Going Green

by Laurie Van Zandt
Ogden Valley News – April 1, 2009

In an effort to define standards for environmentally sustainable construction, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1994. LEED was created to define “green building” by establishing a common standard of measurement and to raise consumer awareness of green building benefits. Points are awarded for meeting various criteria, with the ultimate goal of receiving a Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum level of certification. The bottom line is to create a more sustainable built environment through site development, water efficiency, energy optimization, and use of reused and recycled products.

The benefits of ‘going green’ are numerous and include the reduction and prevention of pollutants, conservation of natural resources and maximizing ecological function.

While members of the “green industry” – landscape designers, architects, and builders, nurseries and growers, maintenance companies, tree care specialists, and pesticide applicators – are becoming more aware, it is ironic that this industry is often not ‘green’ at all in the sustainable sense. One hour of mowing equates to twenty miles in the car according to www.epa.gov , and mowers use 580 million gallons of gas each year. Over or misuse of pesticides and fertilizers upset a delicate ecosystem. Non-native plants can ‘escape’, becoming invasive and competing with the native landscape. Plants unsuitable for our environment put strains on our limited water supply.

Becoming more conscience of our choices with respect to our landscapes is the first step. LEED standards can be applied to an existing garden or new construction by considering the following ideas:

Composting – Plant material and kitchen wastes are broken down by microorganisms that give off carbon dioxide and heat, and can be added back into the soil as a rich amendment. Avoid using weeds that have gone to seed, diseased plants or those exposed to weed killers or systemic insecticides.

Replace dead, dying, or too large plants with more drought tolerant choices that are appropriately sized for the space available to allow the plant to reach its optimal size.
Change spray sprinkler heads which are only about 50% efficient to rotory stream or drip which are up to 85% efficient if installed properly.
Add a Smart technology controller to your sprinkler system. These are generally under $200 and are programmable to reduce water consumption significantly.
Use non-chemical pesticides such as a mixture of Tabasco Sauce and Dr. Bonner’s Peppermint soap. Keep in mind that what goes into our soil, goes into our water supply
Diversity in plant material discourages diseases.
If building a new home, make every effort to protect as much of the existing native landscape as possible. Dr. Phil Allen, Professor at BYU spoke recently at the Utah Nursery and Landscape Association’s annual Green Conference. His research has indicated that even with diligence, it can take from three to seven years or more for a native landscape to become re-established.
At that same conference, Peter Lassig, designer of the gardens at Temple Square, talked about the predator/prey cycle, and noted that in a healthy garden, ‘bad’ bugs are kept in check. Encourage birds in your garden by providing plants with seeds and berries, water and places to hide. Birds are a natural pest control.
Reduce lawn or replace with a drought tolerant species. Native grasses have significantly deeper root systems than traditional turf grasses
Use porous surfaces for hardscapes as these allow water to drain from the site and percolate through the soil
Native plants maintain a sense of place, survive in our heavy, salty soil and provide habitats for native birds, insects and animals.
Use of local materials reduces fuel consumption and vehicle use.
Reduce night time lighting to retain our night sky. Use down lights instead of up lights and reduce wattage and quantity of lights.
Use recycled materials as unique planters or garden art. Reuse lumber for building structures and try products such as ‘Trex’ type decking or lawn edging.
Recycle your trash.
Grow your own vegetables and herbs. Heirloom vegetables have less biological engineering and are generally tastier.
As with any landscape, a garden that is intended to attain a level of sustainability should be well designed, attractive and functional. It should also be in balance with the local climate and require minimal resources to maintain.

Laurie Van Zandt is owner/designer of The Ardent Gardener Landscape Design in Huntsville and can be reached at 801.388.8103. Visit her website at www.theardentgardener.net

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