The Most Important Landscape Book Since McHarg's Design with Nature


I rarely write book reviews, but I am making an exception for a remarkable new book.

Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, written by Travis Beck and published by Island Press, is the first attempt to write a comprehensive text addressing how ecology can and should inform the design of landscapes and gardens.  This may be the most important landscape book since Ian McHarg’s groundbreaking work, Design with Nature, pioneered the concept of ecological planning.

Most ecologically-based designers rely on a handful of truisms to guide their designs: use natives; right plant, right place; consider biodiversity.   But when it comes to actually selecting plants, one quickly realizes that eco-slogans provide few answers to complex questions.  How many different species should we include, and in what proportions?  Do you mass plants, or mix them?  And how should different species be mixed?  What happens when the plants start to compete with each other?  How do you maintain a designed community to encourage the right outcomes?  How do we measure success?

Travis Beck’s book delivers answers.  The book’s scope is sprawling.  Each chapter could itself be its on book.  It covers biogeography and plant selection, assembling plant communities, competition and coexistence, designing ecosystems, materials cycling and soil ecology, plant-animal interactions, biodiversity and stability, disturbance and succession, landscape ecology, and global change.  But this very broadness of scope is the book’s strength.  Beck gives us a survey of the last fifty years of ecological research and boils it down in an accessible language for the designer.

This book could be the defining textbook for ecological planting.  As more landscape architects and designers seek information about how to design sustainable landscapes, Beck’s book will be an invaluable resource.  If you are a designer and are interested in getting beyond greenwashing, Beck’s book provides principles, strategies, and detailed instructions.   

I will be including an interview with Travis in an upcoming post.  Stay tuned!
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