June 17, 2013 in Uncategorized
At the heart of sustainability in the garden are the 5 core elements above: soils, water, plants, materials, and human health/well being. By addressing each of these categories we can create landscapes that work with nature to protect and restore natural ecosystems and the human benefits that they provide.
Landscapes for Life, a joint project between the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is devoted to teaching people how to create and maintain sustainable, beautiful home gardens. They translate rules set out in Sustainable Sites Initiative, a 3rd party certification organization for sustainable landscapes, to a scale appropriate for the homeowner. Here are some of the basics of the sustainable garden for each of these categories:
Soils become degraded through construction and other human activities. They become compacted, over-fertilized, eroded, and stripped of organic matter. Working with soils in a sustainable way often means returning organic matter to reduce compaction, and restore poor or neglected soils. It means using chemical fertilizers only when necessary to solve a problem and protecting soils from further compaction, often with a layer of mulch.
Shortages of clean freshwater are becoming one of the most urgent challenges we face and the use of potable water on lawns and gardens are a significant cause of this. In addition, runoff from gardens often contain fertilizers and pollutants that damage aquatic ecosystems in our rivers, lakes, and streams. A sustainable landscape minimizes the use of potable water by selecting plants that can thrive without supplemental water once established and by using alternative sources of water such as harvested rainwater. In addition, we can use rain gardens, bio-swales, and other water retention techniques to store water on site and release it slowly into the groundwater and prevent storm surges that can overflow sewer systems.
The number one rule in selecting plants is to avoid the use of known or potentially invasive plants that can escape and damage native ecosystems. Instead use native and regionally adapted, non-invasive plants to reduce the use of potable water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Proper plant selection may also provide a range of benefits including food and shelter for wildlife, reducing home heating and cooling requirements through proper placement, and preserving rare and threatened native plant species.
The best materials for a sustainable garden are non-toxic, local, have low embodied energy (e.g. they don’t take a lot of energy to produce), are sustainably harvested, and are durable. The 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle are an excellent mantra for sustainable materials use.
Human health and well-being:
In protecting the planet we must not forget about our own well-being, as we too are a part of nature. Sustainable gardens limit the use of toxic chemicals, and seek to create a harmonious environment that promotes and sense of well-being and provides space for activity and/or an inviting social atmosphere. Research has shown that even just the view of natural landscapes from a window can speed recovery after an injury or illness. A well designed garden can reduce stress in the viewer and restore their ability to focus after becoming mentally fatigued.
For more information on sustainable home landscapes see the Landscapes for Life website: http://landscapeforlife.org/