Sustainable landscape trends catching on

Daniel Gill, Young, John, Owings, Allen D.  |  9/18/2009 8:22:32 PM

Sustainable Landscape News From LaHouse Distributed 09/18/09

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

Thanks in part to technology and the age of communication, our gardens these days are more often being looked at as extensions of our homes to live in and use, rather than just being pretty plantings to look at.

Gardeners are becoming increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable and moving beyond some of the traditional ideas about landscape design and maintenance. Outdoor living is becoming a primary focus.

Intimate spaces

Designing private, intimate spaces in the average American landscape is becoming more important as our fast-paced world creates an ever-greater need for places to relax and enjoy a little quiet time. Private outdoor living areas can be fashioned amid hedges and screens to become outdoor garden rooms that give a sense of enclosure and separation from the world.

In addition, accessories that help personalize and enhance landscapes are becoming more popular. These include wind chimes, sculptures and other art suitable for outdoor display, such as gazing globes, topiary, gazebos, arbors, decorative containers and other accents to individualize our outdoor spaces.

New garden designs are increasingly interactive. We crave gardens that appeal to all of our senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste – with an emphasis on personal enjoyment and the therapeutic values of gardening. Imagine a garden that includes a variety of fragrant plants you remember from childhood.

Water provides sparkling light, beautiful reflections and a most relaxing sound. Water also is important when creating wildlife habitats. Regardless of the garden’s size, we are more and more frequently enhancing the composition by adding a water feature, such as a fountain, reflecting pool, waterfall or water garden, which can range in size from a half barrel to a large pond.

Sustainable landscaping

The “flower power” generation has brought to gardening a deeper understanding and appreciation of ecology and a respect for natural environments. Sustainable landscaping is based on this awareness, and how our gardens and what we do to maintain them affects the overall environment.

An increased interest in the use of native plant materials is a reflection of this awareness. Please, however, do not become a “native plant snob” and go so far as to consider the use of well-adapted, reliable introduced plants as somehow inappropriate. Increasing concerns for the tiny percentage of introduced plants that become invasive weeds also will influence what we choose to plant.

Realizing the amount of water and energy our landscapes can use, gardeners are switching from plants that need frequent watering and maintenance, to those that require less irrigation and maintenance once the plants have become established. Smaller turf areas, low-volume irrigation systems, mulching and low-input plant care are important components of these energy-efficient landscapes. An example is replacing a traditional high-maintenance lawn area with ground covers and easily maintained decks, terraces and patios of wood, brick, porous paving or stone.

Gardeners are composting and recycling more, using less fertilizer and choosing environmentally friendly products for dealing with pests. Pest control now tends toward the concepts of integrated pest management in which many strategies are incorporated to manage pests (especially using plants that are less prone to pest problems). Pesticides – whether organic or chemical – are applied only when absolutely necessary. It’s also appropriate to accept some level of pest damage to landscape plants. There is no reason, in most circumstances, to immediately treat with pesticides to deal with minor or non-life-threatening insect or disease damage.

Many gardeners have decided it is OK to share our gardens with other creatures and even create habitats to provide for their needs. Landscapes designed to attract and provide food, water and shelter for wildlife such as butterflies, birds, beneficial insects and natural predators have, and likely will continue to, become more commonplace.

It is remarkable that gardeners “on the cutting edge” are not only looking for new and interesting plants and cultivars, but also are continuing to focus much of their attention on rediscovering or preserving our garden heritage. Antique roses; heirloom annuals, perennials, vegetables and bulbs; and other tried-and-true, old-fashioned garden plants have gained new interest and use. On the other hand, plant exploration is back, and explorers are finding new species of common garden plants to expand and revitalize our plant palette.

Overall, our concept of gardens and landscapes is becoming more personal, interactive and relaxed. Gardeners are more aware that what we do to take care of our landscapes, such as applying fertilizers and pesticides, affects the environment well beyond our property lines. A more diverse palette of plants, both native and introduced, will be used in ways that are more resource-efficient and lower in maintenance to create beautiful, functional landscapes that nurture both nature and people.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. Go online to Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods for additional information.

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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