Every day, in the course of your daily routine, don’t you pass some kind of garden setting? If you are like me, you enjoy looking at or stepping into green spaces that give us a break from concrete and hardscape, adding an environmentally friendly component to urban and suburban life. Do you ever stop and think about what it takes to get a lush and green landscape to flourish, or what size carbon footprint it takes to create and maintain that space?
Lisa Walter is the owner of Laurel Bay Gardens, a nursery and landscape design company in Florence, Oregon. Before opening her nursery, Lisa worked for the U.S. Forest Service and has brought her expertise and desire to use sustainable landscape practices directly into her residential and commercial landscaping business. Novel concepts are being introduced into gardening practices – not just in the Pacific Northwest, but across the country; we spoke this week about what Lisa’s company routinely does to incorporate environmental benefits into her business. For example, Lisa explained that Laurel Bay Gardens focuses on a reduction in consumption of virgin materials, recycling and reuse, minimizing water and energy use. She stressed that, “At the initiation of any gardening project, large or small, decisions are made that affect how environmentally friendly we can be. No matter the size of your project or its location, whether an apartment or a home on a large lot, it is especially important to carefully select environmentally appropriate plants.” Lisa encourages us to resarch the plants that do well in our own areas and the type of conditions in which plants thrive.” For example, The Native Plant Society of Oregon has a photograph gallery of plants indigenous to all the different Oregon climates and a long list of resources to help you make selections best suited to your location. For a list of native plant nurseries in your area, anywhere in the US, you can use the PlantNative website.
Additionally, Lisa tries to make use of biomaterials whenever they are available and she noted that, “Pots are now being constructed of recyclable plastics and are sometimes made of biodegradable materials such as peat. We’ve seen increased interest in new materials that, after planting, disintegrate over time which helps reduce waste. We use roses that are packaged in a minimal plastic bag while the roots are enclosed in biomaterial planted directly into the soil.” Lisa pointed out that one of the potential problems associated with biomaterials is that, “The shelf life of biomaterials has typically been quite short, making it less cost-effective to buy plants packaged in that way if we are not certain that they can be sold and planted quickly.”
Watering is a critical issue as well. Lisa recommends her clients choose plants that are drought tolerant for areas of high wind and low water availability. Even in Florence on the Oregon Coast, there is little or no rain between June and October; thus installation of sprinkler systems can prevent the loss of entire portions of your garden in summer. Lisa advised that, “Sprinkler systems are more efficient than hose watering and can greatly reduce water use because they can target areas with a controlled water flow and can be set to come on at times of the day when water will penetrate the ground and not evaporate as quickly.” Lisa added that, “Mulch as a soil topper helps to limit water evaporation and reduce weed growth.”
Remember that the purchase of nursery plants becomes an environmental issue in and of itself as we consider distance travelled and fuel consumed. Obviously, driving longer distances increases both financial and environmental costs. Buying from local growers is not always easy if you are in a remote location. You can ask your nursery or gardening store where they purchase their plants.
As you establish your own garden, having carefully selected your green space, and plants to fill it, as well as an effective watering system, the next step is to consider green composting as a way to add fertilizer to your garden. Composting is a common way to accomplish that by recycling food scraps which reduces landfill waste. If you are unsure how to compost ask questions at your local nursery. It is a simple process but you will need to know something about composting before you begin. The Sierra Club has a great how-to video.
And finally, how do you keep the bugs out? While some plants are insect resistant, most are not. Environmentally safe insecticides are available in most nurseries. Be sure to read the label. Now that you are ready to plant your own garden, but think you need a lot of space, think again. Sophie Uliano, author of “Gorgeously Green” has a great video (click on the video above to play) on growing tomatoes in a very limited space. Sophie’s website offers hundreds of tips on how to make your garden more sustainable. Happy gardening!