Chasing fireflies through the twilight evenings of summertime, enjoying the first tomato, watching your children’s eyes light up as they savor the last strawberries of the year—most of us want to see our children enjoying the fun of garden discovery and then we want to enjoy watching our grandchildren repeat the pattern. It is not too much of a jump to think about great grandchildren or even great great grandchildren.
That is the point of all the sustainability talk you hear these days. How do we best provide for an enjoyable, rich life today and protect the future for our great-greats? Some answers are clear, and surprisingly easy to implement.
Currently we have an amazing infrastructure of gutters, drainpipes and sewers that collect stormwater—including much of the fertilizer, pesticides and other pollutants from your land—and move it downstream. Today the pollutants from residential landscapes exceed those from industrial sites.
Harvest and use the stormwater; the dividends paid go well beyond the monthly water bill. Rain barrels catch the water from downspouts and this alone can offset a considerable amount of water use.
Limit the surfaces that easily shed water. Driveways, patios, walkways and lawns all shed water with great ease. Lawns may be the most adaptable to change. Create more plant beds, where roots and mulch will help to conserve water. Or turn this around entirely and build a rain garden to capture and slow the water until it soaks into the ground.
Each inch of topsoil may take more than 500 years to form. Protect your portion of this amazing resource by mulching your landscape with organic, locally produced mulch. Then compost your landscape and kitchen vegetable scraps and use this to topdress your soil with rich, healthy, organic matter.
The expense of shipping plants and materials around the globe impacts both our wallets and our environment. Place a priority on using native, locally grown plants and materials. This will create a healthy landscape and support a vibrant local economy.
The national movement toward sustainability is taking a large step forward this year. A partnership between the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and the American Society of Landscape Architects has resulted in the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). SITES is a ratings system for landscape development similar to the LEEDS program for buildings. SITES accepted 150 landscape projects across the nation to test their prototype ratings system.
The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which will officially open in September, was one of these projects. In addition, the U.S. Botanic Garden and Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center developed a curriculum called “Landscapes for Life” for homeowners interested in becoming more sustainable. This curriculum is available on the U.S. Botanic Gardens website and will be introduced at Sarah P. Duke Gardens this fall. www.usbg.gov/landscape-life.
Jan Little is director of education and public programs for Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, NC.