A B O U T   R I C K  D A R K E   L L C

 Rick Darke on the
                        High Line's Northern Spur (photo: P.Oudolf)
Rick Darke heads RICK DARKE LLC, a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm focused on the conservation, design and management of living landscapes. Darke's work is grounded in an observational ethic that blends art, ecology, and cultural geography. Projects include parks, scenic byways, transportation corridors, corporate and collegiate campuses, conservation developments, post industrial brownfields, botanic gardens and residential landscapes.

Darke has studied and photographed North American plants in diverse habitats for over 40 years, and this experience is reflected in his articles and books including The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest and The Living Landscape: Desigining for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden (co-authored with Doug Tallamy).
  A broadly knowledgeable field botanist and horticulturist, Darke has traveled extensively in both hemispheres exploring diverse ecologies and cultural landscapes in search of ideas to enrich the global garden. He is an internationally recognized authority on the use of grasses in designed gardens and managed wildscapes and his book The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes is the world's most complete single reference on the topic. Believing that managed wildness will play an increasing role in tomorrow's urban and suburban landscapes, Darke worked with Timber Press to introduce William Robinson's classic work to a new generation of gardners. The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition places Robinson's work in modern ecological context and illustrates its continuing relevance. Click here for a video on wild gardens produced by Darke. 

Rick Darke is available for concept, design, and management consulting on public and private landscapes.  CONTACT: design2 at rickdarke.org

Rick Darke at Carrie Furnace June
                          2011 by Ralph Vittucio 
                        construction frames the sunrise 1994 
Darke's own garden, made with Melinda Zoehrer, his wife and co-horticulturist, comprises 1.5 acres in the rolling piedmont of Landenberg, Pennsylvania, and features locally native and adapted plants and cultural relics. The garden has served has a living laboratory for more than a quarter century. It has been published in Horticulture Magazine, Delaware Today magazine, in Ken Druse's award-winning books The Collector's Garden (1996) and Ken Druse: A Passion for Gardening (2003, co-authored with Adam Levine), in Fine Gardening Magazine, December 1998, The American Gardener , May-June 1999, in the July-August 1999 issue of HGTV Ideas: The Magazine of Home and Garden Television , and in Peg Streep's Spiritual Gardening: Creating Sacred Space Outdoors. The garden was featured in the September 2000 issue of The Garden (The Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society) and in a May 2007 New York Times article by Anne Raver. Darke's work with deciduous forest ecology, stewardship, and landscape design was featured on Ketzel Levine's National Public Radio program.  The September 2008 issue of Gardens Illustrated includes an interview with Rick Darke by John Hoyland, with photography by Charlie Hopkinson.   the Meadow
                        Metropolis made of recycled copper sash from
                        Longwood Gardens historic Conservatory

After initial forays into mechanical engineering, art, cultural geography and anthropology, Darke graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Science from the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware in 1977. He subsequently completed graduate coursework in plant taxonomy, botanic garden management, and public policy. Darke received an honorary degree from the Conway School of Landscape Design in July 2009.

When not gardening, Darke maintains his engineering interests by restoring and maintaining vintage machinery including motorcycles, pickup trucks, and Hammond organs.  He's written about vintage motorcycles and their history in Japan, and other design/culture/landscape relationships involving The Machine in The Garden (credit to author Leo Marx!). 

Darke served on the staff of Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for 20 years, beginning in 1977 as Taxonomic Assistant.  As Curator of Plants from 1986-1997, Darke played a major role in developing the Gardens' indoor and outdoor displays, and was directly responsible for the identification and data management of the nearly 10,000 different plants comprising Longwoods' grounds and conservatory collections. His work with international plant exploration and introduction has taken him to Japan, South Africa, England, Germany, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and the Canary Islands.


Darke has served as a horticultural consultant for diverse public landscapes and gardens including the Adkins Arboretum (for the Eastern Shoreway, route 301), Delaware Greenways (for the Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway), the Chicago Botanic Garden, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Rio Grande Botanic Garden, Mt. Cuba Inc., the City of Baltimore's Druid Hill Conservatory,
Montgomery Farm, a 500-acre conservation development in Allen, Texas that employed a diverse team to create an ecologically authentic living landscape. 

Darke worked with W. Gary Smith on the preliminary design of the Woodland Entrance Corridor for the Botanic Garden of Western Pennsylvania, now known as the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. Darke and Smith previously worked together with Jeff Lynch and other Longwood Gardens staff on the design of Peirce's Woods at Longwood Gardens. In 2008, Darke, Smith, and Darrel Morrison participated in a design charrette, for the Native Flora garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, since completed by Darrel Morrison.

