Sustainable Strategies

March 13, 2013

“NatureScaping” is the practice of designing (or re-designing) a landscape so that it reduces water use, stormwater runoff, and pollution without sacrificing splendor. Naturescaping conserves time, money, and energy – all while providing a beautiful habitat for birds, wildlife, and you. The practice focuses primarily on using native plants which are adapted to our soil and climate (and therefore need little or no watering, fertilizing, or care once established).

“Grow Your Own” is a trend that has quite a bit of momentum right now, and for good reason. With the rising cost of fresh foods and concerns about hazardous chemicals in our fruits and vegetables, it only makes sense that more and more people are opting to grow a portion of their food right in their own yards. Let me help you creatively add vegetable beds to your landscape…ideally in place of grass!

Additionally, I can help consult in regard to choosing the right plants to grow, organic pest control, natural fertilizers, soil types, and putting your garden “to bed” at the end of each grow season.

A Rain Garden is a planted depression that allows rainwater to be absorbed into the ground, as opposed to becoming runoff from impervious areas (which typically ends up flowing into storm drains and surface water). Rain gardens usually utilize a variety of native plants, some of which can tolerate very wet conditions. These aesthetically-pleasing solutions to a serious problem can be designed in creative, artistic ways…or in such a way as to mimic a naturally-occurring wetland area, or even a creek bed. The main purpose of a rain garden is to improve water quality in nearby bodies of water. Rain gardens can cut down on the amount of pollution reaching creeks and streams by up to 30%.

During the rainy season mitigating erosion is a crucial part of responsible land management, even on a residential level. Excessive erosion creates not only on-site damage, it also pulls sediment and other contaminants into the storm drain system. If you have hills or sloping grade on your property, I will help design controls that will minimize the damage that can occur from runoff and heavy rains.

The concept of adding turf grass to the landscape is outdated and environmentally irresponsible. For homeowners with small children or a dog, small areas of turf might make sense. But otherwise, this practice is harmful for a number of reasons. Turf grass requires supplemental irrigation for at least  part of the year, varying relative to the region you live in. Additionally, its maintenance takes a toll on the environment in the form of synthetic fertilizer application (which can leach into groundwater of storm drains). Regular maintenance also requires petroleum use in the form of gasoline needed to run the mower, which puts out 10x the amount of toxic exhaust that automobiles do.

I’ll help you explore more effective ways to “soften” your landscape without the use of turf. This can include low-growing groundcovers, synthetic grass, and the use of gravel/rock.

Capturing and reusing rainwater is the right thing to do in seasonally wet regions such as the Pacific Northwest. Much of our annual rainfall ends up in the storm drains, essentially wasting a precious resource. One way to help mitigate this is by installing rain barrels (or a similar catchment system) so that the water can be re-used in the landscape. This captured-and-reused water is typically used to irrigate.

In addition to harvesting rainwater, I can help you create an effective—and creative—means of moving it around on your property. This can be done in a variety of ways. Sculpture, rock swales, water features, “stream beds” that empty into a cistern…all of these are ways to incorporate some design flair into an otherwise purely functional tool. These methods all serve to slow water down so that it can be absorbed into the soil.

Using “reclaimed” or “salvaged” materials is a bit different than using recycled materials. While both lessen the overall impact on the environment, “recycled” is a term generally reserved for materials that have been reconstituted into a new and/or different form, while “salvaged” materials are literally re-used. An example of utilizing reclaimed materials in the landscape would be broken-up pieces of a demolished concrete being used to create new steps in a pathway. Oftentimes, salvaged lumber can be used to build steps on a deck, as a bench, or as an overhead shade structure. Regardless of how these materials are used, the benefits are two-fold: reducing the use of raw/virgin materials while (usually) saving money!

Regardless of the scale, installing an ecoroof (or “greenroof”) is a highly-effective way to achieve a variety of environmental benefits simultaneously.

Becoming part of the inaugural team of Green Roof Professionals (GRP) (Green Roofs for Healthy Cities) in 2009, I can help you create a planted roof atop your home, commercial space, garage, or even a backyard shed. Greenroofs create habitat, keep stormwater on-site, reduce “urban heat island effect”, and add visual interest to a normally unsightly area.

Installing a small-scale ecoroof does not need to be a huge investment, but definitely requires careful planning and teamwork between a variety of technical trades. If you’re interested in how you can incorporate a greenroof into your space planning needs, I can assist you!

Greywater is used water from the shower, laundry, and dishwasher. Typically it is re-used to irrigate the landscape. Although plenty of homeowners already re-use their laundry water (oftentimes simply captured in 5-gallon plastic buckets and carried outside), technically a permit is required to do so. There are many other ways to reduce your water needs through greywater re-use, and I can help guide you through the permitting process.