Frequently Asked Questions
How is this different-aren’t all gardens good for the environment?
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Gardens and landscapes vary considerably in their environmental and ecological impacts.
The density of plant cover, the overall diversity of species, whether the plants are effective food sources for insects and other locally native life and the health of the soil biology significantly affect the environmental outcomes of the space.
Whether it is maintained through ongoing inputs such as fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, water from treated or depleting sources etc. even ongoing inputs of plants produced in heated greenhouse environments can lower the net environmental benefit of a garden.
It is also important to consider the entire landscape. Extensive hard surfaces, or materials that have high environmental impact at the extraction, processing, transportation and/or disposal phase can offset the entire lifecycle benefit of the planted part of your space. Less is more when it comes to materials in the landscape. Choose options that minimize the need for bulk or heavy materials, place them only where they are needed and care for them well to maximize their functional lifecycle.
Should we just leave landscapes alone then?
Not all inputs reduce the benefit of your garden. Some of these include manual labour, compost from kitchen waste, water collected during rainfall or snow melt, plants grown in unheated environment and in the soil or in re-usable containers, seeds from sustainable sources etc.
Is this more expensive than conventional landscaping?
This process is good for your budget because it spreads the cost of projects over a longer period of time. Rather than an extensive disruption, changes are incremental, building the health of the soil, supporting the establishment of ecosystem health by starting with the species that tolerate disturbed sites and soils and gradually introducing more diversity as the ecosystem is ready to support it.
It is also good for the local economy, relying far more on services than products, keeping the economic benefits within your community.
Can I do the work myself?
Yes, this approach is DIY friendly. Observing, interacting and developing a relationship with your space is one of the most valuable things you can do for your ecosystem.
Is a sustainable landscape low maintenance?
Sustainability isn’t about the pursuit of the elusive ‘no-maintenance landscape’. No maintenance and urban are a poor fit and the striving for this has led to increasingly impervious spaces, landscapes with very little diversity and few, if any, plant species that support the complete lifecycle of any insect or bird life. In some cases, it has led all of the way to synthetic turf in spaces perfectly capable of supporting plant life.
Most ecosystems rely on some form of disturbance, flood, fire, grazing etcetera, that doesn’t naturally occur in urban environments. Your ecosystem will need care to make up for these absences. Services such as seed and plant distribution also fall to humans in urban environments or otherwise fractured ecosystems. The maintenance that a sustainable landscape requires is quieter and less disruptive than conventional maintenance, involving far less use of power tools and transportation of materials.
One area where maintaining is reduced is the big renovations that are so common every few years in perennial gardens, with the need for large scale interventions fading away as the garden becomes an ecosystem, replaced by natural ebb and flow of compatible species.
Do I need a large site to be able to make a difference?
No, even a small space can provide pollinator habitat, filter air and water, produce food and give you a place to make compost and gather seeds to share.