things.

Darryl Moore (16:27):

If people are thinking about sustainability, you know, that that’s a, a loaded term in itself, but just as a, as a starting point, as a reference point to create conversations, that’s very useful. So I think there’s a, there’s a number of things that can do, it can look at the whole kind of materials issue of garden and landscape design in terms of where things come from, how they’re partly extractive industries. So there’s the environmental costs of the materials we use, but there’s also the ethical costs, the social costs, how people fit in those production lines there, that has to all be looked at. It’s not simply about, you know, digging some stone out the ground for instance, but it’s about that whole chain of production and the who’s involved in it, the of that conditions, social conditions, which people exist doing that as well. So, so they’re very big issues, but we’ve really got to address all of those at the same time and then we have to get beyond that and look at this, the whole organic materials then we are engaging with, so obviously soil is starting to be discussed a lot more.

Darryl Moore (17:30):

There’s a lot of issues to be discussed around that, about digging out soil, leaving soil as it is using alternative mediums, all these sorts of questions. And then again, of course obviously plants and how we interact with plants in practice, how we think about how they’re going to interact with other life forms, whether they be insects or microbes. We need to, you know, if we’re thinking about all those kind of things then we’re thinking in a completely different way. Really what we’re doing by working with plants is not simply working with plants, is working with all other life forms that interact with them. And that’s a big picture, that’s a lot to kind of take on board. But I think, you know, contemporary plant science is finding out a lot more about all of these relationships. So that’s going to give us insights into what’s going on in the ground and above the ground as well.

Darryl Moore (18:22):

Particularly things that we can’t see. We, we are, we all sort of understand and talk about pollinators because that’s quite an easy thing to, to see. We can see that going on in our gardens as it is, but we don’t see the microbes and the soil, we don’t see the microbes on the plants that, you know, on the outside of plants that then get taken up into the atmosphere which we then breathe in and you know, ingest into our guts, into our microbiome. So all these sorts of things. So we’re so intimately engaged with plants, that’s the kind of understanding we need to come to within the industry. Maybe this is the start of the conversation. Let’s hope so.

Sarah Wilson (18:59):

Yeah, you do an excellent job of pulling together lots of threads of kind of current thinking and ways that things are moving forwards and you do actually mention the microbiome rewild in hypothesis and how it could potentially affect planting schemes that are designed for human health benefits. Could you just very briefly give a summary of what that involves?

Darryl Moore (19:19):

I think that’s a really fascinating idea. There’s been some great work done in this field, particularly by Jake Robinson and some of his colleagues. He, he was doing some study at University of Sheffield, uh, and he’s done a lot of work sort of since then as well. But they’re looking at the way that the microbes in the soil on plants and implant and the way that they can be taken up into, into the atmosphere and then we sort of ingest them, uh, as I mentioned just before. But what that means is different microbes relate to different plants. So just as pollinators, some are specialists and some are generalists. It’s the same with microbes, bacteria, some of them relate to a number of different plants, but some of them are very specific to certain plants. So if that were the case and we could identify that specific microbes on particular plants that have a certain beneficial aspect for our health, then we could imagine planting those plants for that very reason.

Darryl Moore (20:17):

So that, that’s a whole different way of thinking about planting and not that we necessarily should, but that’s something that we could do. So rather than planting because we like the color of the flower, imagine planting because we want to have a healthy interaction with certain bacteria. I mean that’s a whole different way of thinking. We’re thinking, you know, much more multi-species level there. We’re thinking about all the complex interactions that are going on between species and so we’re just thinking in a more sort of joined up way about the world and how it operates around us.

Sarah Wilson (20:45):

Yeah, it’s fascinating to think how an aesthetic could develop based around that where we become, not conduits, but a piece of the design process when there are loads of other factors at play and it’s not just as you say, because we like a pink flower. Yeah, it’s a really, really fascinating subject.

Darryl Moore (21:04):

Yeah, we become part of the cycle part of all these different cycles going on. We’re not just the end recipients, we’re just at one sort of part of that whole process.

