Flower Border in Chenshan Botanical Garden, A Symphony of Four Seasons—Exploration on Large-scale Fl

SHU Ting-ting, CHEN Xi-yu, HU Yong-hong   2016-05-08 16:08:14

SHU Ting-ting, CHEN Xi-yu, HU Yong-hong

Flower border originated in the United Kingdom. The definition of flower border generally emphasizes their characteristic of boundary. It is considered being planted along boundaries, and such narrow spaces as road, wall base, and slope foot are always used as good places for flower borders.

The design concept of flower borders in foreign countries was affected by their social trends and aesthetic tendencies. The exploration and updates have been constantly engaged from the beginning of the 18th century until now. From 1970s to 1980s, the flower border, which was popular in the West, began to appear in China and it rapidly developed in recent decades. But overall, there are still many problems. First, because of the short-time development, the application design of flower border is still in its infancy. It has not yet been formed as an independent mature design language. Secondly, the choices of species usually focus on the speed and stability. Annual and biennial plants are mainly used. There are large costs of construction and maintenance, but it doesn't reflect the sustainability of flower border. Thirdly, basically, the current maintenance management level in China is still relatively extensive. However, the attempt made by Chenshan Botanical Garden is the new research and practice for the development of flower border in China under the current environment and management conditions.

1 The Design Philosophy of "Garland" in Chenshan Botanical Garden

1.1 Concept

The Chenshan "Garland" project is in the green ring which borders the garden. A famous Japanese landscape architect designed it. The green ring is a protective boundary with winding terrain surrounding the whole botanical garden. It is one of the few artificial terrain landscapes in Shanghai, but its overall appearance is a bit monotonous, especially in autumn and winter. So the "Garland" is an effective attempt to enrich the landscape of boring green ring.

According to the theme of "Four Seasons" which is composed by famous Italian composer Vivaldi, the "Garland" follows the idea of piano keys. It is designed with different irregular shaped planting beds, perpendicular to the edge of the green ring and arranged at the both sides of the road. It is like a keyboard lying on the green ring, which shows beating notes and wonderful rhythm. Each irregular planting bed has different sizes from 1-4m2, and 1-3 species are planted in each bed. The design tries to convert the music and rhythm, which is an abstract concept, into the diversification of color, florescence and height to bring out an impactful overall effect through the combination of different plants in time and space.

1.2 Layout

The scale of Chenshan "Garland" is far bigger than the conventional flower borders. From the view of space, the plants in flower borders are generally only tens of centimeters high, no more than two meters. Compared with trees and shrubs, a single plant is relatively small, nothing significant in a scale hundreds of meters long. How to use lowheight vegetation to control the spaces inside the green ring is a highpriority problem that needs to be solved in the design. On the plane, many irregular planting beds are intermittently arranged perpendicular to the sides of road, which is just like the notes beating from the beginning to the end of a song and forming a continuous flower border landscape. This kind of planting style mainly focuses on not only the relationships of different irregular planting beds but also the relationships between the beds and the green ring.

The graphic design of Chenshan "Garland" is more like the combination of traditional Chinese landscape painting and modern Western abstract painting. It is similar to the practices of the combination of point, line and surface in the works by Guanzhong Wu, a modern Chinese painter. The intermittent space between the beds just like "liubai", a traditional practice in Chinese landscape painting where white space is used to create emphasis. The irregular shapes combined organically form a unified series of abstract paintings. When visitors walk closely, they can find the relationships between the beds. On the other hand, when they look from afar, they may find the relationships of line and surface. At the same time, the use of white space allows the designer to make use of small areas, the planting beds, to control the big area, the green ring. This also reduces the plants’ usage and costs of maintenance.

1.3 Planting style

There are altogether 429 blocks in Chenshan "Garland" and each block has 1-3 species. The design combines some blocks which use a single species while other blocks may have 2-3 species. There are also spaces remaining between neighboring blocks. This planting style has an obvious advantage under the current maintenance conditions. Most of the blocks only have one perennial or ornamental grass in them, and any other wild plants can be found and cleared easily. Even if there are 2 or 3 species in the block, even the inexperienced gardener can recognize which plants are weeds and which are not. The spaces between blocks are friendly for visitors who want to observe the plants' shape, leaf, texture, and flowers while also being convenient for maintenance. This planting style not only has the feature of simple and strong structure, but also has the advantage of rich layers and long flowering period.

