The Garden Design Secret to Creating Enduring, Self-Sufficient Landscapes

We may all need a little refresher when it comes to the birds and the bees. And who better to give it than garden design experts and AD100 firm Hollander Design Landscape Architects, which presented on the subject this week as part of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art’s Bunny Mellon Curricula? (The firm’s serene outdoor settings have oft graced the pages of AD, most recently with the impeccably manicured lawn at Candice Bergen’s Hamptons retreat.) Plus, with renewed enthusiasm for outdoor design still going strong, it may be to designers’ benefit to tune in more to how they can help foster biodiverse landscapes in their projects. 

Hosted in New York City, the lecture, “The Birds and the Bees in Garden Design,” illustrated how residential gardens of any aesthetic can be beautifully designed while keeping insects, plants, animals, and humans in mind. “If there’s just one takeaway, it would be that anyone can do this,” explains Melissa Reavis, residential studio director of Hollander Design Landscape Architects and the lead presenter at the talk. Biodiversity is, as Reavis puts it, imperative to having your outdoor space flourish, and conveniently, “anyone can create a safe space for pollinators.”

AD100 firm Hollander Design updated the grounds of at Candice Bergen and Chloe Malle’s East Hampton home.

Photo: Oberto Gili

Whether your next project consists of an acre-spanning garden or a simple window box, the thinking holds true: “The more diversity found in these ecosystems, the healthier and more resilient these spaces become,” Reavis says. For when a large diversity of plants is grounded together, the space helps the largest variety of insects and pollinators—closing a loop that’s been fractured in traditional horticulture.

“Monocultures only serve a limited number of species, and that leads to an overabundance of one creature, which can lead to us intervening through pesticide applications,” she explains. “If we invite all species of insects, then nature takes control and we find ourselves intervening less and less.” The benefits are twofold: Not only is the resulting landscape enduring and self-sufficient, but it’s also supportive to its natural inhabitants.

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It was the latter—those birds and bees—that Reavis addressed at length within her presentation. “Why is it important to save pollinators?” she asked, and, answering her own question, explained that such organisms are “the first link in our long food chain, and their removal from an ecosystem has downstream effects.” Reavis warns that, if insects disappear—a scary prospect, when 40% of insects globally are at risk of extinction—then frogs, fish, and bats (just to name a few) are also at risk.

The ripple effects caused by extinction are widespread and catastrophic. “The loss of insects leads to the loss of all other species, including us, but I think it’s entirely possible to live side by side with them, and I hope to share ways that we help clients do just that.”

Any great design project relies on both form and function, and keeping biodiversity in mind from the start of a residential garden project can assure just that. “I think, for a long time, we made the assumption that nature could be elsewhere, something we visited when we vacationed at a national park, for example,” Reavis says. “But the truth of the matter is that nature is everywhere, including our backyards, and if we plan for that at the beginning, we can create a balanced existence for them and for us.”

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