Common buzzwords these days are “natural”, “organic”, “environmentally responsible”, “ecology” and other terms relating to how we tend to our environments. In the garden and landscape field, much has been written in recent years concerning our role as stewards of the land; what are the best strategies and techniques to insure that the integrity and health of our surroundings is preserved for future generations? What is the natural landscape?
The natural landscape: Site specific
The natural landscape first considers each site as specific; that is, our landscape design decisions must be predicated on the conditions of our local surroundings and should enhance these surroundings. A good understanding of local climate, soil and topography is the foundation for further landscape decisions.
The natural landscape: Low maintenance
The natural landscape is inherently low maintenance, because plant material is chosen for it’s adaptability to the site; native plants, or plants which have proven themselves locally, do not need extensive site modifications to thrive. Plant material is also chosen for a natural, free-flowing form; severely pruned and manicured forms have no place in the natural landscape.
The natural landscape: limited lawn areas
The natural landscape often limits the size of lawn areas; turfgrass requires a large investment in irrigation, food, chemicals, fuel and mowing time. Often, turf is used only for pathways connecting different outdoor “rooms”.
The natural landscape: native plant use
Instead of large turf areas, the natural landscape uses native plants, ornamental grasses, hardy perennials, bulbs, wildflowers and other well adapted plant material. Plantings are usually in large, asymmetrical groupings, with bold color statements. Year round interest is a prime concern for the natural landscape.
Not everyone can utilize all the tenets of the natural landscape, but even the very small city garden can benefit from the basic principle of site specific plant selection and free flowing design. Two very fine books on this subject are: The Natural Garden, by Ken Druse, and Gardening with Nature, by James van Sweden.
The natural landscape: Lawn irrigation for your limited area lawn
Since I just recommended reducing lawn size, you won’t have much concern for lawn irrigation, right!?! Well, we Americans do like our lawns and I suspect they will be around for awhile. With the current summer heat I’ve been dealing with some misconceptions about watering; some folks believe that watering daily is necessary to keep the lawn green.
Actually, this is about the worst thing you can do, since it encourages shallow rooting. We need to water as deeply as possible, as infrequently as possible; this will vary by region and soil type, though here in the arid West, a common schedule for summer is 30 – 60 minutes per station (area), run 2 – 3 times per week. Each site is different so experience is the best teacher.
Deep, infrequent irrigation will encourage the roots to seek the cool moisture deep in the soil and will actually make the plants more drought hardy. If you’re now on a daily schedule, or if you have new seed or sod, gradually increase watering time and decrease frequency until you’ve developed a deep root system.
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About Dan Eskelson
Dan has had his hands in the soil for most of his adult life as a gardener, landscaping contractor, golf course superintendent and landscape designer. When the ground freezes, he builds websites, produces video and plays the hammered dulcimer. Full bio here.