What the heck is sustainable landscaping anyway
Sustainable landscaping isn't about a look. A Japanese garden can be sustainable. So can an English garden or a desert garden or a woodland garden. A sustainable landscape can be formal or informal, geometric or naturalistic, simple or complex. Other than planting vast swards of mowed lawn in a dry climate, you're pretty much free to choose whatever look you want as long as you follow the principles of sustainability, setting up a smoothly functioning ecosystem that makes minimal demands and creates minimal problems.
The key ideas that make sustainable landscaping work are simple and easy to put into practice:
- Living system: Nature is a system of interrelated subsystems that work together to form a smoothly operating whole — a living, functioning ecosystem. There are many examples of living systems, such as your body (made up of various organs), a forest (filled with many kinds of plants and animals), and the ocean (teeming with millions of interdependent life forms). If you make your landscape a highly functioning system patterned after the ways of nature, it will operate like nature — without the need for much control or intervention and without harming any other living system.
- Homeostasis: Homeostasis is a fancy word for stability. It's the balance of forces in a living system, with no force getting out of control to cause harm. Consider your body, which more or less functions automatically. You don't need to will your heart to beat or your eyes to see; those things just happen. With a little care from you, all is groovy. The landscape system can work this way, too, if you set it up right.
- Deep design: Homeostasis doesn't happen by accident; it's a product of good design. I'm not talking about the too-common superficial design that creates pretty but dysfunctional gardens. Instead, I mean design that looks beneath appearances to develop a beautiful landscape that also really works. Deep design takes special skills — skills that you discover in this book.
- Cyclical design: Nature recycles everything. As the Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "When I look at a rose I see compost; when I look at compost I see a rose." Conventional manmade systems are linear. Consider the process:
- Get a virgin material from nature (usually with disastrous effects at the source).
- Use toxic and energy-intensive processes to alter it so much that it can never go back to nature.
- Use it one time.
- When the material's too-short useful life comes to an end, dispose of it in a landfill, where it plugs up the works of yet another formerly living system.
Nature has been very patient with us, but this linear game is just about up. Mother Nature hates it, and besides, she's running out of merchandise. Going back to the infinite and ancient cyclical way of life makes your garden one with nature, less troublesome, and more enduring.
- Harmony with the local environment: There are no nonlocal conditions. Your property is unique, with a particular soil type, microclimate, exposure, vegetation, and other factors. By choosing plants and other elements that are well suited to these particulars, you set up a robust ecosystem that will be happy with its lot in life. (Conventional gardens rely on ill-adapted plants and other elements and then depend on continual input of resources to keep from failing.)
- Careful management of inputs and outputs: The sustainable landscape thrives on what nature offers. It makes efficient use of resources such as building materials, water, and fertilizer. What goes in and out of the landscape is minimized, so as many effects as possible are beneficial.
- Consideration of on-site effects: What happens on-site is carefully considered at the design stage. Natural features such as soil, native plants, and animal habitat are preserved. All improvements must meet the test of being good players. Each element of the newly formed ecosystem must play a beneficial role: making oxygen, sequestering carbon, providing food, improving the climate inside dwellings, preventing erosion, or protecting against wildfire, to name a few. To minimize negative effects, toxic materials aren't used; neither are energy-intensive processes, noise-generating machinery, or thirsty plantings.
- Consideration of off-site effects: What happens off-site is important too. By that, I mean that there should be no damage at the source of materials. Your landscape won't be truly sustainable unless it leaves forests intact, mountains unmined, oil unburned, and workers safe and happy.
- Benefits beyond sustainability: Finally, a sustainable landscape should seek to go beyond mere sustainability. As visionary architect William McDonough observed, we shouldn't just be less bad; we should be good. Landscapes offer so many benefits to users and to nature that it's easy to use the power of the sun, the rain, and the soil to create a paradise for all living beings. You can do that — and you have no reason not to.
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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.
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