Sustainable design is an integrated approach aiming to create landscapes that conserve resources and energy, whose plants are adapted to the site’s ecology but do not escape to become invasive pests.
It is part of green building, and ideally a sustainable landscape should be designed at the same time as a green building, so that energy and material flow from one set of systems can be used in the other. Another reason is that the building and landscape designs can complement each other, as in the landscape shading the building or the building sheltering an area of the landscape.
Green design should consider all aspects of a project, from material sourcing and transportation to construction techniques, to maintenance, to how the project’s materials will be recycled when it is eventually remodeled.
Although the entire scope of green design is vast and interconnected, and possibly requires more effort than most people are willing to do in order to fully expoit its principles, even a little bit helps.
These are simple things that can be done to make a landscape more sustainable:
- Replace a water thirsty lawn with water conserving species of similar looking plants.
- Plant deciduous shade trees at the west side of a structure
- Reprogram your irrigation controller at least four times per year to adjust for seasonal variations, and turning it off completely during the rainy season. Controllers are coming on the market that calculate water demand and adjust themselves, making this process effortless and more efficient.
- Use permeable paving materials to let runoff water percolate back into the ground
- Plant species that thrive in your climate and soil without special care or a lot of supplemental water. The Sacramento Valley is a Mediterranean climate, so we can choose from a wide variety of plants from similar regions, as well as a number of adaptable desert and arid climate plants. Just make sure that they are not on a list of invasive exotic plants (plants that “get loose” and smother native ecosystems).
- If you have a lawn, use a push type lawn mower. You’ll get more exercise and you’ll save the planet from a lot of pollution. Failing this, use an electric mower, since electrical power generation is much more ecologically friendly than a two stroke gas engine spewing fumes.
- Another tip for lawn owners: split irrigation run times into segments to reduce runoff. In other words, if you need 20 minutes of watering, water for 10 minutes, wait 15, then water another 10 minutes. Most controllers can do this – just check your owner’s manual. While you’re at it, you can add a rain sensor that automatically shuts off your irrigation if it’s raining.
There are a lot more ways to help the planet without sacrificing your outdoor lifestyle. You can see some examples here.