Are We Making Cookie-Cutter Landscapes?

As anyone who travels knows, one of the best things about going to new places can be seeing new things.  And while it can sometimes be comforting to see the proliferation of chain restaurants that spring up around every hotel or shopping center, some avoid these entirely to find good local eateries to patronize.  Others find comfort in knowing that where ever they might go, there will always be an “X”to remind them of home and to provide the consistency and comfort they require.

One of the greatest things for me, when travelling, especially to warm places, is to see all the plants I grow at home, in containers as warm season tropicals or indoors as house plants, growing “in the wild” so to speak.  My 18″ pittosporum can be a 15′ shrub in warm places–and it’s that way for any number of houseplants I can name.

But an article in the New York Times last week suggested that as we homogenize the physical landscape with chain restaurants and stores, we are also literally changing the physical landscape–in sometimes dramatic ways.

Many of us have heard what has happened in Phoenix as retirees and others flocked there to escape ailments that afflicted them in their home states.  It has become dramatically wetter, greener and allergy inducing as the new transplants made over the landscape to better resemble where they came from.

This article goes beyond that.  It suggests that as more folks move to the Minneapolis area, developers are making it a much drier place by filling wetlands and building there.

Cities, in general, support a much greater diversity of plant life, according to the article.  It is speculated that the physical environment–heat islands, wind tunnels between buildings, and compacted soil give rise to more species adapting and thriving.

What does all of this say to the backyard gardener, the average person living in suburban or rural areas who may just want to carve a bit of land out for him or herself and make a garden?    I think, as what’s happened in Phoenix over the last 50 years shows, if there are enough of these gardeners coming into a place, the whole physical character of a place can change.

How that ties into other variables like climate change and some of the warming and drought that we are currently seeing–to say nothing of the disruptive storms that force us to re-make a landscape–wasn’t really addressed.  But it stands to reason that in places where storms wipe out large areas of vegetation, perhaps native vegetation at that, what is replanted will inevitably change the landscape a bit.  Time will tell, of course.  But chances are, as the Greek philosopher once said, “The only constant is change.”

2 thoughts on “Are We Making Cookie-Cutter Landscapes?

  1. ddonabella December 3, 2012 / 8:30 am

    I lived in Phoenix for 2 years in the early 80s as I went to grad school at ASU….it was so much different then not half as bad as today…my family moved there and I stayed in the NE because I loved the seasons…I do not like to visit AZ as much and I see my elderly mother having a hard time living there because of these changes …I think the article and your post compels us even more to look to more native landscapes as construction will change the landscape so why not make the least impact.

  2. gardendaze December 3, 2012 / 8:55 am

    Hi Donna,
    First, thanks for reading. It’s always helpful to have comments from those familiar first-hand with the issues I address.

    Next, I couldn’t agree more about the gardening with native plants comment! As we are facing all sorts of issues (the least of which is migration and perhaps the greatest being climate change) I think that these plants will help address the changes were are all witnessing.

    Thanks again for your comment!


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