1.4 Application of sustainability

Chenshan "Garland" fully considered the requirements of sustainability on every aspect of construction and maintenance. For plant selection, the plants must be suitable for the environment in green ring. The reliable source in Shanghai or surrounding areas and the seedlings in botanical garden’s own nursery will be picked with high priority in order to reduce the energy consumption during the transportation. Compared with traditional seasonal flower beds, the "Garland" has the advantages of years of growth. In addition, the plants selected are mostly strong and having high resistance. They are easy to grow, and the frequency of replacement is reduced. For the maintenance, the flower beds are clear and simple, and the space between them make the maintenance easy. The structured planting in Chenshan "Garland" respects plants' own natural habits.

It reduces the costs of maintenance, and at the same time, the structure of the beds before and after the flowering period remains the same. Thus, according to the ecological principle of modern planting design, the "Garland" is a sustainable and long-term lasting flower border with low maintenance.

2 The Planting Policy

2.1 Planting structure

After ensuring the layout and planting style of Chenshan "Garland", the plants in beds are divided into three kinds. There are structural plants, themed plants and accessorial plants.

The structural plants are mainly used to ensure the continuous flower ornamental period. Such as Verbena bonariensis , Gaura lindheimeri, Canna spp., ornamental grasses and flowering shrubs are widely used.

As the image shown below the whole garland has four themes. Theme plants are mainly used in the area. Those are: Asteraceae(in Blue), Hemerocallis spp. + Iridaceae(in Green), Malvaceae(in Yellow) and Crassulaceae + Bulbs(in Red). These theme plants are quite different in terms of their flowers, leaves and shapes, and they form a special characteristic in each area.

In addition to the structural plants and themed plants, accessorial plants also decoratethe flower beds. They do not play an important role in each area, but they enrich the species and biodiversity. Such as Kniphofia hybrid, Penstemon laevigatus subsp. digitalis, Phormium tenax, Senecio cineraria and Stachys byzantine.

2.2 Elevation design from micro to macro

The elevation design for Chenshan "Garland" follows the ideas of music. It is mutually reinforced from micro to macro. The height and size of plants are focused in each block and ensure that the flower border has changeable levels. The images below show a few combinations.

2.3 Strengthening the rhythm of color design

Changes in elevation give the "Garland" basic rhythms and tunes and the color scheme of plants add more distinction and recognizability. The "Garland" has most of the color that can be seen in East China. Warm and cool, coordination, contrast and complement of color are fully considered.

2.4 Focus on seasonal changes

Seasonal changes should be taken into consideration when doing planting design so as to form a continuous seasonal landscape. The flowering period of Chenshan "Garland" begins in April and ends in November. The seasonal changes in the flower border act like a song. They begin with the overture and gradually transition to the climax, then pass a flat section, reach another climax, and finally tend to ease.

3 Conclusion

The design of Chenshan "Garland" follows the new trends of foreign flower borders, but also gives full consideration to the realities of domestic flower borders. It responds to the big scale flower borders in China, by its special site scale and characteristics. It explores a new idea and way of application in a large scale of public landscape. Also, it has certain universal values. It breaks the tradition on spatial layout, planting style and plant selection. The "Garland" is rich in plant species, and the space between blocks makes the plants well organized. That is not only easy for maintenance, but also reduces the consumption of plants, water, energy and other resources. After two years of practice, Chenshan Garland has been able to maintain a fairly high level of biodiversity, structural stability, ornamental continuity, transformation flexibility and low maintenance costs. Therefore, there is hope that new design ideas like Chenshan "Garland" can be utilized in a larger context.

(Editor / JIN Hua)


SHU Tingting, female, born in 1985 in Wenzhou of Zhejiang Province, MSc, horticultural landscape designer in Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden, research interest: landscape planning and design (Shanghai 201602)

CHEN Xiyu, male, born in 1989 in Shanghai, MA, horticultural landscape designer in Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden, research interest: planting design (Shanghai 201602)

HU Yonghong, male, born in 1968 in Yanshi of Henan Province, Ph.D., senior engineer and Executive Director of Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden, research interest: garden botany (Shanghai 201602)

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