Go Green Outdoors with a Sustainable Landscape    

Environmental values have reached mainstream when corporate manufacturers and retailers all jump on the band wagon and introduce their version of saving the planet, going green, sustainable lifestyles and other organic vernacular. Certainly, its the consumer who creates the demand.

The lifestyle is a combination of health, wellness, nutrition, environmental toxicity, ecological crisis, water shortages, high energy and oil prices coupled with a progressive environmental wisdom to do what's right for the earth's ecosystems. Not to mention an ecosystem consisting of the human species.

We have fought long and hard for environmental values: Save the Whales, protect endangered species, preserve wetlands, go Vegan, Save the Redwoods, Save the Rainforests, etc. We all endorse these causes as noble and now we want to bring our values home by shopping local, growing our own community gardens and being extra cautitious when it comes to being a "green consumer".

As individuals, we can recycle our paper, plastic, cans and bottles. We can recycle household goods by re-using bags, avoiding non biodegradable packaging, supporting local farmers markets, composting waste for our own gardens, saving water, saving electricity, avoiding the use of toxic chemicals and many other actions.

Sustainability means the perpetuation of the functioning of a system in its current form that will allow future generations to reap the benefits in kind. For example, a fisheries industry designed to only allow so many species to be caught during the season so that populations are able to offset that which is harvested. Another example is the planting of sustainable forests whereby seedlings are planted to replace the harvesting of older trees rather than simply clear cutting an entire forest and moving on to new untapped forests and never planting anything to replace them.

Sustainability however is not exactly a catchy marketing term like "Go Green". I prefer not to use the term since it sounds too much like an academic discussion on the environement. People just want to know what they can do to help the planet, save water and energy and feel they are doing their part.

How can you achieve a "sustainable" garden?Going Green outdoors includes some of the following------

Ecologically Friendly Designs include:

Stormwater management: Capture water and retain onsite reducing runoff by using retention areas, berms, cisterns, permeable paving areas and reduction of impermeable paving.

Creation of Wildlife Habitat – preservation of native plants and the planting of native indigenous species to increase the useable habitat for local wildlife

Creation of microclimates to increase the biodiversity of species, improve quality of habitat for wildlife and humans by creating shade through trees which shade understory and buildings.

Use of Permaculture Practices that include Organic gardening principles, composting, capturing rainwater and tapping into the cycles of nature to sustain an ecosystem that is being recreated on the site.

Grow some of your own food (edible landscapes)

Let’s look at some of the opportunities in the garden to create sustainability, have less impact on the environment, less of a carbon footprint and one that looks good at the same time.

Native Plant Garden aka Natural Garden – a garden that preserves most of the indigenous plants reduces the need to plant additional plant material and irrigation needs. Sometimes the home cannot be built without a certain amount of removal or re-grading the site. We then must balance the remaining areas with our own human needs such as sitting areas, gardens and other structures that may or may not be able to integrate with the natural areas.

Xeriscape Design  – Xeriscape is a term that originated back in the 1970s at a water conservation district in Texas. The concept is based on a holistic approach to landscaping and is more than simply using less water as most people think of the term. It was borne out of the need to be frugal with water living in the arid southwest; however, principles of xeriscape go beyond the availability of water. All regions of the country can adapt to its principles because they are based on concepts of sustainability before the term sustainability was coined.

Water Conserving Designs  – these types of designs put the use of water front and center and the overall theme or style of garden is not the issue, water is. In this approach, a garden is either renovated and retrofitted to use less water or designed from scratch to be water thrifty in its demand, use of available water and the recycling of that water. These types of systems include the use of smart irrigation controllers, low precipitation rate sprinklers, drip irrigation lines, soil moisture sensors, rainwater catchment systems, drought tolerant and low water use plants, shading, mulching and water retention.

When it comes to sustainable living and how the average homeowner can do their part on their own piece of land, access to and the conscious use of water is something that each of us has control.

Access to a city water supply or groundwater well may seem like an endless supply of potable water. However, regardless of the source, we are all aware that at some point water will be a precious resource that will be highly valued -- much more than today’s cost. Because the earth’s population is growing, there will be a time where the earth cannot sustain its human population with adequate fresh water supplies. Whether it’s the weather reducing supplies of rain water or the pollution that destroys the water that is already flowing upon the earth’s streams, lake and rivers, water will certainly increase in cost because of supply and demand.

“Water is the driver of nature” – Benjamin Franklin   

Convinced that you would like to incorporate some aspects of sustainability into your landscape but not sure how to start? Do you need help with its design? How do you integrate the green part with the conventional parts? Perhaps you need to call upon an expert such as JSL Landscape for assistance. 

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John Stuart Leslie John Stuart Leslie, MLA, Licensed Landscape Contractor holds a Masters in Landscape Architecture where he studied Xeriscape, Permaculture and Natural Ecosystem Design and Planning.