This paper discusses the reasoning behind the development of a new approach to designed urban planting with grasses, forbs and geophytes that has been undertaken at the University of Sheffield over the past 15 years. The resulting plant communities are the result of applying contemporary ecological science to planting design, to maximize their sustainability whilst at the same time meeting the aesthetic and functional needs of the users of urban public landscapes. The geographical origin of the plants used in these communities varies according to the physical, ecological and cultural context in which they are to be used. In some cases species are entirely native, in others entirely non-native. In many cases a mixture of both are used. In discussing the rationale for the development of this approach in the UK context, the paper raises important issues about increasing the capacity of urban landscapes to support a greater diversity of native animals, and to engage ordinary citizens in these activities at a time of dramatic climatic and social change. The approach we outline addresses some of these issues in the UK context but it is uncertain whether there is merit in these approaches in the context of American towns and cities.