Gardening and Sustainability

Laurie Van Zandt, Guest Commentary
Ogden Valley News, March 1, 2007

On January 20th , 21st and 22nd of this year, the Utah Nursery and Landscape Association (UNLA) held its annual conference in Sandy. Among noteworthy topics at this year’s conference were organic gardening, natives in the landscape, medicinal herbs and ‘smart’ irrigation systems. Important speakers were Dr. Fred Montague from the Department of Biology at the University of Utah, and Eden’s own, Mel Bartholomew, inventor of Square Foot Gardening.

Dr. Montague spoke on the role of home gardening and its positive impact on the environment in a time when 78,660,000 people are added annually to the Planet Earth and our resources are being depleted above sustainable levels. Montague noted that “feeding ourselves in a just and sustainable way (is) perhaps the single most important challenge of this century“. By growing our own food in a sustainable way, we eat healthier food, enhance the fertility of the soil, can produce next year’s seeds by using ‘heirloom’ plants, provide for other organisms such as earthworms, algae, spiders, insects birds, etc., and save the wilderness by growing food where people already live and have the resources to do so.

Mel Bartholomew’s method of gardening uses considerably less space, water, and seed than traditional gardening practices, up to eighty percent less, while producing the same yield. It can be achieved in very little space, so it is ideal for residential areas. By starting with a weed free soil mix, his method is inheritantly pesticide and fertilizer free. Mel has always been an advocate of organic gardening. What both Mel Bartholomew and Fred Montague promote are sustainable gardening practices.

In a broader sense, sustainability is the ability to achieve continuing economic prosperity while protecting natural systems. At the heart of sustainability is a goal to provide a high quality of life for people into the indefinite future. Achieving sustainable solutions calls for stewardship.

With respect to ornamental landscaping, a sustainable landscape would be one that is capable of thriving with minimal long-term effect on the environment. Plants selected for their ability to flourish in our heavy clay, alkaline soil, and that require little investment in the use of time, labor, water, fertilizers, pesticides and imported soil, will tend to be sustainable. Sustainable landscapes will use the features of the site: boulders and rocks, retention of native vegetation, allow natural contours to remain, and maintain natural waterways. Our traditional landscapes produce wastes which most of us never consider: plant trimmings, polluted run-off from chemicals and fertilizers, and water lost by evaporation.

The over-riding principle of sustainable landscape design is creating a garden that conserves resources. By applying the following principles a landscape can be created that is environmentally responsible:

  • Careful analysis of the site
  • Consideration of soil composition, slope, and need for amendments
  • Use of green wastes once the garden is installed
  • Use of organic mulch
  • Practicing xeriscape design principals
  • Use of ‘smart’ irrigation systems
    Proper maintenance
  • By looking at site development, including landscaping, as an integral part of the local environment; and by using sustainable design principles, we can preserve and promote regional identity, culture, ecology, and create a sense of place.

Laurie Van Zandt is owner, designer of The Ardent Gardener Landscape Design, 
and is on the Education Committee for the Utah Nursery and Landscape Association.

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