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Marin IJ Articles

Reusing, recycle and repurpose hardscape materials in your garden

  • Karen Gideon
  • If your goal as a gardener is to further sustainability, it’s important to think through hardscape choices.

    Hardscape — the patios, walkways, decks and retaining walls of the garden — form the backbone of your garden design. Sustainable hardscape design considers the long-term effects of choices of hardscape products and the well-being of the environment. Weighing the alternatives includes looking at the manufacturing costs, and the energy needs of production and transportation of materials to your home. Environmentally aware gardeners use materials and design that utilizes recycling, promotes drainage, minimizes environmental damage and avoids toxic chemicals. Here are some tips and ideas for your sustainable hardscape planning.

    • Sketch out your garden plan and note your hardscape needs before moving soil and ordering your plants. If the hardscape is the backbone of your garden, the driveway and walkways are the veins and arteries. Look for flow to and from your beautiful accented areas, using curves in your walkways for interest. These areas tend to be flat and take up quite a bit of property so their permeability is a primary consideration.

    • Survey your garden and look for recycling opportunities. Bricks and pavers, old and new cobblestones, can be used in walkways and garden edging. Let your creative juices flow! Cement chunks can be used in patios and retaining walls, keeping them out of our landfills. Don’t overlook the obvious boulder or mid-sized rock for an interesting placement in the garden with small flowers and succulents. Reuse, recycle or repurpose is a sustainable hardscape mantra.

    • Review your irrigation system and rainwater flow. The goal is to keep patios, driveways and walkways permeable so the rainwater drains through the material and back to the water table. Impervious, nonporous materials like asphalt create run-off, resulting in pooling, soil erosion and water waste. Using sand or space between bricks and pavers allows the rain to be absorbed into the soil below the surface.

    Drainage is a key to successful walkway and driveway design. If your decomposed granite becomes a sea of mush after the first rain, it won’t be passable until summer. While there are resin products that stabilize sand, grit and gravel, you have to do your homework and check for cost and toxic residue. For driveways, which supports a lot of weight, consider pervious asphalt and concrete when pavers are not in the budget.

    Wood for raised beds, fences and decks can be recycled products that have been weather conditioned. If you’re buying new wood, check to ensure that the wood has not been treated with toxic chemicals to retard rot from irrigation. Look for paints and stains that are nontoxic, especially for raised beds for growing edibles — you don’t want to introduce toxic chemicals in your food via your raised beds. Consider vegetable beds supported by cinder blocks, rocks, wood or bricks — think natural or sustainable.

    Decorative elements in the hardscape such as trellises and support for climbing roses and arbors can be designed with water pipes, old beds, wire fencing and other structures from the past. Let your imagination run wild! A barrel, wagon, sink or tub can become a container for tomatoes or flowers. Anything that can be set upright can be a support for a vine or supported plant.

    After you have planted and are ready to compost and mulch, consider organic mulching products. Wood and bark mulches break down over time and provide an organic element to the soil. Gravel, nonorganic mulch, doesn’t break down and serves as a moisture barrier around the roots of the plants. Even rocks placed around the base of a plant reserves moisture and retards weeds.

    Hardscape is an aspect of your garden that gives you the license to use your creativity and support sustainability at the same time. Remember the mantra of reuse, recycle and repurpose while in search of nontoxic, sustainable products to build the backbone of your garden.