I don’t think I’ve ever started my blog with a joke, so here goes.
Scene: A dark, cold bedroom, 3:27 AM.
Margie, bundled in layers of blankets, startles Mort with a loving elbow jab to the ribs. “Honey, shut the window. It’s cold outside.”
Mort, ever the logical and snarky one, mumbles, “So if I shut the window it’s going to be warmer outside?”
Okay, it’s a pretty lame joke, but there’s a point to be made. What if you could improve the comfort of your home without opening and closing windows, piling on and peeling off layers of blankets, or fumbling the thermostat with freeze-dried fingertips?
Better yet, what if you could combine your love of gardening with your environmentally keen attitude, AND reduce your energy bill?
Well, here comes Massachusetts-based landscape architect Sue Reed’s book, Energy-Wise Landscape Design – A New Approach for Your Home and Garden, with a whole lot of smart advice. The book’s back cover promises that you can “Save money and energy while adding natural beauty to your home.” Sue delivers on that promise.
The first four sections of the book address ideas for designing landscapes with energy in mind, like arranging plants to make the interior of the house more comfortable in summer and winter. Other chapters are packed with strategies for making outdoor spaces around the house more usable.
Next, Sue tackles the construction and care of the landscape for better energy efficiency, then delves into generating your own energy with small-scale improvements. (What could be nicer than watching your electricity meter run backwards and receiving a check FROM the utility company?) The book wraps up with a discussion of energy-efficient lighting. And the appendices are chock full of resources, including plant information, details and calculations, plus sources for more information.
This is not a coffee table book with idealistic, visionary, what-if essays and seductive pictures. In fact, my only qualm with the book is that it’s so full of well-organized, useful, text-rich information that the smallish black and white pictures give it the feel of a school textbook. But that’s understandable, since Sue’s mission is to take a seemingly complex topic and make it understandable and usable.
Although the book devotes most of its space to the topics outlined above, Sue uses stealth tactics to imbue the book with broader issues related to sustainable landscaping.
For example, chapter 4, Cooling the Ground, contains a sidebar titled Organic Lawns. She argues that although any lawn near the house will make the air cooler than a sea of black asphalt, she concludes that an organically managed lawn results in deeper, richer soil that “holds moisture better than the soil of conventionally grown or chemically fed lawns, so it stays cooler and keeps the grass growing steadily, even through hot and dry periods.” Thumbs up for her pro-organic approach!
Sue presents two sides to the energy coin: operating energy – the fuels we use to heat and cool our homes, run power garden tools, and light the garden; and embedded energy – the stuff that goes into mining, processing, packaging, and transporting raw materials and goods. Her suggestions and solutions address both energy types and provide food for thought.
Put this book on your list to Santa. Read it this winter while you’re sitting in a comfortable chair kissed by the free warmth and light of mid-morning sunshine. While you read, grab a highlighter pen or note pad and consider all the design tips and “actions” that fill each chapter. There’s a tool there for every for situation.
Though it will seem like an eternity, spring will come knocking at your garden gate. You’ll stow the snow shovel, pack away the thermal undies, and boing out the back door, chomping at the bit to play in the garden.
But rather than simply adorn your yard with pickable bouquets and fresh, homegrown veggies, put your horticultural enthusiasm into making tangible, money-in-the-bank, good-for-the-environment improvements.
Get our latest tips, how-to articles, and instructional videos sent to your inbox.