Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How do (should) I define sustainability in the garden? – Part II – My Own Gardening Practices

For the record and in the spirit of disclosure, here is what has happened in my own very tiny garden, beginning Autumn 2006. A flagstone patio replaced St. Augustine lawn in the front garden. The following year, raised beds for vegetable garden replaced Common Bermuda with Fescue sod lawn in the rear garden.

By Summer 2007 I eliminated all traces of turf grass or mown lawn, hiring a few strong guys with mattocks, shovels and my own plus one borrowed wheelbarrow. (Okay, for a year or so, maybe a few traces of turf remained. Have not seen any this season!) This was happily accomplished without using chemical herbicide. However, there were clearly sustainable trade-offs.

On a very small plot, there was no room to store decomposing sod, and I feared the dreaded Common Bermuda would survive to reseed and stolonize itself from its latent state. Therefore, swallowing hard, I hired a very large bin plus a couple of small truckloads and sent over 30 cubic yards of soil/sod to the landfill. Although it contained viable invasive Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses, and fossil fuel was burned in its transport, I consoled myself with the knowledge it was not chemically tainted. It was “clean” otherwise. I hope it was handled at the dump so it would not invade the surrounding hillside environment.

Trading off as “credit” against the transport fuel consumption, I am happy to report my garden has not engaged the use of any power tools in over two years. Under a canopy of Eucalypts, for fire-safety and tidiness, I use a leaf rake and push broom to minimize fuel build up from fallen leaves. This material goes into the city-provided green refuse barrel. (For health reasons, I am unable to handle all my own composting.)

To backfill lost soil and fill new, raised beds, I scavenged the neighborhood for available clean dirt. I also purchased decomposed granite to use as top-dressing/mulch in the front garden, and walkway paving in the rear garden. Latter is still work in progress. Gradually and carefully, over the past year, I dug a swale along the drip-line of citrus trees. My digging mantra is “it’s cheaper than joining a gym!” Excavated soil was used in the raised bed vegetable garden.

You can see the results of my garden redesign in photographs under Projects (San Miguel Street Residence and Woodland Hills Rear Garden) at

Monday, September 28, 2009

How do (should) I define sustainability in the garden? – Part I – My Garden Design Business

Taking this opportunity to extend a dialog opened by Barbara Eisenstein in… “I Used to Have a Lawn But Now I Have Less”, posted 24 September, 2009 and continued in “The Quest for a Superlawn”, posted 27 September, 2009 on her blog, Wildsuburbia. Barbara also shared a wealth of information about many garden-friendly California native grasses in earlier posts.

It is a delicate case and an interesting journey, identifying the lesser of evils, choosing battles, deciding what is to be sustained, balancing environmental and human needs. Feel there are no pat answers. Believe it is for each of us to examine our own conscience, ways and means. My hope, though, is that many more will come to own their garden and their own destiny, resisting big corporate marketing of wolves in sheep’s clothing. One challenge is to trade in blowers in favor of rakes and brooms, and to shun chemicals in favor of beneficial bugs and organisms. Remember, the exercise is free – certainly cheaper than joining a gym!

In my own garden, I am “top dog.” If something is healthful for me, I opine it is healthful for the environment. I look to sustain myself first, other creatures next. And, I happen to be much more squeamish about chemical exposure than I am about encounters with four, six or eight-legged garden creatures! More on this tomorrow… Today, I am focused on my business.

As a designer of enduring gardens, I prefer to encourage lawn alternatives rather than alternative lawns. Nonetheless, deferring to clients' wishes, I try gentle persuasion. (It's that flies-honey-vinegar connection!) This is how I work to achieve sustainable balance in lawn-inclusive design under a variety of scenarios:

v Functional lawn: Client A insists on mown turf. Suggest it be minimized to that which serves a functional purpose, as defined by client. Leaves room for dialog about selecting a lower-impact turf grass, improving irrigation efficiency and using beneficial horticultural practices to enhance underlying soil structure and minimize polluting run-off. If I were to decline to design for client A, I expect they would find someone else, and that traditional practices would continue. My only accomplishment would be loss of a client.

