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As the climate changes, sustainable garden design is essential

  • Karen Gideon
  • Our climate is changing, bringing greater swings in temperature, extreme storms, frequent year-round fires and unusual wet and dry periods. Folks are attempting to stem the tide by reducing waste, eliminating the use of plastics, and shrinking their carbon footprint. Our planetary roommates, the plants and animals that range from bugs to whales, are also feeling the impact of climate change and some species are dying out as their habitats disappear. For gardeners who spend time turning the soil and nurturing plant growth, this calls for the adoption of practices and garden designs that promote sustainability.

    Sustainability in the garden involves meeting your needs today without negatively impacting the ability of future gardeners to meet theirs. This includes your garden’s impact on water use and conservation, energy needed to make the products you use, protection of wildlife habitats, elimination of invasive species, and long-term plant and hardscape choices. Thinking about the elements of sustainability in the design phase of your garden development will save you heartache and hassle down the road, as well. Consider it doing your part to curb the effects of climate change.

    Conserving water

    One of the most important facets of garden design is the use and conservation of water. Clustering your plants by their water requirements and using low-need plants ensures that you won’t be overwatering needlessly. Irrigating with low flow emitters results in using less water and reducing run off. Lawns are like sponges with endless thirst, so consider minimizing or eliminating lawn space. Think about including a simple rainwater collection system in your design.

    Selecting plants that are the right size, grow in the right climate and are drought-resistant is critical. Using native plants in your garden is a short cut to low water use and contributes to the preservation of wildlife habitat. Learn which plants are invasive species and should not be planted. If you’re unsure, call the Marin County Master Gardener help desk for clarity. If there are invasive plants (i.e. vinca major, scotch or Portuguese broom, cotoneaster) in your garden currently, remove and replace them with natives like yarrow, ceanothus, calamagrotis and salvia. Planting them during our rainy season helps them root and get established.

    Hardscape design consists of the paths, retaining walls, driveways and patios in your garden. They can be constructed with environmentally friendly materials and design that utilizes recycling, promotes drainage, minimizes environmental damage and avoids toxic chemicals. The recycling and reuse of pavers, bricks, gravel, rocks and other hardscape materials is a wise choice. As you select your materials and design, check for permeability, which allows the rain to drain into the soil, not run off into gutters and creeks.

    Creating habitat

    Insects, reptiles and birds that keep pests in check and help with pollination need a wildlife habitat to nest, rest and find food. Planning some areas with deadfall, leaves and other debris for your pest patrollers is critical. Native plants and a source of water will round out a habitat for these hard workers, reducing your need for pesticides. Look for existing rocks and shady spots, and keep them safe from pets.

    Reserve space for composting your green clippings and plant debris — keeping the waste on your property and out of landfills. If you have an area that is infrequently used consider adding a system for rain capture, a bin for composting and a worm bin.

    The heart of sustainability is in your gardening practices and design. This includes mulching and composting, using organic means to nurture your plants and soil, and eliminating pesticides. By designing your garden with permeable hardscape, a home for your pest patrollers and pollinators, water-wise plant choices and natives you can do your part to leave the earth in better shape for the future. It’s an opportunity to have a positive impact on the planet.

    Even if your garden is tiny, if we all join together, we can make a difference.