Paula S. Brown, Contributing Writer
is a very “in” word these days.
in the presidential race see how many times they can mention
“green-collar” jobs (manual-labor jobs with new clean-energy
industries such as installing solar panels) as a fix for unemployment.
Spending on clean-tech investments is offered as a stimulus for the
And while “Going Green” may be the
latest trend, it is also a harkening back to proven, traditional methods of
working with nature, instead of against it. “Green gardening” is
gardening with the environment in mind.
From the ancient earth-friendly
practices of Native Americans down to the gardening wisdom you gleaned from
your grandmother, these practices just make good sense. Besides that, in our
modern world, GreenScaping (as the EPA is now calling it) is, in some
people’s eyes, becoming almost a moral obligation. Regular citizens can
make a big difference if they will reduce, recycle, plant native species,
and re-train the eye to see a new ideal.
To reduce rainwater runoff and erosion,
refrain from paving; instead, use permeable hardscape on your property
wherever possible, such as mulch, wood chips, gravel, a pretty groundcover,
or stones set in sand with enough room between them for interesting creeping
If hard surface is absolutely necessary,
use asphalt containing recycled tires. As Joni Mitchell has been warning
since 1970, those who “pave
to put up a parking lot” will have to see their trees in a “tree
museum,” and will be charged “a dollar and a half just to see ’em.”
We’d better hug those trees now so we still can later.
Think of all the carbon dioxide cleansed
from the air and the fresh oxygen provided when we add plants to the
environment. Progressive cities are adding rooftop gardens filled with
pollinator-friendly plants that attract butterflies and bees. Such an
innovation could prove very beneficial, not only to the recently decimated
bee population, but also to the global economy, since pollinators affect 35
percent of the world’s crop production. Also, a green roof can reduce
summer cooling needs as well as heat loss in winter by about 25 percent
U.S. Slower out of the
is vast and for years resources seemed limitless, so we’ve been slower to
come to the realization of the need for Green Gardening than smaller
countries, socially aware for a long time that land is precious and must be
handled with the utmost care.
has seen the need to protect hedgerows by law to restore ecological balance
and give back necessary habitat to wildlife. Also, almost every garden there
(which we would call a “backyard”), even in the city and no matter how
small, has a bin for compost that is convenient and in constant use.
Newer kitchens in
are designed to have a small chute underneath kitchen chopping areas to
collect food scraps, treasured for their high-powered nutrients, such as egg
shells for calcium and banana peels for potassium to stimulate bloom. Make
compost all summer by recycling fall leaves. Alternate a layer of brown
leaves in a bin with a layer of green grass clippings and yard waste. To
“heat up” or accelerate decomposition, add a commercial accelerant; or,
better yet, add manure if you have access to any horse or cow “pies.” If
you become a compost convert, consider getting a pet rabbit for its superb
contribution of rich waste. Compost naturally enriches the soil without
using chemical fertilizers that harm the environment.
Fall leaves saved in black plastic bags
can also be turned into mulch over time simply by punching holes in the bags
to let the air get to them. Add the mulch or compost to your soil so it will
retain water, improve texture, and cut down on evaporation.
For aeration and water retention, use
earthworms, which can be bought in bulk if you do not have a natural
abundance of them. Use traps and natural predators — “good bugs” —
instead of pesticides, or grow plants that naturally repel insects such as
tansy, marigolds, chives, and basil. At a recent Chelsea Flower Show, a
“rubbish garden” of recycled plant materials attracted much interest.
Pine needles are an example of a
plentiful garden material that should be valued for some birds such as
robins and grackles, which are “leaf litter” feeders, meaning that they
love to probe in the pine tags and leaf litter for food. A pristine
landscape is no longer the ideal — which may take some getting used to,
especially for neatnik homeowners married to weekend maintenance routines
they consider “the right thing to do.” Retain some “rangy” habitat
for the birds. Do not cut back the garden until spring; leave the flowering
seed-heads through the winter to provide food and shelter as well as visual
Europeans extend their gardens to make
their houses more a part of the outside. Foundation plantings, which came
into being originally to cover tall, unattractive foundations on old-style
houses, still girdle most American homes. Instead of planting all shrubs
against the foundation, try moving these beds away from the house and
incorporate tall plants in small areas. The resulting screened area will
seem intimate and will create privacy, adding to the feel of sanctuary.
Plant native trees, shrubs and groundcovers that stabilize soil and prevent
Native Plants a Wise
It is logical that indigenous plants are
best adapted to existing soil and climate so they need less human help (such
as fertilizing, watering, and applying of pesticides and fungicides) to
thrive. Create these island beds to reclaim areas that are currently grass
lawn. Few plants require more maintenance and expense than grass, yet having
a thick stand of grass is still the goal of many homeowners who want “curb
Perhaps a re-training of the eye to
consider what is appealing is in order. Greatly reducing expansive lawns
will save time, money, and the environment while making the most of the
opportunity to introduce color, habitat, and a sense of enclosure. Try
environmentally friendly lawns instead of the typical fescue that requires
so much water, mowing and fertilizing.
Learn to work with nature in orienting
the garden. Deciduous shade trees obviously block western sun in summer,
increasing your air conditioner’s efficiency. The tree’s bare branches
then allow light through in winter to warm up those rooms. Plant a shield of
evergreen shrubs to lower heating costs where wind is a problem. Vines
shading porches from harsh summer sun create green leafy bowers of restful
serenity. Tall trees limbed up and interplanted with understory trees (such
as dogwoods or redbuds), shrubs, and groundcovers require the minimum amount
of maintenance and help conserve energy and water.
The old rain barrel has come back into
vogue for collecting rainwater, especially for watering plants. It saves
money and conserves the precious resource itself. Rainwater, traditionally
prized for hair washing because it is said to make hair silky, can once
again become a valuable conditioner, free to all, courtesy of Mother Nature.
Try growing some of your own food and
herbs or, if there’s one available, get involved in a community garden. At
the very least, buy locally grown herbs and vegetables to get the freshest
produce, those packed with nutrients and those that have used the least
amount of gasoline to get to your market.
Support gardening efforts that beautify
the community while they help the environment. Offer your children as some
of that manual labor to teach stewardship of the land and to wage war
against that modern ailment in the technological age: childhood obesity.
Gardening is great exercise, especially if you replace those loud,
energy-wasting leaf blowers with simple rakes.
Do Your Part
Do your own part to reduce your
“carbon footprint” — walk, bike or carpool. Teenagers might be more
inclined to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning if their school’s
Friends-of-the-Earth chapter could spearhead a program to teach them
gardening skills that would enhance the rest of their lives, not to mention
garnering community-service points for college resumés for the effort.
You do meet the most interesting people
gardening. Some are artistic people who like color and design. Some have a
more scientific approach. Most all are people who like to share — their
plants, their wisdom, everything. People who like to recycle are often
frugal souls who get really excited about sharing plants because they are
Ideally, Green Gardening will become a
way of life, a Second Nature, with a positive vision for the future.