When you start looking at the statistics, it’s obvious that having a green garden is entirely different from having a “green” garden.
Fortunately, these days there’s much that can be done to create an outdoor environment at home that’s both beautiful and sustainable. New tips, tools and innovations are sprouting up constantly to help homeowners work in harmony with nature.
Vegetable gardens are an idea that has taken root in homes across the country. Vegetable seed sales had declined for years, only to surge back in 2009 when the recession prompted thrifty gardeners to grow their own produce. In fact, some people are going whole-hog and getting rid of their lawns so that there will be more room to grow more vegetables.
Growing an organic vegetable garden cuts down on pesticide and fertilizer use, with the decided plus of being able to harvest fresh, nutritious items right in your own back yard.
“We are getting a lot of interest from people who want to weave edibles into their landscapes,” said Patricia Becker, executive director of the nonprofit Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Educational Center in Palo Alto, California.
Becker notes that there are many different ways to integrate edibles into a yard, and having a traditional vegetable garden is only one.
Many people are turning to containers to grow their own produce, especially effective where they have small yards or no yard at all. Special varieties of patio tomatoes and other small-scale vegetables are available at Common Ground and other nurseries.
If you can’t stand the thought of giving up your whole lawn to a vegetable garden, think about taking out small sections, Becker said: “Start with things you like to eat, or things you like to look at.” Flowers like nasturtiums and calendula are both attractive and edible, and others that are pretty to look at include fennel, arugula and color-tinged cabbage and lettuce varieties.
Reducing water use is a hot topic in many areas of the United States, and options for doing so are growing. The latest innovation is the evaporation-transpiration controller, or ET for short, a “smart” device for irrigation which automatically adjusts the amount of water based on weather conditions. For instance, if the ET controller detects that it’s been raining, the sprinklers won’t come on.
There’s an increasing trend toward water collection as well. Rainwater harvesting systems can be integrated into the landscape design, or people can save water in rain barrels or tanks for future landscape use.
Also gaining new popularity is the idea of greywater, according to landscape architect James Redman of Menlo Park, California. Greywater is household waste water from laundry, dishwashing and the like that normally goes into the sewer system or septic tank, but some savvy homeowners divert it so that it can water the yard.
New, improved outdoor lighting saves energy for homeowners, and the latest types don’t even need to be wired in. The latest ultra-bright LED lights for landscaping are also solar-powered, meaning that a nice sunny day will give you hours of lumination in the evening.
Interviews with Patricia Becker and James Redman, June 2010