Mar 2, 2018
by Erik Ohlsen
Landscaping is a massive industry in the United States grossing over 70 billion dollars in 2016. Most of these landscapes consist of water and maintenance intensive lawns and other non-sustainable landscaping methods.
With a growing ecological crisis looming; including severe droughts, topsoil depletion, loss of biodiversity and watershed pollution, our approach to landscaping requires a shift from degenerative to regenerative design and installation.
Ecological design, emerging as the future of landscaping, is the practice of integrating landscapes with nature. Founded on principles of ecology, this land use strategy regenerates the environment itself, while simultaneously providing for the human needs of the community.
There is a growing market for ecological landscape designers and I believe this trend will only grow faster. This is truly a renaissance moment, an epic opportunity to transform a large-scale land use industry. Transform an industry and heal the planet.
Imagine if half of 2016’s $70Billion in US landscapes was geared to enhance the health of ecosystems. The benefits to the community and the environment would be astronomical. Right now landscape designers and contractors can have meaningful careers repairing precious ecologies rather than destroying them.
We have an opportunity to return to the garden. To grow food, catch water and be truly self-sufficient. We can be producers, mending the planet and enjoying the recreation of beautifully designed landscapes at the same time. We can create paradise in our own backyards. We can do this at any scale, from urban lots to thousand acre ranches, the future of landscaping is ecological.
Ecological landscapes retain many elements of traditional landscapes. We incorporate outdoor living and recreation areas, water features, hardscape pathways, special plantings, anything we can imagine. The difference is our approach to using resources, our respect of the natural environment, the weaving of human needs with needs of the environment.
The potential is enormous, the timing strategic. Now is the moment to transform the landscape industry. We can generate whole new career paths, increase our self-sufficiency and repair the planet.Below are 5 tips to help you on your way.
To design an ecological landscape one must first understand the site and the ecology of a place. This simple yet effective approach could save clients thousands of dollars on its own. I can’t tell you how many times I observed catastrophic situations during my site assessment phase, saving my clients time and money.
An ecological design works with the natural patterns of a site. The goal of your site assessment is to understand as many natural patterns and existing conditions as possible. What are the constraints of a site? What are the resources?
Here are elements to observe when designing an ecological landscape:
Healthy soil is the foundation of healthy plants and a thriving landscape. An ecological landscape focuses on building organic matter and feeding biological activity in the soil.
Biologically alive soil results in higher yields of food producing plants, a reduction of irrigation needs and increased pest and disease resistance.
Inherent in building soil is the absence of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. These commonplace products in the landscape industry, are at odds with an ecological approach to landscaping. Chemicals kill the beneficial living organisms present in healthy soil, in turn creating a dependency on synthetic fertilizers and additives.
Here are some tips for building healthy soil:
Water is usually the first element designed into an ecological landscape. Where water flows life grows. Water must be looked at in a variety of settings to paint a full picture of the water layer of a landscape. Here are the most important ways to think about water in design.
Did you know that you can have a highly ornamental landscape that also produces food, medicine, builds soil, and enhances wildlife habitat? All this can be achieved by making smart plants choices.
Choose plants within the below categories. Keep in mind that within each group there are plenty of species that provide the stated function and can be flowering, low maintenance, deciduous or evergreen. Creative landscape designers can produce amazing color palettes, textures, and planting structures while yielding ecological functions at the same time.
Landscapes change over time as seasons pass and the system matures. Planning for these changes leads to an overall success of the project.
Nature functions from cycle and flows. An ecological landscape does the same. As the system grows up new maintenance cycles emerge. Planning for these milestones by utilizing harvests, Strategic pruning or removal of some species and so on, are all necessary aspects of keeping the landscape healthy and thriving.
Make the Future Ecological
Join the fast growing trend towards designing landscapes ecologically. As a homeowner, you’re a land steward by default, make the right choice for your landscape. Build soil, harvest water, enhance habitat, grow food and immerse yourself in paradise.
As professionals, we have a major opportunity before us. A responsibility in fact. We can be part of the solution or a continuation of the problem. The market for ecological landscape is growing quickly. You don’t want to miss being at the forefront. Now more than ever its time to be the solution.
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