Visiting Nigel Dunnett’s Naturalistic Garden at The Barbican

I was lucky enough to see the work of one of my inspirations the other day: Nigel Dunnett.

Dunnett is a professor at the University of Sheffield in the UK, has written the wonderful book Naturalistic Planting Design, created the Grey to Green urban naturalization project in Sheffield, and, among many other things, designed the naturalistic gardens at London’s Barbican.

It was the Barbican I visited. It’s spring over in the UK – plenty of greenery but not much colour. But it was still a good time to see the plantings because the lack of colour made me notice the textures. After all, gardens aren’t just about flowers – foliage has a huge role to play.

I talked to a man who was doing some spring maintenance. He told me with a huge smile on his face that he loved the gardens, which were so much more interesting than the grass elsewhere, and whose lushness contrasted with the concrete brutalism of the Barbican. His enthusiasm made me enthusiastic for what I’m doing here in Haliburton County. This is the reaction I want.

Dunnett doesn’t focus on native plants – they’re not a thing in the UK for various cultural and ecological reasons – but he does use naturalistic planting, with density, layers and plant communities. The garden, which is actually on a roof, creates three plant communities, according to the microclimates of each part of the site.

You can read a lot more about the project over on Dunnett’s website. I encourage you to do so: the pictures alone will give you inspiration for what can be done. Even though your garden is in a very different location under different conditions, the same principles apply.

Here are some pictures I took that day.