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January 9, 2024
Perennial Gardens in the Catskills. Photo by Peter Atkins

Landscape Design Projects – We believe each residential property has a unique story, but they all share a common design process. We tune in to understand landscapes and those living in them and then we create beautiful ecological solutions for outdoor living.

If you are creating a new landscaping plan and want a garden that is not only beautiful but good for the environment, you may be thinking about organic methods. There is an entire movement focused on these principles, known as ecological gardening. This type of landscaping is based on organic methods and designed to not just avoid harming the ecosystem but improve it. This guide will help you understand the differences between organic and ecological gardening, the advantages of the latter, and how to get started.

Both organic and ecological gardening use a natural approach. With both processes, you will want to avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to avoid hurting the environment. However, with

organic gardening, you may use non-native plants like high-maintenance ornamentals. It is possible you will even inadvertently manipulate the surrounding microclimates. The organic route is undoubtedly better than conventional processes, but it can still be harmful.

On the other hand, ecological gardening uses organic processes. It looks like help the local ecosystem by using native plants and complementing the existing microclimate in your yard.

What is “sustainable” or “resilient” landscape design, sometimes also termed “natural” or “ecological” landscape design? An approach to landscape design that embraces natural systems and patterns to set up attractive, lower maintenance, ecologically rich landscapes that are resilient in adapting to environmental stresses and change. Highlighting the use of native plant communities, sustainably designed landscapes better withstand stressful conditions such as hotter summers, heavier rainfalls, and extended periods of drought than do traditional lawn- and exotic plant-based landscape models. As such, sustainable landscapes are much less vulnerable to failure than traditional landscapes.

2. Why should I choose a sustainable landscape approach?

In addition to natural plant communities supplying stronger resilience to stressful environmental conditions, they need significantly less water and costly maintenance once set up. A well-designed natural landscape should require no watering once set up. This is a real benefit if you live in a

town with a dam or have dry soil conditions.

Sustainable landscapes are also interesting and beautiful! A well-designed sustainable landscape will supply year-round visual interest and attract a diversity of wildlife, particularly birds and butterflies. Native plant communities supply extended periods of sequential bloom, seeding and fruiting, including many plant species that are edible or medicinal for humans. Varied, soothing and even exhilarating plant color and textural patterns enliven sustainable landscapes. They supply interest even through long winters, especially when planted in large groups or sweeps. Sustainable landscapes are environmentally valuable in recharging groundwater, stabilizing soils, and preventing erosion. They support diverse wildlife habitats while avoiding need and cost for environmentally damaging inputs like herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and inorganic fertilizers.

3. How are sustainable landscapes more cost-effective and lower maintenance than traditional landscapes?

Unlike annual flower beds or high maintenance lawns that require constant attention in the form of planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, and mowing, sustainable landscapes require progressively less maintenance thereby saving significant costs over time. The use of well selected and appropriately found natural plant communities means picking the right plant for the right spot…. or selecting plants that are best adapted to their locations in the landscape. By selecting the right plant communities, we are best reducing maintenance needs from the starting line. All new plantings will require some level of management, typically watering and weeding, prior to becoming fully established.

Full establishment of natural lawn areas, perennial beds, meadows, and woodland edges often takes about three full growing seasons to achieve the following installation. Once fully set up, then well-timed annual or biennial weeding and selective cutting is the typical long-term management for natural

landscapes. Depending upon the size of the maintained landscape, long-term management may only need about one-three days of work per year. Sustainable landscapes also seek complete ground cover with plants thereby avoiding costly mulch application year after year.

ADVANTAGES OF ECOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE - With ecological gardening, you work within your local microclimates and mimic surrounding habitats. Using plants that encourage biodiversity will attract diverse kinds of pollinators and animals. Recently, in a simple study, one professor found that native trees used in landscaping attract significantly more good insects than non-native ones. To read more about this study, and the benefits to biodiversity that come from using native plants in gardening, look at this article from Horticulture Magazine.

WHERE TO START - There are a lot of simple steps you can take to create a beautiful ecological garden. Drop the use of chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers. (Synthetic fertilizers) These are harmful products

and can leach into the groundwater and damage your soil. Replace these synthetic compounds with organic products and processes.

Evaluate your soil. Healthy soil is an essential part of ecological gardening. To be sure your soil is healthy and (able to support the vegetation) it is important to use a soil test that evaluates organic matter as

well as cation exchange, the ability of soil to take in water and nutrients. The right nutrient balance and strong soil structure will allow you to cultivate plants that will thrive. If your soil structure is weak, you can aerate it. If you need to add nutrients, you should treat it with organic fertilizers. Try to limit the natural fertilizers you use.

Compost your plant product food waste. This waste will break down into a nutrient-rich product which can help enrich your soil. If your soil is healthy, you can use it to create compost tea. This tea can be

used to treat diseased plants or spot-treat soil that needs more nutrients.

Collect rainwater. This not only lowers the amount of water that you draw from city utilities, but rainwater also actually has more nutrients and fewer chemicals. Often, plants can be harmed by chemicals like fluoride, which municipalities add to their water.

Increase the biodiversity in your garden. A more diverse garden will increase the amount of habitat available for local fauna. It also helps attract pollinators and is healthier for the environment.

If you want to learn more about ecological gardening or do not know where to start, give us a call here at Peter Atkins and Associates. We have over 280 years of experience creating landscapes that are beautiful and environmentally friendly.

Peter Atkins and Associates LLC is an organic landscape design and service company with a focus on helping you extend your life outdoors to enjoy activities on your own, as family and with friends. We create opportunities for you to commune with and find joy and peace in nature and to live in an ecologically friendly and healthy environment. Please explore our landscape services and the portfolio that supplies many examples of our work.