In a nation embracing all things green, it was just a matter of time before outdoor places – ranging from parks, parking lots and transport corridors to family homes and university and corporate campuses – ended up with a “green” rating system similar to LEED for buildings and energy star ratings for appliances (and even churches).
Three years of research by teams of landscape architects, ecologists and engineers from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas-Austin have resulted in the Sustainable Sites Initiative. It’s a 179-page report that includes voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for creating sustainable landscapes.
The SSI is offers a four star rating system for landscapes based on a 250-point scale that measures all actions encouraging regeneration, improving and maintaining ecosystems, supporting sustainability and minimizing water and pesticide use.
To test this rating system, the SSI is currently looking for pilot projects. Any kind of designed landscape of 2000 square feet or more is eligible.
But while the Sustainable Site Initiative and rating system sounds like it’s only aimed at large scale public developments, guidelines and principles can be incorporated by anyone, including homeowners, who are developing or re-landscaping outdoor areas.
For those wanting to create their own sustainable garden, here are some helpful tips to get you started.
1. Create soil-enriching compost from food scraps, newspapers, garden pruning and grass-clippings.
2. Replace “thirsty” plants with indigenous, natives and exotic plants. These plants not only require less care and less water, but also have more resistance to harsh climate changes and local pests and diseases.
3. Planting natives will also attract wildlife to your garden, making it much healthier. Bees and birds will transport pollen around the local area, while other native wildlife often become natural pest removers by eating harmful insects.
4. Use recycled or local products when building garden features such as decks, fences and pathways.
5. Learn to plant strategically to shade the house and reduce runoff. Planting deciduous leafy trees near your home will assist with the energy efficiency of your house. In summer, they block the sun and provide shade, thus reducing the need to use the air conditioner. And in winter, when the leaves have fallen, the reverse happens.
6. Collect rain water in drums or barrels and use for irrigation. This will not only save you money but also will help conserve water.
7. Consider replacing lawn with native plants, vegetables, or even permeable pavers or gravel.
8. Adding flowers that attract beneficial insects to the vegetable patch will limit the need to spray with chemicals.
9. Establish a drip irrigation system which will ensure water only goes where it’s needed.