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Behind 'The Back 40' - Natural Garden Design (guest post by Stephanie Cosby)

If you were thinking about stopping by the Botanic Garden for a walk in the next few weeks, you will not be disappointed. Each garden or area has its special purpose, but right now (this month), there is one area not to miss! The Botanic Garden calls it The Back 40, or among staff, 'toward the compost pile'. It's the area between the MBG side, side bank of Audubon Lake and the Butterfly Garden. You might know it as the area in the back with huge trees. 

Further on, behind those trees, it also has wild plants that have settled in of their own accord. It's natural habitat at it's finest. The swaths of rich fall colors: ochre, mauve, pink, lavender, chartreuse, rust, sepia ivory, sienna…are breathtaking. The varying forms and textures give complex interest. These are the types of scenes that Chris Cosby (Memphis Botanic Garden's Senior Manager of Gardens) looks to for inspiration. He studies how plants group themselves naturally and how their mature forms hang together. It's this information that informs his decisions while designing. 



This type of garden design is called the 'Natural Garden'. Piet Oudolf, the famous Dutch garden designer whose gardens share similar aesthetic principles with the landscapes in these photographs, uses cultivated plants to create this effect. He calls it the 'New Perennial' or 'New Wave Planting' movement. The idea is to elicit an emotional response and create a mood. The views are lyrical, ethereal yet use tough plants that don't need to be pampered and coddled. Chris Cosby subscribes to this same garden design philosophy which can be seen in MBG's My Big Backyard and the new Nature Photography Garden

Another feature in this area is the (around) 100 year old fallen tree. You can walk it like a balance beam, you can see the faerie doorway around the roots that my children pointed out to me. You can also take this opportunity to explain the cycle of life in nature, to your child, by showing them the mushrooms and moss growing on the tree that are breaking it down so it can become soil again one day. 

Come see this for yourself, hear the wind in these grasses, the breeze blow through the giant trees while you drink in the colors. Marvel at paintings created by Mother Nature, consider the importance of preservation and conservation, and give gratitude to Memphis Botanic Garden and all its supporters for having this gem available here in our city!  

Further Reading by Piet Odoulf: 


Stephanie C. Cosby ~ Fine Art Photographer 

Stephanie is a guest blogger who is blogging about the art and aesthetics of plants/habitats/gardens and reasons to conserve them.

Stephanie's Tumblr

Posted by chris cosby at 9:18 AM


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