Interview with Climate-Wise Landscaping Authors

by: EJ on 04/11/2018

Authors Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt are delighted to share their answers about their recently released book, Climate-Wise Landscaping: Practical Actions for a Sustainable Future

For whom did you write this book?

We wrote this book to provide practical ideas for everyone from the casual backyard gardener to experienced landscapers, from single homeowners to professional landscape managers and designers. We wrote it for all who realize they need to respond to the changing realities of their own region and our planet as a whole, and for those who want their efforts to be part of the climate change solution for our collective future.

If landscapers could make just one change to their current practices, what would you suggest?

nonlawn

Although the book’s ideas may be useful in any sort of landscape, the biggest and most widely applicable change revolves around lawn, a landscape feature that occupies more land on this continent than the state of Texas. Our overall suggestion is to think of lawn very differently than we have up until now. Instead of viewing it as a blank green carpet that uses a lot of resources (water, gasoline, chemicals), and provides virtually no services to nature, a better approach is to treat lawn as a part of nature and a part of the solution to climate change. This means adopting practices such as:

  • Mow less lawn overall, by shrinking the extent of land dedicated to unused lawn, and instead create wildflower meadows, native grass meadows, moss fields, woodland groves, flowering hedges, orchards, veggie gardens, etc.
  • Avoid or minimize the application of lawn chemicals, as this will minimize lawn’s carbon footprint and also help support more natural life. Fertilize with compost or other natural materials; and stop expecting lawn to “perform” immediately and perfectly.
  • When creating new lawn, provide the best and deepest possible soil, which will help keep the grass healthy during dry and wet times, will encourage maximum root growth, and will help lawn become more of a carbon sink than a carbon source.
  • Change the frequency of mowing in some areas, to allow for flowers (and even weeds!) that provide nectar for pollinators.
  • Reduce watering, and learn to accept tan lawn during dry times.
  • Use hand mowers and hand tools whenever feasible.
  • Accept imperfections in the lawn as a sign of good stewardship.

How much of an impact do you think changing the way we work with our landscapes will make to climate change?

watering

We believe that if all of our gardening/landscaping actions and choices are based on the goal of reducing our CO2 emissions and sequestering as much carbon as possible in our gardens and soils, the impact will be substantial. In our current management of American lawns alone, we burn 2 billion gallons of gas, spread 100 million pounds of lawn chemicals and fertilizers, emit 41 billion pounds of CO2, and release 13 billion pounds of toxic pollutants, annually. We also consume 9 billion gallons of water a day. Reducing any of these quantities by as little as 10 or 20% would have a corresponding positive impact on the atmosphere and the resilience and health of the environment, which will be severely tested in the decades ahead. (Sources: quietcommunities.org/environmental-impact-qc, and the EPA water  use fact sheet) 

How have you written the book so that it applies to multiple climate zones?  Does this apply even outside of North America?

butterfly

The ideas in this book apply to North America’s majority temperate zones, with regional exceptions noted where relevant. The content avoids making specific recommendations about exactly which plants to use where, or exactly how to prepare or manage gardens. Instead the ideas in the book consist of suggestions and new ways to think about landscaping, so that almost all of the book’s “Actions” may be useful in a wide variety of conditions, depending on site conditions and individual interests, needs, skills, and willingness to revise old ways of thinking.

Experts tell us that climate change is a huge, global problem needing large actions, so how can tiny measures taken in my yard make enough difference?

deciduousshading

Yes, climate change is a huge problem, but if we all ignore it or just stand around and talk about it, nothing will happen. Climate-Wise Landscaping, provides easy-to-accomplish actions you can take in your yard, and yes, even if you work hard in your own yard, it will only make a small difference in mitigating climate change or in helping your landscape survive these changing conditions.

But (and this is a big but), there are many millions of homeowners, so when our actions are multiplied by these numbers the results could be as important as  the large actions that could be taken by large organizations, including governments. There is also the multiplying factor in your own community, because once people get started, these projects will spread around the neighborhoods and then to schools, communities, municipalities, churches, and local businesses. Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, so let’s get started.

From our book giveaway contest: How can we work as sustainable gardeners to build desirability for sustainable landscaping and gardening in those who might view it as more time intensive (more effort?).

layerspgIV-3

Thank you for this excellent question, which draws attention to a complex issue. My answer has two parts. First, it can be true that sustainable landscaping choices can take a little more time and effort to set up at the start. Or, if the existing situation is very challenging or degraded or controversial, the setup might even take more than a little effort. However, and this is part two, once a sustainable landscape is established in place, the maintenance and regular attention it demands is generally much less than a standard landscape. For example: smaller lawns need less mowing, and whatever has been established in place of lawn -such as a wildflower meadow, no-now grass, small piece of woodland, or a loose shrub stand- can require little to no attention. Another example: when we provide high quality soil that is deep and full of nutrients (if the plants require that) and alive with micro organisms, all the plants there grow better, with deeper roots,  they will require less irrigation, be more tolerant of drought, and do a better job of sequestering more carbon in the soil and helping to cool the air around them via shading and transpiration. So...you are correct that this type of landscaping can appear more labor intensive, but in the long run and considering the bigger picture, it’s easier and better.

 

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