Sarah Wilson (21:14):

And it makes you wonder if we would feel so much happier within those landscapes because it makes kind of natural sense.

Darryl Moore (21:20):

Yeah, well exactly. I think now that we’re starting to talk about sort of health and wellbeing in terms of green spaces, I think this is the kind of science that’s underlying it. You know, whilst at the moment it’s sort of talked about on a psychological level there, there is this kind of research going on that’s showing that there’s a science to it. We’re understanding that these are actual processes going on, that it’s not just in our minds, it’s actually in our bodies as well.

Sarah Wilson (21:45):

Thank you very much to Darryl for speaking to me about his book, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for some time and it did not disappoint. I really think it’s essential reading for anyone looking to get a detailed and comprehensive overview of the state of design and horticulture in the UK after the present day. And thanks to you for listening. Here’s Dr. Ian Bedford talking about a bug that put me off kicking through autumn leaves for years.

Dr Ian Bedford (22:11):

If there’s one feature that’s shared by the majority of Britain’s 23 million gardens, it’s a patch of mown grass that we call our lawn. Recently though our lawns have become the focus of campaigns that aim to help the countries declining by diversity campaigns that encourage us to leave grass uncut for a month or two. However, although this is fine for the pollinators, I’m not sure I’d want to encourage other creatures into an uncut lawn for a short period, then potentially harm them when it’s moan again. The way I’ve used my lawn to support garden wildlife has been to gradually transform it over the years into a meandering grass pathway that runs between borders and island beds that are filled with shrubs and flowering plants that provide year round food and shelter for the wildlife. And this pathway is regularly mo, which keeps it tidy and ensures that black birds still have a place to hunt for worms.

Dr Ian Bedford (23:16):

Besides mowing lawns though, they’ll usually need a bit of additional attention to keep them looking nice, such as applying an occasional feed and dealing with the odd problem or two that might affect them. And so recognizing the first sign of a problem will certainly help us manage it before it comes too severe. And the usual sign that a lawn has a potential problem is the appearance of yellow patches on it patches where the grass starts to lose its chlorophyll and die dismissing the fact it might be the result of something toxic on the grass, such as dog urine. The yellow chloric patches are more often than not the result of something in the ground that’s eating and damaging the grassroots. And although there’s a few potential candidates, the most likely culprit will be the creatures that we call leather jackets. Tubular grayish brown grubs that have no legs or visible heads, leather jackets, other soil dwelling larva of crane flies, the dangly leg insects that are more commonly known to us as daddy long legs, although there’s many different species of crane fly, the species we find in our gardens are often seen at the end of summer laying their eggs into our lawns. These soon hatch and throughout autumn, the young leather jackets feed on the grassroots before hibernating underground over the winter, sometimes in many hundreds come spring they resume their feeding and as they grow cause increasingly more damage to the lawn before they pate underground during midsummer. So is it possible to control them and prevent the damage to our lawns without harming the beneficial creatures and the essential microbes that live within and sustain a healthy soil? Well, the answer is yes, and it’s not only simple, but cost free and natural. And it revolves around the fact that leather jackets have a behavioral trait that we can use against them because during spring and early summer, they move within the soil in response to the weather. When it’s sunny and dry, they tunnel deeper within the soil here. When it’s raining and wet, they move up near other surface to avoid drowning. So during the summer months when it’s dry, a regular watering of the lawn will ensure that leather jackets are up near the surface and with an easy reach of stylings, crows and girls, the birds that love to eat them.

Sarah Wilson (26:02):

You can download or listen to the podcast direct from the website roots andallco.uk. Please also check out my Patreon where you can make a one-off donation or take out a monthly subscription to help support the podcast because if you enjoy the show, please help you continue. I also have a GoFundMe where you can make a one-off donation, even a one-off donation of One Pound Helps and I’ll be really grateful for your support. So please go to Patreon or go fund me and search for a Roots and All podcast.

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