P. Cliffin

Unitec Institute of Technology (NEW ZEALAND)
Landscape architects have a prominent role in designing and specifying plantscapes across a wide range of project scales, from gardens to urban streetscapes and parks to large-scale conservation revegetation. Both scientific and design plant data is essential to facilitate appropriate and creative planting design. At present there is a gap in the availability of comprehensive and up-to-date plant selection data for landscape students and the landscape profession. Each year students research and compile plant selection information from a wide range of sources as part of their course requirements. Each year the research leaves with the students, and is not captured or expanded in its use.

This paper reports on a survey of online plant databases, seeking to answer the question “What does an ideal plant database look like for landscape design purposes?”, and secondarily “Can the plant data collected by students be used to grow such a database?”. Databases are an effective way of storing plant selection data in an easily retrievable format. The development of on-line resources allow for instant and convenient sharing of information. However databases tend to cater well for the scientific aspects of plant data, but less well for visual / design data. Design characteristics are also important to represent, along with the dynamic nature of plants as they grow.

Planting design is fundamental to landscape architecture and landscape architects require an understanding of the values of plants, and knowledge of a wide variety of plant types in order to design appropriate plantings for components of the vegetated urban landscape (Clouston 1994; Robinson 2004). Three frameworks at different scales are useful to consider here. The first is to understand vegetation as part of global systems and biodiversity (Given 1994). The second is vegetation as a form of environmental infrastructure in urban areas (Robinette 1972). The concept of the ‘Urban Forest’ contributes to this understanding, as described by American authors (Grey 1996). The third framework is to understand plants in design terms, both in spatial and aesthetic terms (Robinson 2004).

The survey seeks creative ways in which plant knowledge and data may be presented by students while they are studying, and then shared as a larger collaborative resource with the profession. A summary of best practice in this field will be presented, with the aim of development of such a resource for Unitec students and practitioners in the future.


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Robinson, N. (2004) The Planting Design Handbook (2nd ed.). Ashgate, Aldershot.
Ulrich, R.S. (1983) Aesthetic and affective responses to natural environment. In Altman, I. and Wohlwill, J.H. (Eds.). Behaviour and the natural environment. Plenum Press, New York.