The result of all this work will be incentives for developers to
discontinue such destructive practices as scraping away the topsoil,
causing erosion during the construction process, and using such
resource-intensive features as manicured lawns and beds of annuals. So
the greening of landscapes won’t depend solely on convincing individual
homeowners to get with it; the market forces will incentivize the
developers to do it for them.
Why all the Attention to Landscapes
Why all the Attention to Landscapes
- Vegetation captures and stores carbon dioxide, thus removing it from the atmosphere.
- Urban trees in the U.S. capture as much as 25 million tons of carbon each year.
- Trees also reduce the urban heat island effect and provide
windbreaks. – Landscapes that include a mix of native and ecologically
appropriate non-native plants increase biodiversity and provide for
- According to a U.S. government report, homeowners use about 10
times as much chemical pesticide per acre on their lawns as farmers use
on their crops, which is saying a lot. All those pesticides – just for lawn?
- Turf grasses are the single largest irrigated crop in the U.S. in
terms of surface area, covering an area the size of Mississippi. Again,
that’s a whole lot of water being used for lawn.
- Up to 18 percent of the material in landfills is yard waste, most of which isn’t really waste at all but plant material that could have gone to create compost.
- Research has shown that just looking at plants is good for
us. Nursing homes see decreased numbers of "behavior incidents" after
plants are incorporated into the grounds. Trees and other plants have
been credited in other studies with reduced crime, stronger ties among
neighbors, more frequent use of common neighborhood spaces and a
greater sense of safety.
Steve Windhager of the Johnson Wildflower Center explained all this
recently at a one-day symposium at Brookside Gardens about the
Sustainable Sites Initiative. And he revealed the almost sudden urgency
among developers to improve their landscaping practices: because
there’s a race to achieve carbon neutral development and it cannot be done without using landscapes effectively. They need the carbon-sequestering and runoff-reducing work of plants to get there.
Next up on the Brookside program was Jean
Schwab of the U.S. EPA talking about waste, a surprisingly compelling
subject. Seriously, her trash show-and-tell was positively
entertaining, with such highlights as a view of Mt. Trashmore, a large
trash mound in Virginia Beach. Apparently when you can’t dig down, you
just pile up. Pity the folks who live within nose-shot of these unholy
But remember all that organic matter that’s filling up our
landfills? Schwab is passionate about the benefits of composting all
that good stuff instead of trashing it. She explained that organic
matter in soils determines their ability to hold water and the ability
of plants to access nutrients in the soil. And while mixed borders need
about 10 percent organic matter to do their best and even turfgrass
needs 5 to 6 percent, soils in most new developments contain less than
1 percent organic matter. (So will new tract houses soon be equipped
with compost bins? It’s not unimaginable.) Schwab also mentioned that
sprinkler systems increase water bills by about 50 percent – talk about
waste! – most of it going to lawn.
Invasive Plant Report
Last on the agenda, Valerie
Vartanian from the Nature Conservancy gave a rousing rant against
invasive plants – and Voice readers see enough aggressive,
tree-strangling vines around town to need no convincing that this is a
huge problem. There is some good news on the human front, though, like
the fact that some retailers are removing invasives from their stores,
even one bigbox in the Midwest.
Vartanian applauded the Sustainable Site Initiative’s emphasis on
native or regional appropriate plants that are not just well behaved
but also low-care and sometimes even fully sustainable (meaning
no-care). Noting that the Nature Conservancy is not against
the growing of nonnative plants, she even declared her love for them:
"I love exotic plants, especially the Bird of Paradise!" She assured us
that the vast majority of nonnatives are not a problem, as seen in
Hawaii where there are over 13,000 nonnative species but only about 1
percent are invasive. So rather than trying to ban nonnative plants,
she supports the growing consensus that the solution is to assess
plants for their potential to be "weeds", something that the USDA has
finally started doing. And some states are imposing quarantines pending
testing, while others are buying up stocks of invasive plants. Even
mega-grower Monrovia has gotten into the act, developing standards of
conduct for growers and sellers of plants. Notice how the business
world is finally figuring out that if their practices aren’t
environmentally responsible, they won’t be in business for long? That’s
how mainstream "green" is. Fin