Sustainable Landscapes

by Eric Herman September 5, 2012 13:28 PM

photo of pool with flowers Several years ago I was attending a class that was part of a Genesis 3 program in Moro Bay, Calif., which focused on designing with Feng Shui. The class was attended by swimming pool builders who for the most part were unfamiliar with the Chinese art of creating spaces that promote the harmony of physical and spiritual energy – certainly not a group of people one would typically associate with ancient disciplines steeped in metaphysics, numerology and mysticism.

In introducing the class, G3 co-founder Brian Van Bower explained that regardless of what one might personally think of Feng Shui, the fact that a growing number of clients consider it important means that it behooves those who are in the business of designing living spaces to at the very least be conversant in the subject. With that, most in the class perked up their ears and gave the art of Feng Shui their full attention.

The very same thing can be said of so-called “sustainable” landscaping or gardening. For years now, ever-increasing numbers of homeowners, business developers, urban planners, architects, landscape architects, gardeners and their suppliers have embraced sustainability as a cornerstone of their work. In that light, there’s a powerful case to be made for aquatics professionals gaining some level of working knowledge about sustainability.

Proponents of the concept are quick to point out that sustainability is much more than a fad, but instead an interrelated approach to exterior design that maximizes resources, such as water, chemicals and fossil fuel, while at the same time reducing maintenance, restoring natural habitats, encouraging wildlife growth and creating spaces that are beautiful, nurturing and inspiring.

The notion that sustainable gardens require less effort and expense to maintain, and that these landscapes benefit the overall environment, is extremely appealing to many homeowners, especially those who themselves take part in gardening. It’s a concept that’s also held great appeal for companies and public institutions wanting to demonstrate commitments to wise resource management and ecological concerns.

For all of the focus on sustainability, there is no precise definition, but rather a flexible set of ideas and specific measures that can be used to accomplish different goals in various settings. For our purpose, a sustainable garden can be considered one that uses interrelated elements to achieve low maintenance, healthy soils and plants, water conservation and welcoming spaces for people as well as fish, birds, beneficial insects, invertebrates and other desirable critters.

There are numerous individual, business and professional associations, such as the American Society of Landscape Architects, that actively promote the concept of sustainability across a range of applications, from commercial farming to urban renewal to residential design. And, fortunately, there is no shortage of information and product sources.

Starting with sustainable ideas related to water use, a list of just a few sustainable landscaping measures might include:
• Reduction of storm water runoff through the use of bio-swales, rain gardens and green roofs and walls.
• Use of permeable paving materials to reduce storm water runoff and allow rain water to soak into the ground and replenish groundwater rather than run into surface water, also to reduce chemical run-off into storm drains and natural water systems.
• Reduction of water use in landscapes through design of water-wise garden techniques, such as the selection of climate-friendly or indigenous plantings, or the use of landscapes such as “xeriscapes” that require little or no water.
• Conserving water through rainwater harvesting, a technique that not only provides water for irrigation, but also prevents chemical runoff and works to reduce flooding during heavy rain.
• Landscape irrigation using water from showers and sinks, known as gray water; also possibly using backwash from pond and stream bio-filters.
• Bio-filtering of wastes through constructed wetlands. This technique has been used to great effect in large applications where plantings are used to remove potentially harmful chemicals such phosphates and nitrates.

Resources: There are volumes of resources available on the subject of sustainable landscapes, gardens and water features. This discussion was based information from a number of sources including the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers,, Rick Driemeyer of Both Sides of the Door and Bruce Zaretsky of Zaretsky and Associates.

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Eric Herman, former editor of WaterShapes, is senior editor at AQUA magazine.

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