Darke's experience with the practical management of regenerative vegetation in public landscapes began in the late 1990's, working with Susan Barton, Gary Schwetz and Valann Budischak on the Enhancing Delaware Highways project for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). This goals of this 15+-year cooperative research project are to enhance the beauty and ecological diversity of Delaware's regional roadside rights of way while conserving natural resources and increasing operational safety. . Enhancing Delaware Highways was featured in the August 2003 People Places and Plants magazine article "Roadside Attraction"  Along with Barton and Schwetz, Darke co-authored and photo-illustrated DelDOT's Concept and Planning Manual: Enhancing Delaware Highways followed by The DelDOT Establishment and Management Manual. 

The complete manuals are available as free PDF downloads from the following links on the Delaware Department of Transportation website:


Darke's current public projects include the Addition by Reduction project at Carrie Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Pittsburgh. Working with Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation's  Augie Carlino and Ron Baraff, in 2013 Darke initiated the Addition by Reduction project employing editing techniques to organize and enhance the site's beauty, biodiversity, and functionality.  The resulting, ever-evolving "Iron Garden" consists entirely of native and non-native spontaneous vegetation that has regenerated in the concrete rubble and compacted soils of this urban brownfield. In 2014 volunteers including Rick Rowlands created landscape seating from recycled stone that was once part of the hot-metal bridge. In 2015 Pittsburgh's Penn State Master Gardeners were instrumental in creating and installing interpretive signs, cast on site from recycled iron.
native and non-native vegetation
                                  creates functional habitat adjacent to
                                  history machinery view to green room from 100 feet
                                  up on the furnace none of this has been planted -
                                  it is all spontaneous growth
cast iron sign by Penn State
                                  Master Gardeners working with
                                  volunteers from Rivers of Steel,
                                  Carnegie Mellon University, and
                                  Detroit's Carbon Arts visitors read an Iron Garden cast
                                  sign while walking an edited path to
                                  the furnaces path and green room at Carrie
                                  Furnaces created by editing

In 2014 Darke began working with 21st Century Parks and Bravura Architecture's Jim Walters on the conservation-based design of a layered woodland garden in the Floyds Fork watershed at the periphery of Louisville, Kentucky.  The Woodland Garden makes creative use of editing to maximize authentic regional beauty, diversity and functionality. Extensive populations existing on site include Jeffersonia diphylla, Pachysandra procumbens, Asimina triloba, Quercus alba, Trillium sessile, Cercis canadensis, Cornus florida, Juniperus virginiana and Dirca palustris. The Moss Gibbs Woodland Garden opened to the public in 2019.

sweeps of spontaneous redbuds
                                      on site extensive populations of
                                      Jeffersonia and Trillium limestone gorge covered with
Allegheny pachysandra
                                      Pachysandra procumbens native on
                                      site Bravura Jim Walters Woodland
                                      Garden loop trail sketch majestic oaks and spontanous
                                      groups of flowering dogwood
                                view Pavillion to Kentucky Coffee Tree
scarlet oak
                                Coffee Tree rondel
dry laid
                                limestone bridge by Jim Walters and
                                Cecil Aguilar

In 2019 Darke began work with Manitoga, The Russel Wright Design Center in Garrison, New York to photo-document the artistry and resilient biology of Wright's unique landscape.
                                  in May 2019 MANITOGA in October

In 2023 Darke began work in eastern Ohio with the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District. The project, broadly titled Heart of Appalachian Ohio, "will focus on the uniqueness of the communities, natural elements and people that have shaped the region and made it the heart of enterprise, natural resources, freedom, innovation and resiliency"
. Working with over 400 acres comprising the Piney Fork, Hellbender Preserve and Quaker Ridge sites, the Conservation District is creating vibrant destinations that weave the region's rich cultural history and floral/faunal communities together in stunningly innovative parks, trails, and gardens.

                                the tracks
Ratibida pinnata Daucus carota
                                growing wild
Rick Darke
                                and Aaron Dodds
                                Fork railroad bridge

common crossing aka railroad
                                forged at Carnegie with red-spotted
                                stone bridge
                                tunnel to become part of rail trail

 black swallowtail on sunflower at
                          Montgomery Farm

on the High Line May 2002 
Darke's longstanding studies of cultural landscapes and regional ecologies led him in 2004 to join designer Paul van Meter and co-team member Tim Mountz in the submission of a preliminary design entry for the High Line, the long-derelict elevated rail line along New York City's West Side that has since become one of 21st Century's most unique public spaces. The entry, one of over 700 submitted by participants from 36 countries, was a Jury Selection. Seven years later High Line co-founder Robert Hammond and Vice President of Horticulture Melissa Fischer invited Darke to make a presentation on the High Line exploring the potential role of wildness at the Rail Yards, the future of which was then still uncertain. The complete September 2011 talk, "The High Line's Wild Gardens: Past, Present and Future" can be streamed from the High Line's YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw5qByoQua4 the High Line Gansevoort
                            Woodlands April 2015

Darke teaches and lectures internationally on sustainable landscape design, planning, conservation and the ethical underpinnings of all of these. Special areas of focus include ecological and cultural landscapes of North America, deciduous woodland ecology and garden design, grasses for sustainable global gardens, Arts & Crafts period gardens, roadside/ruderal landscapes, and regenerative landscapes. On the broad topic of livable landscapes Rick has addressed audiences in North America, Canada, England, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile.

