You've seen the pictures. The builder has finished a new house and, as a final touch, he has had someone do landscaping.

Generally this consists of sod to cover the clay, mulched shrubs around the front, and a small tree or two staked in the front yard.

There you have it, landscaping.

Well, yes and no, says Richard Darke, a Pennsylvania-based landscaper, consultant and author. Darke's view is much more extensive than "small, individual clusters of objects set into the lawn, on their own."

Darke will bring his views on designing for beauty and biodiversity to the Quad-Cities on Saturday, Sept. 30, giving two talks at the fall garden conference sponsored by Iowa State University Extension-Scott County Master Gardeners at Scott Community College, Bettendorf.

This is the third year of the conference, which was begun with the realization that while there are several large Quad-City area horticultural events in winter, fall was a virtual desert of educational opportunities. And while many people think of fall as the end of the growing season, there are things to do, including learning and planning for next year.

One of Darke's key points is that a landscape should consist of layers — the ground, the herbaceous flowers, the shrubs, the understory and the canopy — and that each layer should support a diversity of life, from insects to human beings.

If you're the type of gardener who thinks of gardening as going to the store, buying pretty plants, putting them in the ground and then doing everything you can to make sure they stay put, that is fine. That type of gardening has its place. But that is not what Darke is talking about.

"Let's start looking at plants not as objects, but as part of a living community that changes over time," he said in a telephone interview with the Quad-City Times.

"A landscape should be responsible. It should re-charge the ground water, cool the ground, entertain, produce oxygen and allow the bees to pollinate — a whole wide set of functions.

"It is greatly rewarding if you learn how to do this," he said, adding that it does require "brain work."

But he believes audiences are up to the task.  "Audiences are a whole lot smarter than we give them credit for," he said. "They know how they feel. They know how they live."   

He doesn't want people to think that, "Oh, this (talk) is just about gardening for wildlife."

Layers also address aspects of beauty, fragrance, enrichment and setting the scene for contemplation.

He will help gardeners understand what layers might be missing in their yards, and how to fill them in. Although he favors North American natives, he is not a "purist." He is happy to use a few plants from other countries so long as they do not become weedy or threaten the native ecology.

One tip: Darke watches his audience and will change his presentation based on feedback such as quizzical looks, yawning, nodding and other body language. Depending on the cues, he may go deeper into a topic than he planned, entirely skipping over another.

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