One of the reasons we at Greener by Design have slowly wiped the word sustainable out of our vocabulary, is that this word takes on a completely different meaning in the garden. The word sustainable in association with technology implies technologies that are minimally damaging, if not supportive, of the environment. Landscapes, on the other hand, are of nature. Yes, there are invasive plants and non-natives etc. but left on its own, ecosystems adapt, while the damage done by technology is much harder to cope with. Because landscapes are “green” by definition, sustainable comes to imply something more. “Sustainable” landscapes would tend to themselves more or less, with minimal intervention by man if any.


Sidestepping the invasive plant issue, let’s focus for a moment on what a sustainable landscape would look like; a sustainable landscape, would be one that would support the local ecosystem, adapt to available light, water, and soil conditions, and whose plants reproduce and replace themselves. It would by definition be sustaining itself. In fact, every ecosystem in the world has or had sustainable landscapes before to much human interaction.


 Considered in that context, the gardens of man are sheer arrogance and waste. Our gardens require constant maintenance and care, regular interventions in the form of feeding the soil, providing water, pruning and cleaning. Many of the materials we use are not hardy and could never survive in the climates we plant them in without human intervention. Worse yet, the invasive plant issue, pesticides in the ecosystem, fertilizer in our waterways, these are all the result of our ignorant efforts to sustain our gardens and create spaces that are unique to who we are.


Given that perspective, in order to be a landscape professional, one by implication would have to be very arrogant. Though there may be some truth to that view point, most landscape professionals revere nature and the diversity of plant material within nature. Though are landscapes may not be sustainable, they can be environmental enhancements that not only beautify, but soften the impact people have on the environment. Greenroofs for example, are a fabrication of man, taking plants and growing them over rooftops as a living roof cover. Fabrication or no, they contribute to bio-diversity, save energy, reduce stormwater runoff. Basically, they mitigate a good deal of the problems created by removing all those trees and plants that were sustaining themselves, and slapping a building in their place.


Greenroofs, organic garden practices, utilizing natives, banning invasives, recycling rainwater, utilizing drip irrigation, these are eco-friendly, if not sustainable practices and so we toss out sustainable when talking about landscapes and focus on eco-friendly.

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