v Alternative lawn/meadow: Client B appears to want mown turf for lack of other inspiration or budget. Again, draw out a discussion of functionality, and help them explore alternatives. For example, boulders in a meadow can lead to more creative, imaginative family fun than a small patch of mown lawn too small for a soccer game. Isn’t it beneficial to a young person’s health (with age-appropriate supervision) to pick up and get to know tiny garden creatures? There is a growing body of research pointing out that most kids today grow up nature-deprived. Conversely, I know of no health benefit from a nice tumble on a turf lawn, laced with chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers the gardener spread, and which are waiting for the proper irrigation day to be watered in!

v Retain lawn in front, consistent with community plan; rear lawn replacement: Client C seeks lawn alternatives. Suggest reducing front lawn to minimum consistent with community guidelines*, while replacing species with lower-impact turf grass, etc., as noted in A, above. Also, if existing lawn is edged by hardscape, suggest a planted border, or at least permeable surface or containment/transition to avoid run-off to street, sidewalks and other impermeable surfaces. (Note: length, severity of drought may make front lawn replacement decision for us!) Employ the functional dialog to repurpose rear lawn area to client-desired function. Examples: (1) Children’s play equipment placed over surface of play bark – later this can become an edibles garden or a casual dining court once the play equipment is outgrown, depending on solar exposure and needs. Or, (2) Outdoor room for entertaining. Or, (3) Tapestry garden, featuring meandering paths through native and compatible planting, casual seating, and perhaps a few bits of sculpture or other focal objects.

* Hope to be invited to speak to local Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) to help them find new, improved visions of enduring beauty in their planned, community landscapes, what I call “creating a new heritage in Southern California gardens.” Meanwhile, homeowners in such communities are reticent to go against the grain of lawn-based landscapes “dictated” by covenants, codes and restrictions (CC and Rs) even when such guidelines fly in the face of legally enforceable water restrictions.

Barbara, I appreciate your wisdom and insights. I hope you don’t mind my following on the lead you’ve taken on the subject of lawns, alternatives and sustainability, and connecting that here with my business focus and passion.

My knowledge of environmental concerns is growing, and I try to respond accordingly in my life and work. In addition to saving money, saving water reduces fossil fuel consumption and reduces pollution of natural waterways. Did you know, here in Southern California, pumping water from its source and/or to/from its treatment uses a great deal of non-renewable energy? I am attending classes in Sustainable Landscape for Professionals offered by the City of Santa Monica. In addition, I received water management training toward Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA.) My irrigation certification is pending qualified work experience. See begarden listed here by the City of Santa Monica as Sustainable Landscape Professional. I have a Certificate in Landscape Design from California State University, Northridge (CSUN.) My business website is

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Improving Eco-Awareness

Roz Savage, an eco-blogger I follow, recently posed a question asking whether or not those following her blog perceive that more people are becoming aware of and care about impacts on the environment, specifically, climate change.

Here is what I wrote in response:

I choose optimism -- to believe more are becoming aware, adopting more sustaining behaviors, with positive changes being made each day.

Thought just came to me, and I already acted on it... sent this via a website to an association of food retailers/wholesalers:

"Would like to see you encourage your retailer-membership to track and post a cumulative number representing a count of each time a customer shops/purchases goods but refuses a disposable plastic carryout bag. This could even be set up as some sort of contest [among retailer sites]. Hope you are interested!

Would love to see this sort of pro-activity obviate the need for legislative action in terms of a bag ban!

Just a consumer concerned about the health of our environment, especially the world's oceans..."

Roz, in my mind, this goes beyond the typical bag refund or consumer contest, putting up a very prominent display -- a take-off on the "number of customers served" type of display! Believe that could quickly grow to a very impressive number!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Begin: garden clean-up, day 1

Today, I am launching my blog. Briefly, I will share what my friend, Gwen, recently called my "new improved life." I am developing habits and making choices that help me sustain myself and the world around me. Happy to share a few glimpses of the joy of the journey!

Thought for today: Rake and sweep up leaves and debris in garden and street front. In my small garden, this takes just about the amount of time for a gym workout, and it is free! (Well, I procrastinated, and the street sweeper came by. Now, I just need to clean up what is left behind!) Great to be out in the fresh air!