We have unquestionably had an impact on our environment. Nowadays, there are not as many honeybees, frogs or lightning bugs in the yard as there used to be, the mosquitoes carry some new diseases, and there are fewer bats in the sky at night to eat them. These changes are the direct re-sult of human activity: global climate change, environmental destruction or degradation, toxins, and pollution, throwing things out of balance. Why don’t we recognize and respond to these problems? It may have something to do with our lack of personal connection to the outdoors. Children may actu-ally learn more about ecology in school, but fewer kids are allowed to roam in the woods, or walk or ride their bikes to school.
I believe this disconnect has increased our impacts on the earth by reducing our awareness of the consequences of our actions and choices- even the very simple ones we make around our homes. Perhaps we could stand to think more about our impacts on the environment.
Landscape design should take maintenance into account, too, but often gives scant attention to the issue. In today’s typical yard, it seems that the goal is to remove every living thing that comes up by itself or was there already and replace it with a by-the-numbers plan where no element is “outside the lines” and everything matches. Nature’s beauty, however, is a result of both randomness and competi-tion, where things sprout and hatch everywhere but thrive mainly in the locations that suit them best, resulting in a blending and sorting of plants and animals into balanced communities, over time. When we battle this natural order, trying to eliminate all weeds or insects, we tend to overkill, destroying the balance and getting excess costs and unintended consequences. Another of these unintended conse-quences is the taking over of the landscape by invasive species. All of these actions and conse-quences, in turn, diminish the diversity and resilience of the landscape and its resistance to drought and pests, and reduce its beauty and usefulness to wildlife.
A professor of Landscape Architecture at UGA recently pointed out, in a lecture on designing landscapes for wildlife, that providing “habitat” can be as simple as having one or two key native species, such as oak and wild cherry, (each provide food and shelter for several hundred types of local insects and animals) as opposed to exotic (non-native), ornamental species, such as japanese maple or chinese holly that may only support a dozen or so animals. He also pointed out that leaf litter on the ground not only functions as mulch to keep plant roots cool and moist, deter weeds and enrich the soil, but it also is habitat for snails, which birds eat for the cal-cium in their shells that ends up in the shells of their eggs.
We can and should reduce our impact on our environment through our gardening and landscaping ac-tivities. Here are a few suggestions you can try easily. Let a few “weeds” survive in a corner of the yard- you’ll have more caterpillars, butterflies, and birds as a result. Don’t blow all your leaves away- rake them under your shrubs and trees for valuable mulch, nutrients and habitat. Take it easy with the chemicals- they might end up in you or your pets- and remember that your landscape needs a diversity of nutrients and shelter to support the greatest variety of wild animals. As for water- try capturing rainwater and using that for irrigation, and when you water, watering deeply and less often will encourage deeper, more drought-tolerant roots.
If you compost your organic waste from your kitchen (vegetable, never meat), you will have another source of fertilizer for your plants. Some plants can serve you as insecticides and rodent repellents- ground cayenne peppers are good for this. Coffee grounds can be sprinkled around plants to discour-age dogs and cats from spraying, digging or trampling them. Peppermint oil soap can be used as a natural insect repellent- just rub liberally on your skin with a little water, and let the lather soak in. There are many more ways to practice natural gardening and landscaping- talk to your local organic gar-dener, get a copy of “Organic Gardening” magazine, check the internet, or head to the library for more information.
-Art Gibert, Landscape Architect