Digging Deeper Into Sustainable Garden Design

Photos (left to right): Christa Brand/; Kelly D. Norris; and Danielle Sherry

What does it mean to have a sustainable garden? To some, it means having a landscape that does everything possible to support the local ecosystem. To others, the concept is more nuanced and means a low-maintenance garden where no chemical interventions are used. Put simply, a sustainable landscape is one that is created and maintained using practices that cause little to no harm to the surrounding natural environment. These practices include fertilizing minimally and cultivating the soil as little as possible. When it comes to design considerations, a sustainable design should do the following:

• feature a wide variety of plants that provide habitats for beneficial insects and wildlife;
• include as many native plants as possible, including keystone species;
• be planted densely with layered beds to reduce weed competition and cut down on the need for mulch; and
• have plants grouped by conditional requirements to reduce water needs.

The following articles all feature spaces that were created with sustainability in mind. In this collection, you’ll find a primer on gravel gardens, which seek to minimize water usage and eliminate weed competition—all without any chemical or manual intervention. There is also a compelling profile on a garden designed with wildlife in mind. The layered beds here are stunning to the humans who live on-site and provide practical shelter and nesting habitats for birds. There are even tips for making your garden more amphibian-friendly. If you’re wondering how to best utilize native plants in your design, I highly recommend reading author Kelly Norris’s take on “ecological generalists” and their role in the landscape in “How to Create an Ecologically Vibrant Garden.” Finally, if you are interested in recreating the lush, abundant borders made famous by garden designer Piet Oudolf, read about his process that is both suitable and beautiful in “A Naturalistic Garden Is Better for the Environment and Requires Less Work.” If you’re looking to enhance your design in an environmentally responsible way, read on.