Designing a Sustainable Landscape

Posted by Tammy Sons on 26th Jan 2016

Sleek, elegant and virtually effortless, green or sustainable landscaping is the newest trend in landscape design, appealing to eco-friendly and low-maintenance gardeners alike. Beyond the inherent beauty of this style are the benefits that accrue, with environmental impact being foremost among these. Case in point, sustainable gardening leaves a smaller foot print, using native and local products while eschewing chemicals that would otherwise pollute the air, water, and soil. These fresher, cleaner aspects of green gardening definitely prove most alluring when what you desire is a beautifully designed landscape that offers relaxation and recreation in a healthy milieu.

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Water conservation sweetens the appeal, with the considerable time, money and effort it saves making it no wonder that so many people are now enjoying all that sustainable landscapes offer. So, with all of this in mind, here are seven essentials of a lush and lovely sustainable landscape.

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Small Lawn
Unknown to many homeowners, keeping lawns in that enviable grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side state requires quantities of water more vast than any other aspect of the landscape. Once aware, many people consider it a waste of precious resources in times of drought and an unnecessary indulgence at other times. If this describes you, the solution is in decreasing your lawn’s size but not its beauty. Retaining only small areas of grass strategically placed throughout your landscape produces a fabulously creative landscape design that happens to be marvelously sustainable as well.

As a design component, small areas of grass not only provide more space for plants and other decorative garden elements but also offer designated spots for the following:

  • Benches, hammocks and tables for outdoor entertaining
  • Sports areas for games such as volleyball and Frisbee
  • Play equipment for young children such as swings, slides and monkey bars
  • Hardscape items that add vertical interest to your landscape, including gazebos, trellises and arbors
  • Room for children to play without potential injury from hard surfaces

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While you may not have need of all of these grassy areas, having small areas of lawn provides you options while creating sustainability. Moreover, using a rain barrel to collect rain that can later be used to water your landscape makes those small areas of grass even greener.

Native Plants
Wildflowers and indigenous trees are a sustainable landscapers dream, forming the heart of a green landscape. For green gardening, these are the ones to choose as they are already fully adapted to your climate, requiring little to no nurturance. Rather than selecting non-native plants, needing constant care in the form of water, fertilizers and protection from the elements, native plants require virtually no effort. Easy to sustain regardless of the caprices of weather, these plants thrive in even the most adverse conditions, growing profusely and returning perennially.

Genuinely a simple matter of planting and forgetting them, native flowers and plants need only be watered until they are established. With the taller plants placed in the back of a straight border and in the center of a circular area for the most striking composition, these trees and flowers are assets to any landscape and become the gracious stalwarts of a sustainable garden, providing seasonal beauty for years.

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Xeriscaping
The consummate form of sustainable landscaping, xeriscaping relies solely on drought-tolerant plants partnered with stones, gravel and other hardscaping for a gloriously green effect. Although succulents such as cactus, sedum, Kalanchoe and Echeveria, among many others, are often the foundation of a xeriscape, other plants for which regular watering is unnecessary make wonderful additions to xeriscaping. Among those that you may want to install in your landscape are these drought-tolerant plants:

  • The soft, grayish-green leaves of the very fragrant Artemisia
  • The silvery foliage and lavender plumes of Russian sage
  • The blue-gray blades of a Mediterranean grass called Helictotrichon sempervirens

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Not at all an exhaustive list, these plants interplay well with traditional succulents as well as with the stones and gravel so intrinsic to sustainable landscaping. Just be sure to consult an expert to ensure that you avoid invasive plants or any that are not natural to your locale.

Stones and Gravel
Devising walkways, garden paths, driveways and patios of stone or gravel, which are permeable hardscapes, allows water to seep into the soil instead of creating runoff into lakes, rivers and other waterways, supporting your environmentally friendly goals. Equally gratifying, these materials form spectacular landscape features, infusing your garden with the intriguing textures of both smooth and coarse stones as well as their diverse hues, which take on added radiance when wet. Displaying every bit as much artistry as plants and flowers, surfaces composed of stone or gravel imbue your sustainable landscape with style and sophistication.

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Vertical Hardscaping
In much the same manner as stones and gravel, the structural varieties of hardscaping enrich your landscape with their form. Pergolas, arbors and trellises, for instance, not only offer delightful verticality but also support hardy vines, providing shady respite in the garden without the water requirements of large shade trees. Likewise, a gazebo, particularly one devised of reclaimed wood, is green in its construction as well as in its provision of a cool landscape spot not necessitating the use of energy for cooling. Carefully chosen, vertical hardscaping injects both sustainability and a touch of glamour to your landscape.

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Butterflies and Birds
An eco-friendly garden cultivates birds and butterflies as well. Free of pesticides and other chemicals, your landscape invites these enchanting creatures to partake of its flowers and plants. As they are naturally drawn to the organic, native plants in a sustainable garden, butterflies pollinate plants as they move from one to another, further developing the plant species. Similarly, birds complement your green garden by eating harmful insects that would otherwise wreak havoc in your landscape, further alleviating the need for pesticides. As stunning as birds and butterflies are, their symbiotic relationship with plants offers an enthralling visual diversion as well.

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Other Sustainable Landscaping Tips
Finally, a few extra tips increase the sustainability of your landscape:

  • Recycling and repurposing items heightens the character of your landscape while preserving each piece from ultimately being relegated to a landfill. The plastic pots in which plants arrive, for instance, can be reused for nurturing seedlings until they are planted in the landscape. Likewise, reclaimed wood, with its rustic charm, is ideal for fashioning window boxes, trellises, benches, arbors and pergolas.
  • Sharing large tools with neighbors decreases emissions from these tools as there are fewer of them when they are shared. Additionally, rather than bear the expense of large purchases such as tillers, aerators or power washers alone, you can ameliorate costs by sharing.
  • Mowing less not only reduces emissions but is healthier for your lawn as a height of approximately three inches serves to shade out weeds better while also cooling the soil, which preserves moisture.


Combined, these seven essentials will provide you with a lush and lovely landscape that is nearly effortless to maintain. What could be better?

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