Sustainable landscaping. Can you tell us some concrete steps we can take in do it yourself landscaping, front yard landscaping ideas or backyard landscaping ideas that we would be able to take as home owners? Of course. On one level, landscaping is very complex and another level it’s really not. There’s some basic steps that you can just walk through an end up with a sustainable landscape and the very first of is really a fun one and that we’re doing now – hanging out on your land getting to know it better. Because most people live on the properties for years whether it’s a tract house, or a big place like you have. and they never take the time to get to know where they are, to get to know what the soil type is, where the sun is in the sky. where the water goes during rain – all these elements… In ancient days the Japanese Garden designers who designed for the emperor’s way back in medieval Japan They were told to sit on the property for one year full cycle of seasons – spring summer fall winter – watch the sun come up and go down every day watch, birds fly through the area, listen to the sounds, notice what the trees do.
Only at the end of the year where they able and qualified enough to understand that land well enough to actually make a design. Like a sushi chef in Japan where they clean fish for three years and then they finally get to make sushi or maybe cut a fish. part of their culture is doing everything in the most intricate best possible way and so does a deep understanding of the land is for important. If it’s your own house you can actually do that for a year. Maybe not every day, but you can observe cautiously, carefully and attentively what’s going on in your property throughout at least one cycle of seasona and begin to really understand it better than any landscape designer of the ever come onto the property. The thing I call the “world’s best design tool” in my book. I always ask my audience, “what’s the world’s best design tool when you’re doing a landscape design?” People say a measuring tape, a camera, whenever. No, that’s not it. Its the chair we’re sitting right now. What do you do with that chair is sit down in it.
Don’t have your friends over and don’t bring your iPod. Do what we don’t do in our culture too much. Relax and let it all happen. If you’ve ever done this you know it as absolutely amazing what happens because you start to notice things you never noticed before. Maybe on the property for 10 years 20 years 30 years and realize the tree in the distance that’s really beuatiful or there is noise coming from the next property and want to do something about that – all sorts of things will start to flow in and then you begin to get a better feeling for both where you are, like the land needs, the space needs and what you need which is very important, because you must remember that we’re doing this for ourselves first and foremost and so you’ll begin while you are sitting, or even better, after sitting (you should just be quiet..) Then get a clipboard and a piece of paper and start writing things down.
What you see? What are the problems on your land? What are the issues? What do want from it? What do you expect to get? Remember that’s the key question here. In fact, this is so important let me just take a minute to say this… most as landscapes are designed only for how they look their purely decorative – gingerbread around the house. Some people say it is “the art of hiding ugly houses with ugly plants”. The point is this the point is as if you’re not asking what that landscape does, just what it look slike, you’re not asking the right questions you start with what ir does – we’ll get to where looks like later. Sustainable landscaping is at least as beuatiful as convention landscaping. Sustainable landscaping is not cactus and gravel. I mean we’re here now… (I mention this is one of the most beautiful home garden I have seen) We’re sitting under a triee called Mountain Mahogany.
It is a California native plant, native to right here. I planted this from al 1 gallon container in 1981 It’s been pruned about five times in the last 30 years and it requires zero water and zero care other than just a little bit of pruning to take dead wood out. It is a fantastic example of a plant that not only looks good but it does something, and does it alvery low cost. That’s really the heart of sustainable landscaping’s function. Minimal impacts, minimal inputs of water and fertilizer -zero in this case – and minimal or zero outputs of green waste and pollution and spraying drifting off – all that stuff. So, with a landscape made up of things like this, elements like this, whether is is hardscape which is the built part of the environment, the plantings, the irrigation system – they all perform a function. Remember, we’re talking about an ecosystem here that actually does something. If we ask that core question, “What is the landscape going to do?” What’s it going to do for me, what’s it going to do internally for itself, what’s it going to do for the environment? what’s it going to do for the community, the birds, what does it do for wildlife? When we answer all those questions, I can pretty much guarantee you that the landscape automatically will also look beautiful.
That doesn’t mean you automatically know how to design a beautiful landscape, but once you get function down, ask the right questions, then, because you’re selecting things that are appropriate for where you are. so these are the core things that should begin with – a deep understanding of where you are and what is needed to be done here and how does it function – that’s where you begin.
When you move beyond that and you get to the next step (actually designing a landscape) is a little more complicated. But we’ve got our core information but now we have to turn it into something, that’s were most people really get bogged down. They think, “I’m not a designer. I don’t know how to do this”. In some cases that’s probably true – you may not be capable of tackling the entire project I think one of the important things is to know when to call a professional or know when to get a good book on the subject such as my book, “Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies” which has been acclaimed as one of the best books on the subject. In my book, I don’t go into deep amounts of detail on design, but it’s a good start.
There are lots of other design book sold in more detail and they are easy to find most anywhere. There are a lot of principles to design, both aesthetically and functionally, how to do things. Yes, that can get very complicated. It would be a good idea, once you know where you’re coming from on this, and what you need, then call in a landscape professionals, a landscape architect, a landscape designer, or a landscape contractor who’s job it is to create landscape out of a baseline of ideas like this and then you cano work with their ideas and maybe fill in on your own and work together as a collaborative process.
Owen, I know a lot of landscape contractors… I have a hard time believing there are a lot of sustainable landscpers out there. They would rather have you on a schedule for $125 to spray, another $100 to fertilize You have shown that is $250 that is totally wasted Where do we find somebody that can actually help me? That’s a good question. We’re in a transition right now between the era of conventional landscaping – that high conflict advesarial horticulture – and a brand new world of sustainable landscaping.
Someday not too long for now hopefully it will all be sustainable because frankly we can afford to do this stuff anymore. So what’s happening in the professions is that people, some people, not all people, and you’re right most of both of the professions are still locked in the past and are doing things the old way. There a huge number of people who are retraining themselves. I get messages everyday on sustainable landscaping and can see where this is going. There people in every community in this country, Canada and elsewhere learning these techniques and are becoming adept at the stuff.
It is becoming easier to find someone whi is a trained professional. Organizations like the “Ecological Landscaping Association” which is made up of landscape professionals who are totally committed to doing things in a sustainable way. They arr dead serious about it, they means business and we’re all learning new skills. Tthis is all new so none of us really know everything. I don’t know everything – I don’t know anybody who does – but there are people out there who are very very committed to this process. Ffinding those people can sometimes be challenging. Start with “Ecological Landscaping Association” as an example alone. Interview people and ask core questions about what they plan to do. If they are telling you that they want bare ground and overhead sprinklers and they don’t believe in drip and want water inrensive plan’s and tons of lawn – that’s probably not your sustainable landscaper.
That’s not the guy or woman who’s going to really be able to pull this off. This is a special new set of skills, learned Can you give us a list of references where we can start looking? Absolutely. Organizations, books, videos everything. What we’re doing in this series is to be encyclopedic, to expand people’s awareness and give people the basics of how to make this all happen. This will all unfold as we continue our conversation and will be happy to make everything available to viewers that there is out there, because we need all the information. I think that once you began to actually learn this process and get involved, it is so much fun.
It so much more interesting than the old lawn and turf, which was so boring. Get drawn into this, and you’ll realize, “why am I do this 20 years ago?” Well, it didn’t exist 20 years ago. Here we are in a brand new world of contemporary garden design. There’s nothing mysterious about it. It is basically about doing things right Thank you so much….
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