That leads us to our next question: As a savvy homeowner, what should you ask about for a more sustainable garden? We spoke with Houzz landscape professionals, who shared key topics you will want to bring up with your design pro.
Gardens filled with plants that need little to no supplemental irrigation to survive require less maintenance and use fewer resources. If drought is a concern where you live, there are plenty of ways to significantly lessen landscape water use.
Eliminating or reducing the size of a traditional lawn is one of the most effective ways you can reduce water use in the garden. “More importantly, it’s putting lawn where it is useful for recreation and entertaining,” says landscape architect Phil Steinhauer of Designscapes Colorado, and eliminating it on slopes or in small patches.
In this Colorado garden, Steinhauer used a native grass to create a low-water alternative to a traditional lawn.
A landscape designer may suggest you visit local gardens or ask you to browse photos of landscapes on Houzz to get a sense of the options available for low-water plantings in your region.
A landscape designer may recommend a rain garden or bioswale, two design elements that can reduce stormwater runoff. They can help slow down water movement, clean the water and keep it out of the often-overburdened sewer systems by draining it on-site, deep-watering trees and other landscape plants in the process. Amending garden soil so it is more able to absorb and retain water can also help prevent runoff and erosion.
Adding more permeable surfaces to your landscape design is another strategy for keeping rainwater on-site and reducing runoff. “We always opt for stone patios set in decomposed granite, which allows water to be absorbed into the soil below,” Sadosky says.
Driveways provide another opportunity to add permeable surfaces. “While most of our projects already have driveways installed, when possible, we encourage using a small stone, gravel or decomposed granite as an alternative,” Sadosky says.
The plants, wood, stone, gravel, concrete and other garden materials that go into a landscape installation leave an ecological footprint in terms of how they were obtained and how far they had to be transported to reach your garden. Landscape designer Christine Krause encourages homeowners to ask about the origin and sustainability of materials. For this New England garden, Krause used locally sourced flagstone and reclaimed granite for a permeable patio.
You can cut down on your ecological footprint, and often help your budget, by using salvaged hardscape materials like stone, brick and undamaged wood planks — either from your own yard or from another property. If you’re interested in using salvaged materials, Sadosky recommends bringing it up at the start of the project. “This will let me know I can be a little more creative in what materials I use, and I can look around for something interesting that might not be a standard stone from the rock yard,” she says.
Plus, the designer can tell installers to keep an eye out for materials discarded from one job that could be repurposed into another one. For this Dallas front yard, Sadosky repurposed river rocks from another part of the property to create a dry creek bed in the new entry design.
Instead of starting from scratch, consider keeping some of your yard’s existing plants (so long as they aren’t invasive and don’t consume too many resources) to reduce waste and save on new materials.
As part of a project to convert a front lawn into the perennial garden shown here, Pennsylvania garden designer Lee Armillei of Athyrium Design transplanted and divided many existing plants to fill in new planting areas.
Some garden designs require more maintenance than others to look their best. While more maintenance does not necessarily mean a less sustainable landscape, some garden chores — such as spraying chemical fertilizers or mowing the lawn with a gas-powered mower — are worse for the environment than others. It’s always a good idea to ask your landscape designer about the design with maintenance in mind (for time and budgeting purposes).
You should also ask about maintenance from a sustainability standpoint. Landscape designer Stephanie Town of Garden Stories says it’s not just about whether or not you use fertilizers and sprays. “Planting with proper spacing will shade the ground, keeping it cooler and helping [to minimize] weeds,” she says. “Plants that are too tightly planted can invite disease.” Working with a professional from the start can help foster healthier plants that require less care.
One of the first things Town recommends clients do for a more sustainable design is add native plants. “They’re hardy, need less care and are good for beneficial insects,” she says. This recommendation holds true for all landscape styles. “They can be designed to look beautiful with large pockets of a single species of flowers, broken up by a path, a bench or a birdbath,” she says.
Discover top native plants for your area
Home gardens are small pieces in a larger ecosystem. They can offer essential resources that support local pollinators and other wildlife. Ask your landscape designer to include plants that provide nectar- and pollen-rich blossoms, edible berries, seeds and nest-making materials.
While native plants often offer the most benefits to the animals that have evolved alongside them, many ornamental plants and herbs can also help support local fauna.
In addition to adding wildlife-friendly plants, consider incorporating a water source into your garden, which will help support wildlife as well.
If you’re planning to include landscape lighting, talk to your designer or lighting installer about sustainable strategies. Opt for low-energy-use fixtures with light color and brightness features that won’t interfere with nighttime wildlife.
Lighting designer Steve Marin of Nightfall Landscape Lighting recommends using energy-efficient low-voltage lighting. Low-voltage lighting operates on 12 volts, while landscape lighting that connects to the energy line running to a house typically operates on 120 volts — that’s 1/10 the power usage.
To limit overall landscape lighting, consider putting lights on a motion sensor to only brightly illuminate an area when needed.