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How To Innovate With New Plants Without Risk

In the dynamic field of landscape architecture, innovation remains a key driver of progress. However, introducing new elements, especially plants, into established designs presents a unique set of challenges.

This article aims to provide guidance to experienced Australian landscape architects keen on incorporating new plants into their designs without unnecessary risk.

Innovative Australian native plant. Sweet Burst™ Callistemon spp ‘CNU15’ PBR
Could your next design do with a little bit more colour? This native bottlebrush plant attracts both pollinators and human visitors alike. Sweet Burst™ Callistemon spp ‘CNU15’ PBR.

The Dilemma of Experimenting with New Plants

Experimentation is the lifeblood of creativity. Yet, when it comes to introducing unfamiliar plants into a landscape design, the stakes can be high. The primary challenge lies in the unpredictability of new plant varieties. Will they thrive in their new environment, or will they struggle, consuming valuable time and resources in the process?

The risks extend beyond wasted resources. An unsuccessful plant experiment could potentially disrupt the overall aesthetics of a design, leading to client dissatisfaction. Additionally, there’s the potential for negative environmental impact if a new plant proves overly invasive or adversely affects local flora and fauna.

Striking a balance between innovation and proven design principles is thus a delicate art. It requires a thorough understanding of plant biology, local ecology, and client preferences, as well as a willingness to take calculated risks.

The 1-5% Rule: A Guideline for Innovation

One practical approach to manage this balance is the 1-5% rule. This guideline suggests that 1-5% of the plants in your designs should be new ones that you are experimenting with. This allows for innovation and experimentation, while limiting potential negative impacts on the overall design.

Implementing the 1-5% rule provides several benefits. Firstly, it allows for controlled risk. If a new plant doesn’t perform as expected, it only affects a small portion of the overall design. This makes it easier to manage and rectify any issues.

Secondly, it encourages gradual innovation. By regularly introducing new plants into your designs, you continuously learn and adapt. This can lead to a broader plant palette over time, enhancing your design capabilities.

Of course, this is not to advocate for recklessness. Careful consideration is needed when choosing plants that are new to you.

Selecting the Right Plants for Experimentation

Selecting the right plants to experiment with is crucial. These should ideally be species or varieties that have a higher likelihood of thriving in the intended environment and contributing positively to the overall design. Identifying such plants requires a keen understanding of multiple factors.

Climate adaptability is paramount – the chosen plant should be able to tolerate the local weather conditions, from the scorching summer heat to the frosty winter chills. The plant’s growth rate and maintenance requirements are equally important considerations.

Fast-growing species can quickly alter a landscape, but they may also require frequent pruning and other care. When it comes to sourcing new plants, reputable breeders are invaluable allies. They often have a wide selection of plants bred for specific characteristics, such as drought tolerance or disease resistance.

Furthermore, these breeders conduct rigorous testing of their products, providing a certain level of assurance of their suitability for your projects. The benefits of using plants from breeders who conduct thorough testing are manifold.

Firstly, these plants have often been bred for improved performance, such as better disease resistance, which can reduce maintenance needs. Secondly, the comprehensive testing conducted by these breeders provides an assurance of quality and reliability, reducing the risk associated with introducing new plants into a design.

To source reputable breeders, look for those who are transparent about their breeding and testing processes. They should provide detailed information about their plants, including their expected performance and any special care requirements.

Additionally, check their track record; breeders with a history of successful introductions are more likely to offer reliable products.

Read about our wet feet trials here

Survivability of Different Landscape Plants in Various Wet Feet Conditions
At Ozbreed, we put our plants through hell and back. These plants are being tested for their resilience in flooded conditions.

Managing Risk while Innovating

While innovation inherently involves some degree of risk, there are strategies to manage and mitigate this. One of these is regular monitoring of plant performance. Keep a close eye on the new additions to your landscapes, noting any signs of stress or disease.

Should issues arise, find out why they arose and realise whether it’s because they’re a weak plant or because you specified them in the wrong spot. Even with careful planning and management, not all experiments will be successful. However, each unsuccessful attempt offers valuable lessons.

Analyse what went wrong, and use this knowledge to refine your selection process and care techniques. Embrace these failures as part of the innovation process, knowing that they contribute to your growth and development as a landscape architect.

Daniel’s Wrap

Innovation with new plants presents both opportunities and challenges for landscape architects. By carefully selecting plants with a high likelihood of success, partnering with reputable breeders, and implementing risk management strategies, you can introduce exciting new elements into your designs while keeping potential drawbacks under control.

Innovation is a journey, not a destination. Each step forward, whether successful or not, contributes to our collective understanding and advancement of landscape architecture.

So let’s continue to push the boundaries, learning from both our triumphs and setbacks. And don’t forget to share your experiences along the way – your insights could be the inspiration another architect needs to embark on their own journey of innovation.

Daniel is a writer and content creator for Ozbreed, one of Australia's leading native and exotic plant breeders.

Daniel has worked in various capacities within the horticulture industry. His roles have ranged from team leader at several companies, to creator of the Plants Grow Here podcast and Hort People job board, as well as his position on the National Council for the Australian Institute of Horticulture (AIH).

He's passionate about explaining how to care for different types of plants to ensure home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can get the most out of the plant babies.

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