Plant Knowledge in the Landscape Industry

‘You can only learn about plants by getting dirty.’ That’s what a new friend of The Plantium said to us recently over a glass of wine. It resonated. Plant knowledge takes time, testing and retesting, observation and patience. Building knowledge takes a willingness to experiment. How much does plant knowledge matter in our industry and is it on the rise or decline in the landscape industry?

As landscape professionals we are facing several key trends in the horticulture industry, not the least of which is what Russell Cummings coined as ‘V squared’ – volatility and velocity.1 Our clients’ demands are shifting quickly and these clients are rarely patient. With ecological factors like drought tolerance and native (to name just two) here to stay, demands are becoming more refined, requiring landscape professionals to possess a sophisticated array of both environmental and aesthetic plant knowledge.

Young students and professionals leaving their respective institutions (universities and botanic gardens) may find themselves facing even greater challenges. ‘In the past, there has been a good deal of wrangling over how important plant knowledge is to the profession, with claims that many landscape architects are regressing in plant prowess. With such an array of vital skills needed in landscape architecture, it can be difficult to decipher whether or not an area such as plants necessitates further learning.’2 Institutions are struggling to making difficult decisions regarding where to spend the precious little time they have with their students. Industry professionals are also increasingly mobile following personal and professional opportunities and finding themselves in very different bioregions at different points in their professional lives.

The usefulness of technology in knowledge management is a foregone fact yet the plant industry lags behind. Without technology assisting landscape professionals capture what they have learned much plant knowledge is lost in this diverse, fickle and fast-paced industry. Students and professionals have to be armed with the ability to make quick, environmentally intelligent decisions regarding plants. Students and professionals need to spend less time hunting through hundreds of books and websites to find plant information and more time getting dirty putting the right plants in the ground and watching them thrive. Technology must be in place to capture these evaluations and allow our professionals to retain this personal and institutional knowledge. ‘Data, data everywhere’ as Cummings said. Professionals, budding professionals and our academic institutions should be asking themselves ‘How can you use your information for faster and better quality decisions?’1 The Plantium looks forward to continuing this conversation among the academic thought leaders in late March at the CELA 2016 conference where we will pose the same tough questions. http://www.cela2016.com/

  1. Russell Cummings – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140914082436-3143364-the-top-5-trends-for-horticulture
  2. Paul McAtomney – http://landarchs.com/top-10-names-in-planting-design/

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