Landscape For Life

You’ve heard me sing the praises of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), the country’s first rating system for landscapes that make ecological sense. SITES, which provides technical metrics for landscape professionals striving to go green, sets sustainability standards for landscapes the way LEED does for buildings. Landscape For Life, a collaborative project of the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is the new homeowner version of SITES. Landscape For Life makes it possible for anyone to create a sustainable garden. (In the interest of full disclosure: I worked with the USBG and the Wildflower Center to develop the content for the Landscape For Life website and print materials.) Stay tuned, because further enhancements, such as interactive features and a souped-up design, are in the works.

Here’s my “Growing Greener” column on Landscape For Life that appeared in Public Garden magazine, the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association, Vol. 25 No. 3. In my “Growing Greener” columns I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: Our members often ask if there’s one place they can go for information on sustainable gardening. I know about the Sustainable Sites Initiative, but it is for professionals and too technical for the average person. Can you recommend a resource for the general public?

A: There is now!  The U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, sponsors of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) along with the American Society of Landscape Architects, have just launched a new project, Landscape For Life, to provide gardeners and homeowners with comprehensive information on creating gardens that are both beautiful and healthy.

While SITES offers technical tools for professionals who design, construct, operate, and maintain landscapes of all types, Landscape For Life presents this information in an easy-to-use form—a series of best practices that homeowners and gardeners can use themselves to create sustainable landscapes.

Conventional gardening practices often work against nature, damaging the environment’s ability to provide natural services that are essential to daily life, from cleaning air and water and controlling flooding to sequestering carbon and combating climate change. Landscape For Life points out that even one home landscape can begin to restore these natural benefits.

The Landscape For Life website——shows gardeners and homeowners how they can work with nature, no matter where they live, whether they garden on a city or suburban lot, a 20-acre farm, or the common area of a condominium. For ease of use, it’s divided into six major sections: Getting Started, Soil, Water, Plants, Materials, and Human Health. Each section includes step-by-step tips on garden design and maintenance practices that harness nature’s power by taking advantage of natural processes at work on the site.

Getting Started includes a simple Landscape For Life site assessment that homeowners can use to lay the groundwork for growing greener by collecting information about their properties. The Soil section explains how modern industrial society has left much of the earth’s soil eroded, exhausted, and polluted—and how too much fertilizer, the horticultural equivalent of fast food, and other traditional horticultural practices have unwittingly contributed to the problem. Landscape For Life shows gardeners how to harness the soil food web to create “slow” food for fertile soil by using compost, organic mulches, and green manures.

Instead of treating rainwater as a valuable resource and using it to water plants, as nature does, most home landscapes are designed to get rid of it as quickly as possible. One result is stormwater runoff, a major threat to waterways nationwide. The Water section of Landscape For Life explains how to use rainwater as well as air conditioning condensate and other potable water alternatives for garden irrigation. It also covers rain gardens and other smart strategies for preventing stormwater runoff.

As wilderness shrinks and suburban acreage increases, what we plant in gardens is increasingly important. The Plant section of the website explains in detail how homeowners can determine which plants are right for their sites. It also includes information on regionally appropriate turf varieties, how to identify and remove invasive plants, easy ways to incorporate native plants in home landscapes, and basic tips on gardening for wildlife.

A guide to buying certified green products is featured in the Materials section, as well as alternatives to concrete and blacktop for driveways, paths and patios; how to design decks and other landscape features for disassembly and reuse; and more. The Health section provides helpful tips on avoiding exposure to pesticides, creating a food garden with a small environmental footprint, and designing home landscapes that improve quality of life as well as health.

A 32-page Landscape For Life booklet and comprehensive workbooks can be downloaded from the website. A Landscape For Life curriculum is being developed and will soon be available on the website.

Conventional and Sustainable Landscapes: How They Compare

Conventional Landscapes:

  • Usually dominated by turfgrass inappropriate for the region
  • Typically receive regular, often unnecessary, applications of fertilizer
  • Often treated with synthetic pesticides
  • Can include invasive plants that threaten natural areas
  • Treat rainwater as a waste to be removed from the site
  • Can generate stormwater runoff that pollutes local waterways
  • Usually irrigated with municipal drinking water
  • Often provide little, if any wildlife habitat
  • Send garden trimmings to landfills
  • May do little to improve home energy efficiency
  • Often contain materials that pollute air, soil, and water

Sustainable Landscapes:

  • Feature lawn alternatives and regionally appropriate turfgrass
  • Put natural soil organisms to work for fertility
  • Harness natural processes to manage pests
  • Do not include invasive plants
  • Manage rainwater as a resource to be used on the site
  • Designed to prevent stormwater runoff and protect local waterways
  • Irrigated with alternatives to potable water
  • Include native plants that support wildlife
  • Recycle garden trimmings as compost or mulch
  • Promote home energy efficiency
  • Made of non-polluting, local materials

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One Response to “Landscape For Life”

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