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Sustainable Landscape Design

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Sustainable Landscape Design

When it comes to landscape design many people often think of pretty flowers and lush green gardens. Though this is probably true in many cases, plants have a lot more to offer than just looking pretty. A thoughtful design utilizing herbaceous plants can make a site sustainable by providing habitat to animals, protecting water quality, increasing biodiversity, as well as adding social benefits like minimal maintenance and increased property value. Using certain herbaceous plants in landscape designs can contribute to the overall goal of making our planet more-sustainable as a whole.
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Sustainable Landscape Design

Phase two of this project, which began in July 2012 and was completed June 2014, focused on extending the landscape change and assessment modeling to the entire Northeast United States, modeling an additional 20 representative species, expanding the scope of the ecological integrity assessment, coupling the landscape change model with a third party sea level rise model, improving the vegetation succession modeling, and developing an approach for integrating the results of the landscape change assessment into decision support for landscape design (i.e., landscape conservation design).
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Sustainable Landscape Design

Herbaceous plants help our environment by enhancing water quality and biodiversity but they can also help us more directly, by increasing property value. Aesthetically pleasing views from the home and water are created by using herbaceous plants when implemented in a thoughtful manner. The variety of colors and plant forms, the energy and activity of birds and insects, and the seasonal changes of both plants and animals provide diversity and visual enjoyment. The residence can be partially blocked by vegetation to create privacy barriers and native wildflowers and grasses can be added to make a site appear more natural and peaceful. Trees and shrubs reduce noise of cars, or if on a lake jet skis and boats. One of the most overlooked aspects of a house, when on the market, is the value of its landscape. According to economist John Harris, adding landscape elements to your home can add around 28% to your home’s value, and just improving a current landscape can add an extra 7% (Houselogic.com). This makes the investment of adding sustainable landscape to your home worth it, while simultaneously helping the environment.

Sustainable Landscape Design

The primary step to landscape design is to do a “sustainability audit”. This is similar to a landscape site analysis that is typically performed by landscape designers at the beginning of the design process. Factors such as lot size, house size, local covenants and budgets should be considered. The steps to design include a base plan, site inventory and analysis, construction documents, implementation and maintenance. Of great importance is considerations related to the growing conditions of the site. These include orientation to the sun, soil type, wind flow, slopes, shade and climate. The goal of reducing artificial irrigation (such as preventing irrigation of landscapes leaving the Los Angeles Basin a Desert again), and reducing use of toxic substances and requires proper plant selection for the specific site.
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Sustainable Landscape Design

Herbaceous plants should be an essential part of any landscape. When implemented correctly they can make a site sustainable by providing habitat to animals, protecting water quality, increasing biodiversity, as well as adding social benefits like minimal maintenance and increased property value. If everyone who installed a landscape would try to use herbaceous plants for even just one of these reasons, the world would drastically benefit.
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Sustainable Landscape Design

The main goals of sustainable landscape design are to conserve water and energy, reduce waste and decrease runoff. In order to achieve these goals residential gardens should treat water as a resource, value soil, preserve existing plants and conserve material resources.
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Sustainable Landscape Design

I started the GW Masters program in Landscape Design/Sustainable Landscapes as I was preparing to retire from my Federal career. I expected to gain knowledge from the program but, in reality, what I received was so much more. After completing the program I felt as if my career path was ‘re-booted’. I gained a fresh perspective on my profession, my passion, and my career.”
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One important part of sustainable landscaping is plant selection. Most of what makes a landscape unsustainable is the amount of inputs required to grow a non-native plant on it. What this means is that a local plant, which has adapted to local climate conditions will require less work on the part of some other agent to flourish. For example, it does not make sense to grow tomatoes in Arizona because there is not enough natural rainfall for them to survive without constant watering. Instead, drought-tolerant plants like succulents and cacti are better suited to survive. Also, by choosing native plants, one can avoid certain problems with insects and pests because these plants will also be adapted to deal with any local invader. The bottom line is that by choosing the right kind of local plants, a great deal of money can be saved on amendment costs, pest control and watering.
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The real importance of native plants is something that is often overlooked in landscape design. One of the greatest benefits of native plants in the landscape is that they are usually self-sustaining. Plants like the Purple coneflower fall under this category, as they can tolerate dry soil, clay soil, drought, and pests like deer. Though this may not seem particularly revolutionary, what it means is that homeowners don’t have to use extra water on this plant (and many other natives) to ensure its survival. They end up both conserving water and saving on utility costs which helps lower the overall environmental footprint that we, as a species, leave on our planet.

Sustainable landscaping encompasses a variety of practices that have developed in response to environmental issues. These practices are used in every phase of landscaping, including design, construction, implementation and management of residential and commercial landscapes.

An intelligent choice for direct energy conservation would be the placement of broadleaf deciduous trees near the east, west and optionally north-facing walls of the house. Such selection provides shading in the summer while permitting large amounts of heat-carrying solar radiation to strike the house in the winter. The trees are to be placed as closely as possible to the house walls but no closer than 1 meter – otherwise the roots can cause substantial foundation damage. A sustainable house will most likely be equipped with south-facing (north-facing in the S. hemisphere) photovoltaic panels and a large, south-facing glazing as a result of passive solar heating design. As the efficiency of both systems is very sensitive to shading, experts suggest the complete absence of trees near the south side.
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A sustainable landscaping approach would be to treat water as a valuable resource. With proper design and plant selection, the need for irrigation can be reduced or eliminated. Furthermore, rainwater harvesting can be to capture stormwater on site and use it for irrigation.
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According to the General Service Commission (GSA) “Sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments” (GSA.gov).
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Maintenance is also important when it comes to discussing the social benefits of sustainable planting design with herbaceous plant materials. Though maintenance has already been discussed, with regards to saving water for environmental purposes, it is also important to look at the economic side of it.
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Phase one of this project, which began in December 2010 and was completed June 2012, focused on developing the overall modeling framework for simulating landscape change and assessing the ecological consequences of those changes (i.e., landscape change and assessment), and piloting the model in three study landscapes: 1) Kennebec River watershed in Maine, 2) middle Connecticut River watershed in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, and 3) combined Pocomoke and Nanticoke River watersheds in Maryland and Deleware.
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Sustainability in the design process is also affected by the order of the main considerations. Having a visually pleasing landscape is usually the most important consideration and is addressed first in the design process. This is easy to understand since it is the primary concern for most clients. A close second, or of equal importance to a client, is cost.

The geographic location can determine what is sustainable due to differences in precipitation and temperature. For example, the California Waste Management Board emphasizes the link between minimizing environmental damage and maximizing one’s bottom line of urban commercial landscaping companies. In California, the benefits of landscapes often do not outweigh the cost of inputs like water and labor. However, using appropriately selected and properly sited plants may help to ensure that maintenance costs are lower than they otherwise would be due to reduced chemical and water inputs.
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If the surrounding trees are chosen to produce edible fruit they can provide a sustainable food source for the occupants of the house. Even if some are fairly demanding (especially in the summer), irrigation is an excellent end-use option in greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting systems, and a composting toilet can cover (at least) some of the nutrient requirements. Research suggests that diluted human urine might be as effective as chemical fertilizers. Not all fruit trees are suitable for greywater irrigation, as reclaimed greywater is typically of high pH and acidophile plants don’t do well in alkaline environments.

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17 Photos of the "Sustainable Landscape Design"

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