As the permaculturists always say: Use biological approaches to landscaping before technological ones. (Not sure what a permaculturist is? Check out the nearby sidebar, "What's permaculture?") In other words, use plants to do the job that hardscaping might. For instance, a $50 tree will shade your house more effectively than a $5,000 aluminum patio cover. Besides, it also uses no energy, absorbs pollution, creates oxygen, provides a home for birds, and creates a couple dozen other benefits.
Choosing biological solutions before technological ones and stacking functions (making each element serve multiple purposes) are ideas that come from the rich and fascinating world of permaculture. Developed in the 1970s in Australia, permaculture is a design system much like sustainable landscaping. The term is difficult to define, but many practitioners have taken a shot. For example, here's one definition by Graham Bell in the book The Permaculture Way (Permanent Publications, 2005):
"Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way."
It sounds a lot like sustainable landscaping, doesn't it? Well, it is — with an added emphasis on using our gardens to provide food and fulfill other needs. After all, is there any good reason not to use your property to grow food and offer up other tangible benefits? (For resources on permaculture, see the appendix.)
Plants are naturally solar-powered. The sun, the soil, the atmosphere, and the rain provide everything the living landscape needs. In other words, long-lived plants don't need painting, resurfacing, repairs, or replacement. And hey, if you plant a hedge instead of installing a wall or fence, the neighborhood taggers won't be able to paint on it.
I don't mean you have to develop a zero-hardscape garden. That's pretty difficult to pull off. But by choosing as many living (biological) elements as you can, you optimize the system and save yourself trouble.
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How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.