There is no doubt that sustainability is the future of both architectural and landscape design. Most of the time, when landscapers and homeowners think of sustainable landscaping, they think of rain barrels, compost piles and vegetable gardens. True sustainable landscaping can be so much more than that. Not only does it give you a whole new range of services to offer your clients, but it also makes life better for everyone. From natural foods to energy savings and precious wildlife habitat, here are three of the biggest sustainable landscaping trends of the future.
Creating Edible Landscapes
According to the National Gardening Association, as many as 35 percent of all American households (42 million households) have their own fruit and vegetable gardens, or they make use of community gardens. Those numbers show a 17 percent increase of home gardening between 2008 and 2013. The desire to grow fruits and vegetables at home is largely fueled by concerns about genetically modified foods as well as commercial fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides.
There are several ways for landscape architects to approach this trend, including:
- Working with city engineers to convert unused lots into sustainable community gardens
- Encouraging sustainable, edible gardening among homeowners
- Investing in rooftop gardening, particularly on large commercial structures
Rooftop gardening is a particularly interesting trend. It has proven to be such a success that many businesses are installing rooftop gardens for their own use. One example is the Jonathan Club, a restaurant in Los Angeles. The Jonathan Club uses 50 steel tanks filled with organic soil to grow fresh vegetables for use in their restaurant.
Building Landscapes for Energy Efficiency
One of the biggest problems facing American households is energy use. The American Society of Landscape Architects says that our treeless landscapes are a large contributing factor to the 70 million BTUs consumed by the average American household annually.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a few strategically placed trees and shrubs can cut air conditioning costs by anywhere between 7 percent and 47 percent. Saving on cooling costs aren’t the only benefits of energy efficient landscaping, however:
- Because trees use carbon, they help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
- Tree leaves absorb pollutants, which helps to cut neighborhood pollution levels.
- When shading driveways and roadways, trees reduce the amount of reflected heat, making the neighborhood feel cooler and more pleasant in hot weather.
To maximize the cooling benefits of trees, they need to be placed close to the house on the south and west sides to block the sun during the hottest parts of the day. Use deciduous trees so that the trees don’t have a chilling effect in the winter.
Trees aren’t the only way to design an energy efficient landscape, either. Place dense shrubs or evergreens to the north and northwest of a home for a windbreak that can reduce winter heating costs. If homes lack the yard space for large trees, take advantage of strategically placed trellises and vining plants to shade south and west facing windows.
Landscaping for Wildlife
With urban sprawl, there are increasingly fewer habitats for native plants and animals. What’s more, populations of wild animals are finding it ever more difficult to intermix because their habitats are separated by urban areas. The United States Department of Agriculture forecasts that this problem will only worsen — between 2000 and 2050, new urban development will take up an area the size of Pennsylvania.
The solution to this problem is not to stop expanding cities and suburbs. Instead, we need to make a conscious effort to develop in a wildlife-friendly way. By working with city planners and engineers, we can do several things:
- Convert empty lots to rain gardens, marshes and other natural habitats
- Promote native species gardening among homeowners
- Develop naturally landscaped parks
- Create green corridors throughout cities so that wildlife populations can connect
Not only will this combat declining populations and the threat of extinction, but a city that is more hospitable to wildlife offers its citizens recreational and educational opportunities to view wildlife in its natural habitat.
Portland, Oregon is an excellent example of a city that is devoted to habitat preservation and restoration. At 5,157 acres, the city’s Forest Park is the largest urban forest in the nation. With thousands of old growth trees and native plants, Forest Park has a diverse and healthy wildlife population. Trails throughout the park give residents a chance to get out and enjoy nature at its finest.
Sustainable landscapes offer so many benefits to our society. They give people the chance to eat healthier foods and lead more active lifestyles, they have the potential to cut our energy use while making cities more pleasant and they promote healthy wildlife populations. If you haven’t already, now is the time to invest in sustainable landscaping.