If you spend most days in Lexington, almost all of the plants you see were planted by landscapers or homeowners (that nasty free-seeding honeysuckle and our remarkable pre-settlement oaks and ashes excepted). The trees, lawns, and hedges might seem permanent. None are. They die at the jaws of tiny beetles or by terrific bolts of lightning, then we replace them by ones and by twos. We shouldn’t do so mindlessly. Like it or not, the Kentucky landscape, be it commercial or residential, is changing rapidly and permanently. The smart person will direct the nature of that change, rather than simply react to it.
Lexington landscape change at hand isn’t about a fad, or about marketing, or about any one cause. What we have, in Lexington and beyond, is a perfect storm of landscape stressors. Sadly, there isn’t any particular solution waiting out there to be bought off the shelf. No easy fix exists, because the circumstances have changed so radically. But there are smart choices we can make now.
A rose garden planted within a boxwood hedge today cannot perform as well as one planted in 1950. Newly arrived boxwood blight and rose rosette diseases are the primary threats. Likewise, a Taxus hedge at the edge of a parking lot inevitably declines as years and years of parking lot salting wash around its roots. Lawns struggle, because we continue to run over them with heavy equipment, because fertilizer residuals accumulate in soil, because fungus adaptation outpaces fungicide development, and because we kill the soil-building organisms when we act to kill the Japanese beetle grub. All these factors are worsened by wilder and wilder fluctuations in temperatures and precipitation that show no sign of taming.
It doesn’t matter at all what your politics are or aren’t, or what you do or do not find attractive. What matters is how we understand what landscape is for, and whether we can create new methods, resources, and habits to achieve our goals when installing landscape. Lexington’s traditional blue horse, to quote a phrase, is out of the barn. In a short twenty years, our city will look different whether or not we drive the change. There will be fewer acres of fescue turf, few or no boxwood, no knockout roses. There will be a more blue-collar landscape, where the plants work–for passive cooling, rainwater filtering, and more. We will ask more from our landscapes, and they will deliver. Pretty and predictable are not enough. The game has changed.