Remember the Sustainable Sites Initiative?  It set eco-standards for landscapes the way LEED does for buildings, and was a collaborative project of the U.S. Botanic Garden, Johnson Wildflower Center and ASLAThis post about it included the good news that a homeowner version was in the works – well, it’s here and it’s called Landscape for Life. So let’s look inside, shall we?

My favorite things

  • Landscape for Life emphasizes all the ecological services performed by healthy landscapes – like storing water, flood control, and enhancing human health and well-being.
  • The website is pretty (though more photos of examples would be nice).  And the message is  pro-beauty, stressing that landscapes need to be good-looking. (Yes, it really says that!)
  • It encourages us to create outdoor spaces for games, for socializing, for quiet relaxation and for growing food.  It’s all too rare to see human needs and desires mentioned in writings about “green gardening,” so kudos!
  • It’s very practical, even including advice about construction materials.
  • The section on pesticides is excellent, stressing that organic gardening means more than just switching to different products.
  • It encourages the use of native plants but takes an inclusive approach to plant origin (nonnatives aren’t condemned). The right plant/right place philosophy is used here, with advice about matching plants to local precipitation patterns.
  • It advises choosing the RIGHT native plants, not just any of them.  “Be sure to choose native plants that match the specific conditions at the planting site.”  Which seems obvious to us gardeners but this sensible caveat is seldom included.  Ditto for the fact that native plants need to be tended.
  • It’s easy to understand, which for an informational resource means it’s very well written – by Janet Marinelli.

What I didn’t know

  • The importance of biomass.  Why do we see so little mention of this?
  • Perlite comes from Greece!  Which is just one reason it’s not considered sustainable, in addition to the energy required to create it.  Peat moss is also a no-no.  (See the section on sustainable potting mixes.)

Questions and suggestions

“State and local native plant societies are great sources of information on native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers that will thrive in your garden.”  Uh, I wish.  They usually just list ALL native plants, whether or not they’re available or do well in landscapes.

And still on native plants, I have a question about this: “For the vast majority of native wildlife, most of the non-native plants we’ve favored in our landscapes for more than a century do not provide sufficient food, including the insects on which 96 percent of all terrestrial birds depend.”  But doesn’t Doug Tallamy tell us that 50 percent of native wildlife are generalists?  

In “Green Your Lawn” (the site’s weakest section), I found this: “Because lawn typically requires more water and fertilizer than other parts of the garden and mowing consumes energy and results in pollution, it’s best to cut it down to size. Replace all or part of it with more sustainable alternatives.” Which makes me wonder: Why not suggest we NOT water and feed our lawns so much, and switch to nonpolluting mowers?  When I had a lawn I watered it less than the rest of my garden, and never fed it. And not all mowers pollute.

In this anti-lawn vein, it’s even suggested that lawns be replaced with hardscape, which seems to contradict recommendations elsewhere to beef up our yard’s biomass. 

And I’d encourage the author to say more about fertilizing lawns than just “fertilize sparingly and less frequently”.  How about at the right time of the year (spring or fall, for cold or warm season grasses) and what to fertilize WITH, including great options like corn gluten, compost and mulching mowers.  There’s no mention of soil tests, or the suggestion that we feed only if our lawn’s looking thin and weedy.

In the discussion of alternative types of turfgrass, there’s a nice mention of the Grassroots Program in California – it’s part of the Lawn Reform Coalition and we love it.  But readers outside California could be helped by a link to the whole (nationwide) Coalition.

Finally, on the subject of finding alternatives to conventional turf-type fescues, we’re advised thusly: “Contact your county Cooperative Extension office for more information on which alternative turfgrass varieties are best suited for your area.”  Again, I WISH.

Now readers, check it out for yourselves and weigh in – What do YOU think of Landscape for Life?  It’s online, so changes could easily be made.