Oftentimes I think I should be more advanced for my age. When I burn my hand on the stove or struggle through water eyes as it takes me a half-hour to chop an onion, it always takes me a minute to remember that I’ve only been cooking for myself for a few years.
Author and landscape architect Sue Reed didn’t start in landscape design until she was in her mid-20s. Now she has more than 25 years’ experience in the business and plenty of expertise. So I figure there’s still hope for me in my kitchen escapades — and in my gardening adventures.
Reed gave the opening talk at Saturday’s GardenWise conference, a daylong gardening workshop put on by the Penn State Extension. Reed made the point, as she began, that gardens have always expressed the social values of the era. For example, gardens designed in the Renaissance were all about dominance over nature and other cultures. Reed is hoping, for the 21st century, that we can focus on saving energy.
About one-third of her advice had to do with re-designing (or designing from the ground up) your entire landscape. Planting trees to cool the home in the summer and deflect harsh winds in the winter were just two of her suggestions.
But for gardeners who don’t have the time, resources or ability to throw into an entire landscape redesign, she also focused on solutions that can work on a smaller scale.
— Minimize your lawn: Lawn mowers use 1 billion gallons of gas each year — and that doesn’t include leaf blowers, trimmers or whatever other machinery you might use. So having a full acre — or more — of lush, green grass is asking for plenty of energy use, not to mention quite a bit of time on your part.
Reed suggested turning part (or all) of your lawn into a wildflower meadow or a woodland grove, or using low-mow grasses or shrubs. One example she used was a home that received plenty of shade, where the homeowner created a moss garden. (I wrote about the logistics of one couple’s journey last May.)
— Reduce your water usage: Collect and store rainwater with a rain barrel. Then, use the water you’ve collected with care. Don’t irrigate on steep slopes where water will run off anyway. Or, place your garden (if you can) at the bottom of a steep slope so the rainwater runoff can be absorbed by your thirsty plants.
— Use the resources you have: Instead of introducing nonnative mulch, create your own from chipped fallen leaves, chipped twigs or smaller branches. Reed explained that plenty of gardeners or landscapers introduce mulch from pine and other trees, when plants would be better served by the nutrients found in their own decaying leaves.
— Minimize chemical use: Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. Try to avoid using chemicals that are energy intensive to produce or that have high embedded energy costs. As an example, Reed told the story of peat moss mining, practiced in British Columbia, Canada, where the water is drained from big fields of peat moss, and the dried product is scooped or scraped up by machines (that, oddly, look straight out of “Star Wars”) and shipped to far flung corners of the world. Once the peat moss is harvested, the ecosystem dies. Reed also explained that you can use fewer chemicals by removing invasive plants as early as possible.
As she wrapped up, Reed said, “We can do all the sustainable things we have been doing — plus more — we can just do them with energy in mind.”