ecoscapes blog

Time to Get (More) Climate Wise

Close-up of two hands holding a book. The book's title is "Climate-wise Landscaping."
Given the horrific pace of climate-driven weather disasters this year, even the most diligent sustainable gardeners among us may throw their trowels down in despair. Yet if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, each of us—joined by a throng of others—will need to dig in and redouble our efforts.

I recently read Climate-Wise Landscaping: Practical Actions for a Sustainable Future, a comprehensive “primer” on sustainable landscaping. Co-authors Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt provide hundreds of actions we can take to shrink the carbon footprint of our landscaping activities; create yards better able to withstand (hopefully flourish) under challenging and unpredictable conditions; and importantly, help wildlife that share our yards to adapt.

The authors are quick to point out that the book is more of a ‘what to’ not a ‘how-to.’ They say “Our intention is to present an array of options that can be implement in may situations and many ways, appropriate for each individual landscape and gardener.”

The book covers the following topics:

  • Lawns
  • Trees and shrubs
  • Water
  • Ecosystems
  • Planning and Design
  • Soil
  • Herbaceous Plants
  • Urban Issues
  • Food
  • Materials (hardscape)

It’s best to peruse the detailed table of contents before diving in. Sections such as Urban Issues may not seem to have much to offer the suburban gardener. Yet this section provides interesting nuggets on climate-wise paving and lighting choices applicable to most home environments.

Given the scope of the topic, I understand the authors’ decision to present “an ala carte menu” instead of a “series of recipes.” Still, I was disappointed that they didn’t point to additional resources for readers interested in diving deeper into any given topic. Only the sections on Water and Herbaceous plants included this. The book’s Endnotes section lists publication and web sources the authors used and many include websites URLs. But it’s dense to plow through.

Overall, Climate-Wise Landscaping offers plenty of useful information for even the most seasoned sustainable gardener. For that reason, I give it a green thumbs up. You can find it through many on-line booksellers or be like me—borrow it from the library.

Trending Now: Chaos Gardening

As a landscape designer the idea of ‘chaos gardening’ doesn’t exactly warm my heart. When I first heard about this ‘trend’ my thought was “oh, they must be talking about creating wild meadows or cottage gardens.”

Well, not exactly. In a July 2023 web post the venerable Better Homes & Gardens describes chaos gardening as “exactly what it sounds like—a haphazard and laid-back approach to gardening in which rules and meticulous garden planning are thrown out the window.

“Simply gather up any leftover seed packets you have (or buy new ones) and throw the seeds around in the garden to see what takes. The result is a natural-looking garden that teems with life and plenty of variety. Plus, if you find the process of planning a garden and sowing seeds stressful, chaos gardening saves you lots of time and effort.”

The writer effuses that this “laissez-faire” approach to seeding a garden can be used with flowers, fruits, vegetables and grasses.

Time saved. Less stress. Element of surprise. That all sounds wonderful. Certainly, mixing a batch of seed and sprinkling it across a container or small bed could be a fun experiment to get kids interested in gardening. Yet, to take a turn on a popular phrase, “you get what you plant for.”

I think most people who try this approach are going to be very disappointed with the results—particularly novice gardeners. The problem is that the soil in our yards is chockful of weed seeds just waiting for an opportunity to spring to life. Unless the “chaos gardener” is willing to spend time removing weeds, they will quickly overwhelm surrounding plants. And it’s particularly problematic when plants are just starting to emerge as it’s often difficult to distinguish weeds from the plants you are trying to grow.

Finally, if you have neighbors who fastidiously maintain their yards, they are going to be, shall we say, less than impressed with a chaos garden. Native gardens have long been viewed by many as little more than weed patches. With the advent of more aesthetically pleasing designs, native plants have gained wider acceptance. Chaos gardening is a step in the wrong direction.

Let’s hope this is a trend that fades fast.

What’s Wrong with this Photo?
This photo I recently took captures a ‘trifecta’ of gardening faux paus. Even if you’ve never made any of these mistakes, perhaps you can nudge unaware family members or neighbors toward making better choices--ones that will benefit them and the environment.

Let’s start with the red dyed mulch. Besides the garish color, I’m unclear on why someone would use wood mulch in planting beds that is anything but natural (undyed) earth-colored brown mulch—typically a shredded hardwood bark. This article provides five great reasons why dyed mulch is a bad idea. If dyed mulch is an absolute ‘must have,’ make sure it’s been certified by the Mulch and Soil Council.

Revisiting the photo, the tree seems to be well protected from competing weeds or lawn equipment mishaps. Too well protected: that mulch placed against the tree in a ‘volcano’ shape is killing it. Buried under that volcano, the tree’s roots are too far from the open air and struggle to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide they need for healthy growth. The densely piled much also creates a moist and protected place next to the bark, promoting diseases that attack the tree. And it makes a welcoming home for bark chewing rodents.

Finally, the tree certainly has a dense and attractively-shaped canopy. Yet the problem is that the tree is a Bradford Pear. Pear trees like the Bradford cultivar are prized for their spring show of white flowers and compact shape. Yet they are highly invasive, popping up with alarming frequency in natural areas (seeds are spread by birds that eat the tree’s fruit). More recently developed cultivars have been touted for being less of a problem, even nearly 100% sterile. But why take a chance? There are several excellent small native small trees to opt for instead.