Six Simple Steps to a Smart Landscape Design

 In Garden Tips, Thoughts from the Soapbox

When it comes to landscape design, it was just yesterday that eco-conscious individuals were a rare breed. They were the hip (or Tree-Huggers), people who were into “green living.” They cared about their carbon footprints and choosey with their choice of vehicles, clothing and gardening practices. The days when a compost pile was novel, and not perhaps a standard garden feature.

When it comes to gardening and home maintenance, whether it’s a moral or practical choice, most of us are recycling and finding ways to live green.

Staying Sustainable in Small Ways

Sometimes, it’s even the smallest of sustainable gardening practices like alternatives to turfgrass or lawn alternatives, native grasses and beneficial insects that go a long way.

However, many homeowners are intimidated by the work that creates a sustainable and eco-friendly landscape design. 

Back by popular demand (and updated for a new year), I’m here to give you some pointers on making a sustainable yard and landscaping design easier to pull off. 

Change Your Perspective to Create a Sustainable Landscape Design in Knoxville, Tennessee

The typical homeowner takes a plant-focused approach to create their garden. They obsess about planting this particular type of flower here or putting these shrubs here, and so forth. 

Here’s where I challenge them (and you): shift your focus to the ground layer. The beauty of paying attention to what covers bare soil (often mulch of “duff” described below) is that it comes chock full of benefits.

Benefits of Mulch for Sustainable Yard & Landscape Designs

  • Suppress weeds
  • Maintains moisture
  • Moderates temperature
  • Improves soil quality
  • Recycles waste compounds

The beauty of mulch is that it doesn’t require significant maintenance. However, it’s not an aesthetic choice. When the mulch is a natural material such as leaf litter (duff), it can enhance your lawn’s appeal if appropriately applied.

Another focus I encourage you to try is turning your garden into a backyard habitat. Rather than cutting back on your perennials and ornamental grasses, let them flourish for a little while longer. 

For example, the seedheads of plants such as coneflowers and Rudbeckia are a favorite food source for small birds such as chickadees and finches. I’m a stickler for backyard habitats because they act as conservatories in a way. And hey, who’d complain at the sight of some real nature in your garden.

Easy Landscape Design Makes Use of “Wild Pockets”

The majority of homeowners look at their gardens as objects of high maintenance and static greenery. In other words, there’s a compulsion always to trim the grasses and green patches so that it looks like a golf course frozen in time.

But I recommend keeping a little green or “wild pockets,” as I like to call it on your lawn. If you have a more extensive backyard, keep some pockets of loose vegetation and trees around. Resist the urge to chop them down. Or, humor the concept of a “mini-meadow”; see what type of wildlife comes to your when you leave some patch of the land untouched.

Another way to accomplish this, for example, is to treat your home and surrounding landscape design as a dartboard. With this type of landscape design scheme, your house is the bulls-eye, and as you move further away from your home itself, wild pockets grow thicker on the fringes of your property. 

Sustainable Landscape Design Makes Use of “Beds” 

Every homeowner who wants to create a sustainable landscape design should consider organic matter areas for composting

That may include grass clippings, garden waste, shredded documents, and all mater of produce scraps. These items contribute to sustainability because they are from the Earth and thus return to the Earth. Promote soil fertility and nourishment. Don’t throw these items in the trash. 

A prevailing myth that prevents people from adding composting areas is that it might leave a (literal) stink. That’s not true at all. 

The stench, or lack thereof, is the result of the materials you use for composting. The right combination of materials (such as those I mentioned above) won’t contribute to any malodorous scents. 

When putting a composting area together, my main suggestion is to keep it somewhat separate from outdoor spaces but not too far away. 

Become a Rain Hog to Feed Your Sustainable Garden Design

Water is the most abundant resource on the planet and the lifeblood of a garden. However, it can be surprisingly complex to capture and utilize. 

There are plenty of ways to capture water. I simply suggest homeowners capture and store rainwater for regular use. That means creating a system that prevents water from running off into streams, creeks and ponds. Instead, redirect that water into your garden directly. 

There are three methods to create water features in the garden that functions as a rain garden as well, and they include the following: 

  • Attaching rain barrels to gutter downspouts – A 55-gallon barrel, for example, doesn’t take long to fill up, and it is wise to plan for overflow with solutions such as piping to nearby plants that can withstand the moisture. 
  • Excavate a spot in your garden for a rain garden Find a suitable location in your garden to excavate a hole that could serve as an intermittent, shallow pond. All you need is 12 inches. They will fill up quickly when it rains, so you will have to allow excess water to escape and flow along with your garden’s natural drainage pattern. 
  • Build hardscapes that allows water replenishment – Some hardscape materials are more conducive to water replenishment. Now, re-doing your hardscape features may not be practical; however, if your home is still new or under construction, then you should consider adding hardscape features that redistribute water into your garden. Surfaces such as crushed stone, pea gravel, unit pavers and even asphalt are ideal for water replenishment. 

Garden Design with Less Grass Lawn is Liberating

I’m going to go against the grain here. The North American “lawn,” with its homogenous stand of green grass, sans the weeds, takes a lot more work than a lawn with a diverse planting composition. 

Not only does it take more work to maintain, but it also produces a less ecologically-friendly environment (i.e. one that encourages native plant conservation, wildlife preservation). 

My suggestion is this – create a three-zoned set up in your garden. 

  • Keep a well-kept and more frequently mown turf near the house
  • With a second zone, prevent invasive woody plants from encroaching with semi-annual mowing or bush-hogging beyond the first zone
  • Keep the third zone of native species that surrounds your perimeter (of course, this is somewhat dependent upon the total size of your property) 

When you incorporate a mosaic of diverse plants, you can create a more visually-impactful and healthy garden. This garden will survive the best and worst of times. 

Sustainable Gardening Means You Can Eat from Your Backyard

When was the last time you brought a basket of blueberries or peaches or apples home from the back or front yard? For some of you, that could be many years, and for others, this answer could never be. Unfortunately, we’ve evolved into a society that plant garden beds simply to delight our eyes while we ignore our stomachs. 

One approach to planting an edible or vegetable garden is to create “mixed planting beds.” Mixed planting beds mean having a diversity of trees, shrubs and fruit-bearing plants. It’s a concept explained In Scott Scarfone’s book Professional Planting Design. Homeowners can select plants based on season, not to mention their usage and type (i.e. herbs, spices, veggies, sweeteners, fruits) for more variety and utility. 

Planting these mixed beds creates a visual aesthetic that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. 

Easy Landscaping Ideas That Are Sustainable & Feasible

An aesthetically-pleasing and eco-friendly yard design may seem like a monumental task. When approached the wrong way, it can become one; but remember, humans have been self-sufficient in procuring their gardens for millennia, long before the advent of industrialization and technology. 

Sustainable landscaping, at its essence, is in our DNA. The six steps I’ve mentioned will help you tap into the methods of sustainable gardening humankind has practiced for thousands of years but forgot. Don’t let it be lost on you.

Recent Posts