Archive for March, 2008

What Size Should My Lawn Be?

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Assuming you have had your soil tested already and have some idea of the content, early spring is the time to reconsider you garden layout and how you want to use it. Getting back to the top ten eco-friendly garden practices so popular on the internet and in garden magazines, there are a couple of simple suggestions that are the proverbial “no brainer”.  One is to reduce your lawn size wherever possible.

Lawns are the highest maintenance areas of any garden. Some environmentalists advocate for the complete removal of the lawn as it is completely a fabrication of man and very labor and water, and often chemical intensive. The truth is, the lawn is about as American as Apple pie. We all love lawns, we like to play on them, care for them, many folks take pride in them. The compromise is to reduce your lawn to a more manageable size. Do this by expanding, or adding perennial beds  and groundcover areas while  reducing your lawn to a size that still allows enjoyment but does not dominate your landscape maintenance budget.

Like most eco-friendly practices, the prime motivator for many of us is budget. So consider this. If you are spending $ 100.00 a month on a lawn care service, you are also spending approximately $ 75.00 a month from Mid April through Mid October (for between 1500-2000 square feet) that’s about a dollar a foot per six months of the year or over two thousand dollars a year. That does not cover lawn aeration, replacement of sod areas, or fertilization and pest treatment generally. That price is for cut and trim services only. You can cut this down to five hundred dollars a year (saving $ 1500.00) in maintenance and water or less depending on what you choose to replace some of your lawn areas with and get greater texture, color and interest for your money.

In my own garden, we have carved our lawn down to about five hundred square feet from one thousand. Our garden now uses forty percent less water (lawns get very thirsty) and I spend half the time caring for the lawn than I would were it larger. The first place to look to replace lawns are steeply sloped areas, and around trees and shrubs. Sloped areas are dangerous to maintain with a mower (and therefore costlier). Caring for the lawn around trees and shrubs often leads to mechanical damage to the plant material (which eventually kills them costing you money). Also eliminate lawns in areas seldom frequented around the house. It’s just not worth it to spend money caring for areas you don’t use, plus there are water savings to be had particularly if you are replacing low use lawn areas with draught tolerant natives.

Wasteful lawn areas are usually on the side of the house, the perimeter in front of hedges or fences, transitions from shrub areas to sod, and even the front of the house facing the street. Alternatives can be groundcovers and perennial beds which though they cost more to establish initially, are low or no maintenance over years. If you are working with a lawn care professional, they may not be to terribly helpful in this regard, as they make their money caring for your lawn and charge by the square foot. Depending on your garden knowledge, you may want to consult with a landscape designer or architect in terms of best plants to replace your non-essential lawn areas.

What Is an Eco-Friendly Garden?

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

       Garden spaces are in and of themselves green and beneficial in the sense that a lawn is better than a parking lot  in terms of dealing with stormwater issues, sequestering carbon, creating a habitat for animals and insects, as well as a place for kids and their families to play. Green spaces and gardens lower the temperature versus impermeable surfaces like parking lot black top as well as just being prettier. However, critics of lawns and landscape maintenance will generally site the use of chemicals and the noise and air pollution created by mowers and leaf blowers. They will rightly point out that lawns and gardens often replace native plants that the members of the local ecosystem depend on to feed and reproduce. Logically then, a  more ecologically friendly (greener) landscape must address these issues at least in part.

  To look at someone with a chemically treated lawn and tell them they are environmental criminals is basically the pot calling the kettle black. If you live in 21st century technological society, you participate in the daily desecration of the planet no matter how environmentally sound your at home practices may be. True, the chemical user can do better, but so can we all .   

    An eco-friendly garden not only has minimal negative impact on the local ecology and the environment, but even sustains and nurtures it. It is a garden that diminishes the impact of your homes architecture whether that  be a hobbit house or an apartment complex. It is a space the nurtures local flora and fauna as well as your soul. It is designed so that it has native plants in it, so that it uses water minimally, or even re-uses water that has runoff of impermeable surfaces like rooftops  and driveways. Maybe it re-uses grey water from your sinks, baths, dishwasher, etc. It might reduce or even eliminate lawn space depending on your needs and preferences. The maintenance and care of a greener garden will use electric, bio-diesel,  or some other form of low or no polluting equipment-maybe even hand tools. It will recycle organic waste as much as possible. It may have a kitchen garden, or a greenroof. It will be planted with the plants that can thrive in the conditions available so that the need to treat disease and insects will be reduced if not eliminated. It will use organically produced fertilizers over chemicals where ever possible. It will serve the needs of both people and the planet for they are in truth, one and the same.

What is Eco-Friendly Design?

Monday, March 17th, 2008

So often, when designing gardens, we are looking at the preferences of the clients, the environmental conditions, and the architecture of the home. If we are lucky, the client has come eco-awareness, that is, they are interested in organics, and sustainability. More often then not however, they are interested but less educated than we. And after all, that is how it should be. We as eco-friendly designers, spend time at conferences, blogging, and reading, so that we are the experts. Our responsibility is to educate the client. They are coming to us for just this reason, because we are trained in the areas of sustainability and design.

Of course, we don’t educate with a cudgel, nor do we shy away from this responsibility. we chose this path because we care, and it is with concern and caring that we present, always focusing on what we all care for in common. The least environmentally aware client wants healthier plants, minimal disease and insects, and an environment that is safe for their children, animals and themselves.

This Blog is launched to explore what this means in our interactions with the client, our considerations in the design process, and to explore eco-friendly in the context of the new debate on what it means to be environmentally friendly.