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Marin IJ Articles

Moving beyond sustainability starts at home

  • Dave Phelps
  • While we've recently made great progress in creating more sustainable landscapes in California we still have much further to go.

    Rather than be content with merely reversing the tide of pollution and collateral damage from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and soil compaction and destruction, why not push aggressively for abundant rainwater harvesting, continual soil building and over-the-top creation of biodiversity, habitat and local food security that we all know is in our best interest?

    Perhaps sustainability is analogous to a mere survivalist mentality. We should be on a path to promote health for all organisms in our biosphere. That path lies in the garden.

    With more people waking up to the realities we face because of our historical shortsightedness, the social tipping point for true ecological responsibility is at hand. The garden path awaits us. It beckons us to take up our spades and forks and demand a more responsible livelihood that supports our future generations rather than condemning them.

    Thinking and interacting globally while aggressively acting locally is possible thanks to the Internet, growing social awareness and personal empowerment. The landscape we create and live in is up to us. So what do we want?

    We know we want fresh water, healthy rivers and streams, diverse and thriving ecologies, a growing abundance of fertile soils, productive heirloom crops and successful local agricultural communities. We can promote sustainable gardening practices, but we can't stop there.

    A case in point is the new paradigm of turf. Great expanses of grass in California were once a sign of power and wealth. Now those same expanses of nonrecreational, water-hogging monocultures are a signal of some level of disconnect with nature and our Mediterranean-type climate. Lawns are slowly being transitioned into plant materials that are more climate-appropriate.

    Another example is Integrated Pest Management, biological pest-control measures and the abhorrence of scheduled sprays of toxic compounds. Likewise our drainage systems are being re-engineered into infiltration systems to reduce runoff and recharge our aquifers. Salty urea- and nitrate-based fertilizers are being replaced with renewable organic ones. More native and other Mediterranean plants are available in nurseries. Compost and mulch are respected and used for their ability to add fertility, build soil structure, and reduce erosion and compaction. The amazing soil ecology that we all depend on is slowly starting to be understood, and, more important, given respect.

    Green walls and green roofs add to our landscape areas, reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and clean our air. Edibles blend with ornamentals and grey water is starting to make inroads into our available irrigation sources. It is fascinating to see the explosion of backyard chicken coops; bee, owl and bat boxes; as well as the provision of water and habitat for wildlife.

    As more people step onto the garden path and see the benefits of locally grown food, healthy outdoor activity and a more intimate connection with the soil and their local communities, their positive reactions are shared with others and the tipping point grows closer. It's an exponentially growing force that can and must promote the health of our biosphere.

    In the past few years we've seen a legislature that meets and supports this sustainable trend. Bills to support gray water systems and rainwater harvesting have been approved. The Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (WELO) is a holistic and systematic ordinance that promotes good land stewardship as a means to improve the availability and quality of our water. The Bay-Friendly Landscape Coalition has taken a similar holistic approach to train and award sustainable best management landscape practices. Residential and commercial gardens are being certified and rated as habitat gardens, Bay-Friendly Gardens and LEED accredited.

    Marin Master Gardeners are a dedicated, trained group of volunteers who, through community service and educational outreach, provide home gardeners and community organizations with the knowledge and skills to create a healthy environment for our county. Master Gardeners have partnered with the Marin Municipal Water District to provide homeowners with free information and advice on improving their irrigation practices to help conserve Marin's precious water resources.

    To get a free consultation, call the Master Gardener Help Desk at 473-4204 or go to marinmg.org and fill out an online request for a Garden Walk.

    A vibrant, fertile future is possible if we take action now and push past the sustainable landscape mentality to embrace a more inspiring goal for our planet.

    Are you on the garden path?