Beauty of the Wild: A Life Designing Landscapes Inspired by Nature

Beauty of the Wild: A Life Designing Landscapes Inspired by Nature

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Selected by Gardens Illustrated for "The Best Gardening Books to Read in 2022"

In Beauty of the Wild, Darrel Morrison tells stories of people and places that have nourished his career as a teacher and a designer of nature-inspired landscapes. Growing up on a small farm in southwestern Iowa, Morrison was transported by the subtle beauties of the native prairie landscape. As a graduate student at University of Wisconsin–Madison, he encountered the Curtis Prairie, one of the first places in the world where ecological restoration was practiced. There he saw the beauty inherent in ecological diversity. At Wisconsin, too, Morrison was introduced to the land ethic of Aldo Leopold, that we have a responsibility to perpetuate the richness we have inherited in nature. He has been guided as well by the teachings of Jens Jensen, who believed that we can't successfully copy nature, but we can get a theme from it and use key species to evoke that essential feeling.

For more than six decades, Morrison has drawn inspiration from the varied landscapes of his life. In native plant gardens at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he has blended communities of native plants in distillations of regional prairies, woodlands, bogs, and coastal meadows. At Storm King Art Center in the Hudson Highlands, his landscapes capture the essence of upstate New York meadows. These ever-evolving compositions were designed to reintroduce diversity, natural processes, and naturally occurring patterns―the “beauty of the wild”―into the landscape.

For Morrison, however, there is also a deeper motivation for designing these landscapes. Strongly influenced by Aldo Leopold's observation that people start to appreciate nature initially through its pretty elements, he explains: “From admiring individual plants within a big composition, you can move to starting to see patterns, and then this leads to starting to think about processes that have led to the patterns. It is a progression. You start to think more about why things are where they are, and how you can perpetuate that, and even deeper, you really start to think about protecting, preserving, and restoring these qualities in the landscapes we are responsible for.”

Published: June 15, 2021

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