Is Your Planting Evocative or Provocative?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Is Your Planting Evocative or Provocative?

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    Thomas Rainer


    Planting design needs to be liberated from its traditional role as ornamentation for architecture.  For too long, the role of the American planting designer has been to ‘shrub up’ the base of buildings, like placing parsley around the pot roast.  Instead planting can be an expressive and dynamic medium in itself, capable of conveying meaning and emotion.


    If you, too, think that planting design is an art, then here’s my question for you: is your planting evocative or provocative?  Here’s what I mean.  I’ve been mulling over great planting design. Not just good planting, but the icons of great planting: Getrude Jekyll’s borders, Jens Jenson’s . . .



    Edward Flaherty

    Well, well, well, Thomas…one month and no responses, not one…does that give you a measure of how much people think about the importance of planting design?

    I can not really see the difference between evocative and provocative…can you please build them out a little bit more?

    Starting point on either one would be healthy plants…wouldn’t it? Or have we become so abstract concept oriented that we use the concept as an excuse not to know which plants can grow well or which plants can truly elaborate the concept?

    Or, have we gone so far down the road on ecosystem re-establishment that we have to demonstrate disease, old age and death in our planting design?  🙂

    Good subject, in my opinion.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I like to think it is responsive.


    The work “provocative” is often taken to mean the generation of negative actions and that might make people confused and hesitant to respond. I’m no linguist, so I’m unclear on exactly what is being asked, also.


    If provocative is to mean that it causes people to take a specific action, I would say that this would be an intent in most planting designs that I do to one degree or another. If evoke means to bring out a specific feeling from those using the landscape, I’d also would say that this is an intent of mine as well. I would expect this to be standard goals that any planting designer would strive for. …. Maybe that is why there is no response.


    Or maybe Ed is right that people have become too focused on some of the other issues in landscape architecture that plant design and theory are looked down on or maybe unfamiliar territory. Could there be a growing disconnect between plant design and landscape architecture in the classroom  with the growth of importance of other issues in the teaching of landscape architecture? Just how many plant design related threads are here? … “what is your favorite plant”!

    david maynes

    I believe that planting design can be both, evocative and provocative.

    I have always tended toward an eclectic planting aesthetic.

    Evocative: context-based indigenous planting palette

    Provocative: ornamental planting palette (cultivars propagated for provocation!)

    The massing and interweaving of the two creates form, expression, exaggeration, culture (Randall Arendt’s work implies how both ornamental and indigenous planting can be culturally significant), ecotypes supportive of ornamental management obligations over the long term (IPM-based design…increase predators at the right time, using less ‘key’ species, and minimizing scout-monitoring…kind of; the locals protecting the newbies ‘because they know people'(insects)), and the temporal-textural aspects which can be so much more interesting than perpetual color bombs.


    Planting design is an art. Planting design is a science. Evocative-Provocative.


    Monday, I have to convince a colleague that less pavers for more planting would be best in a current project. We’ll see how that goes.

    Nice topic, but I think Edward said it best; a month? Ouch




    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I apologize for not re-reading the blog that was referenced after the initial time I looked at this thread. You defined what you meant ny evocative and provocative and it really is a very interesting subject. By your definition, I do “evocotive” plantings almost all of the time.


    Perhaps rain gardens are often some of the more “provocative” plantings that we are seeing a lot of these days unless they are done to simulate a natural wetland.


    Evocative in overall planting design, but provocative in use of certain species of plants! The provocative plants are your specimen or focal points in the landscape.

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