Importing natural vegetation often isn’t practical for a project. And it sure isn’t a sustainable practice either.
When it comes to zoos and landscape architecture, we often use a technique called Borrowed Landscaping. Originally developed in Far East Asia, it’s a technique that “borrows the view” of landscape elements already there to give the appearance of being bigger than it actually is. Think of it as an “infinity pool” optical illusion … but for plants.
Zoos are often under limited budgets and finite resources. At WDM, we are creative with the setting and strive to use what is in the existing habitat to fully maximize the space for the good of the animals, keepers and public. We like to embrace what is present already as much as possible, and borrowed landscaping is a way to encourage this. Since borrowed landscaping is outside the actual animal habitat, it doesn’t affect their environment.
For instance, during the design of an orangutan exhibit, we discovered the proposed site had many large, impressive eucalyptus trees that could help tell the story of the arboreal life of the orangutans. However, this particular species of eucalyptus is notoriously weak and would not support an orangutan’s weight. WDM used borrowed landscaping to frame the eucalyptus trees in the background outside of the exhibit, but still in view of the public. Combined with a dry-moat at the back of the exhibit, supplemental plantings, and climbing opportunities for the orangutans in the foreground, the illusion was the eucalyptus trees were accessible by the orangutans.
Another borrowed landscaping technique is using “simulator plants”. These plants mimic the look of exotic plants, but are native to the local environment of the zoo. This can save money on irrigation and plant materials as the native plants can thrive without supplemental water and are more readily available and affordable. These non-invasive plants also grow better and are sustained longer.
Borrowed landscaping continues the mission and message that many zoos have regarding conservation. So, next time, take a look at all the surrounding vegetation in an exhibit. You may find that some of the landscape elements aren’t really part of an exhibit like you first thought. Maybe they just “borrowed” your eye for a moment.