Mystical Landscapes is a Marin Design and Build company for all aspects of landscaping.
Living sustainably or being “Green” has become popular and many companies have jumped on the band-wagon. Often it can appear that to “be green” you need to buy new things or redo your garden. This is rarely the case, and without taking a position on whether or not a garden should be sustainable I’ll outline three levels of sustainability.
But first, what is a totally sustainable landscape? Very simply it is a landscape that does not require ANY artificial energy source from outside. Nature is the only truly sustainable landscape.
Level One: Just to put things in perspective, the VERY best thing for the environment in most cases is to do absolutely nothing. Turn off all irrigation, disconnect any power, stop mowing, weeding and anything else. In a matter of months or years your garden will become overgrown in a mix of plants that require no maintenance in order to survive and provide habitat for some kind of animal.
Level Two: The next level of sustainability in most cases is to minimally maintain what already exists without making. To illustrate this let’s examine the energy consumed in the process of taking a few hundred square feet of concrete or asphalt and turning it into a bed with drought-tolerant ground-cover. In Marin this process might go something like this:
One or more designers meet with the client on site as the client decides who to work with. Assuming two meetings with two different designers let’s allow two hours for round trip travel. Five gallons of gas are now in the air.
The designer and client meet again to discuss the design (another trip with 1-3 cars involved depending on whether the client is home and whether it is a couple and they drive separate cars or not). Let’s assume two gallons of gas are now in the air.
The designer stops off at a supplier to buy marking paint, drafting pencils etc. to be prepared. These have been manufactured and shipped to the store from out of state. Let’s assume twenty gallons of water are used in manufacturing, two gallons of fuel, and another gallon in transportation.
After the design is agree on another meeting may take place to sign a contract, printed on paper from trees. Let’s assume another three gallons of gas.
The concrete is removed with a jack-hammer and debris box. The jack hammer consumes several gallons worth of fuel in the process, a special trip was made to the site, the jack-hammer consumed one thousand gallons of water being manufactured, and the steel tip in the jackhammer has been shipped from out of state and typically wears out on a concrete job. Replacing the steel tip may consume twenty gallons of water and ten gallons of gas.
A large truck comes and hauls the concrete to a waste facility, consuming five gallons of gas. The concrete is crushed into a crusher by a machine that used several hundred thousand gallons of water to be manufactured, plus shipping, plus lots of energy/gas.
While the concrete crushing machine is running water is sprayed constantly into the air at the San Rafael transfer station to control the dust, using approximately 50 gallons of water during the time this concrete is crushed.
The driver of the machine and the truck drove in to work, consuming several gallons of gas that goes into the air.
Another truck comes in to get the crushed concrete and takes it somewhere else.
The ground-cover gets trucked in to a nursery and from there to the site. It has been grown in plastic pots, consuming oil. It has typically been treated with petroleum based fertilizer and planted in soil that has been trucked into the nursery, consuming further energy.
Bark and compost gets trucked in to the job-site to mulch the plants. This bark subsidizes paper and lumber costs as a waste product and does not end up on the ground the trees were removed from, which contributes to soil depletion.
An irrigation system may or may not be involved but typically is to get even drought-tolerant plants established. It is made from plastic, derived from oil.
And all of this and a lot more is done so that an area of concrete can now have plants in it. And to maintain these plants a maintenance company will often drive over several times a month and then top off the bark from time to time. Then these plants may last 3-10 years before typically being replaced with new ground-cover or some new idea, which starts the process all over again.
There is a very good argument that a) Investing in better design up front and not having the concrete there in the first place to remove and b) that leaving many things as they are is better for the environment than major changes to make the landscape more environmentally friendly. And certainly when taking into account the high cost of landscaping in Marin, it would benefit the environment a hundred times more to contribute $1,000.00 to a charity that buys and conserves rainforests than to spend $10,000.00 in an environmental landscape makeover.
The bottom line: Most changes we do only make sense if they bring the property owner more personal pleasure than the cost and are done for that reason.
Level Three: The third level of sustainability is what most of us talk about and mean when we say we are doing things sustainably. When we create the garden we want but do so in ways that are sensitive to our impact on the environment we are operating at this level. Using the example in level two of removing the concrete, it is much more sustainable to put in drought tolerant ground-cover than it is to replace it with a big concrete waterfall that runs with lights and pump twenty four hours a day.
Below are things that you can incorporate into your landscape design that move in the direction of sustainability:
Drought Tolerant Plants: Planting drought tolerant plants in the late fall and watering them as necessary through the first summer (or with some plants once or twice during peak-summer time) saves water and eliminates the need for a plastic and metal intensive irrigation system.
"Thank you for transforming our front entrance into a beautiful, inviting space."
Steve and Melinda Nunes