Since fall semester 2006 Darke has collaborated with University of Delaware professor Dr. Susan Barton on PLSC100 Plants and Human Culture, a progressive course exploring the evolving relationships between plants and an international variety of human cultures. Darke serves as regular guest lecturer on topics including The Global Garden and The Art of Observation, and co-leads boots-on-the-ground Honors field trips to urban and ex-urban places including The High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
on foot from from
                          Brooklyn to the Hudson River  
Dr Susan Baron and
                        PLSC100 students in the former tracks of the
                        Blue Comet

Darke is an active free-lance writer and photographer. His collection of digital photos and 35mm transparencies includes over 200,000 images of plants, gardens, and diverse landscapes around the world. His photographs have been published in numerous books, magazines, newspapers and nursery catalogs. Darke's current cameras include the Sony models A99, A77, NEX-7, RX100, SR11 and iPhone 4S. For digital presentation Darke uses Epson projector models Epson 1730W and 1925W. Darke is available for workshops or presentations on the use of digital technologies for gardeners and green industry professionals.  Go to Publications for a complete listing of Darke's published works including free downloadable PDF's of his profiles on Amsonia, Halesia, Fothergilla.

Darke has studied ornamental grasses for over 30 years, and his writing and photography on this topic have appeared in numerous magazines and journals including RHS The Garden, Garden Design, National Gardening, Fine Gardening, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, and Arnoldia , the magazine of the Arnold Arboretum. He authored the booklet Ornamental Grasses at Longwood Gardens and was responsible for the design and plant selection of the ornamental grass display in Longwood's Idea Garden. His first book, For Your Garden: Ornamental Grasses was published in April 1994. Darke served as Consulting Editor for the Royal Horticultural Society's Manual of Grasses, published in December 1994.  The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses , including over 500 color photographs by the author, was published in the U.S. in March 1999 by Timber Press. It was superceded by The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes, (2007, Timber Press). With over 1000 photos and more than 130,000 words, this book remains the most comprehensive encyclopedia of landscape grasses ever published. It has since been published in French by Editions du Rouergue, Parc Saint-Joseph, France, and in German in 2010 by Verlag Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart, Germany, with a foreword by Cassian Schmidt, Director of Hermannshof Garden in Weinheim.

Darke's research has investigated period Arts & Crafts Movement philosophies and their importance to contemporary stewardship of cultural landscapes and local ecologies. He has written about Arts & Crafts gardens for Style 1900: The Quarterly Journal of the Arts & Crafts Movement, has lectured from coast to coast on this topic, and has served as design consultant on Arts & Crafts gardens from California to Pennsylvania. His book, In Harmony with Nature: Lessons from the Arts & Crafts Garden was published in hardcover in March 2000 by Friedman-Fairfax of New York and in softcover in March 2001. Darke has presented various perspectives on the topic of Arts & Crafts gardens for institutions and symposia including: the 9th Annual Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference in Asheville, North Carolina; the Friends of the Gamble House Greene & Greene Symposium in Pasadena, California; Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, California; the Rose Valley Anniversary Lecture Series at the Hedgerow Theater in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania; the University of Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Berks County Pennsylvania Horticulture Club; Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida; the New York Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America; the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in California, the 13th Annual Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference; and the New York Botanical Garden.  

Darke has been a founding member of the Steering and Program Committees for the Millersville University annual Conference on "Native Plants in the Landscape", co-Chairman of the Native Plant Sale Program Committee for the Delaware Nature Society, Chairman of the AABGA Nomenclature Committee, and is Past President of the Board of Directors of the Delaware Center for Horticulture. He served on the review board for the Chester County Natural Areas Inventory, and on the Public Education Committee of the Citizens Task Force for the Congressionally-sponsored White Clay Watershed Wild & Scenic Rivers Study, on the Delaware Department of Transportation Horticultural and Vegetative Management Advisory Group, the Landscape Advisory Committee of the Whitesbog Preservation Trust, and served for ten years as a Board Member of Pennsylvania's  London Britain Township Land Trust.

photographing with Nikon
                        35mm film camera in 1991 with Kingia australis Darke's awards and citations include: Professional Citation of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (1997), The American Horticultural Society (AHS) Scientific Award, which recognizes individuals "who have enriched horticulture through outstanding and notable research", the Garden Media Award from the Perennial Plant Association (2001), AHS Horticultural Writing Award (2004), an honorary degree from the Conway School of Landscape Design (2009), the Distinguished Alumni Award of the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (2011), the Distinguished Achievement in Horticulture Award from Rutgers Gardens of Rutgers University (2012) GAF 35mm camera early 1970's