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Energy-Wise Landscape Design

Sue Reed in her office

On a day like today I bitterly regret the lack of a windbreak to the northwest of our house where the wind roars down the hill. Only a single white pine, the sole tree to survive a windbreak planting more than 20 years ago, impedes the blast.  My husband and I have been studying that pine and thinking it is time to try again.

Therefore, it might not be pure coincidence that I arranged to meet with Sue Reed, author of Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for your Home and Garden to talk about the ways that energy can be saved in a scraped landscape around a new house, or one that has grown up around a century old house.

Reed said that the idea of windbreaks that will deflect cold winds away from a house, and thus carry away heat, is not a new one. However, Reed’s book explains that the siting of the windbreak needs to be done carefully, and she provides a formula. The windbreak should be planted at a distance that is between three to five times the mature height of the trees that are chosen.  For example, if I were to plant white pines which can reach a height between 100 to 150 feet, my windbreak should be at least 300, and up to 450 feet to the northwest, the windward side of our house.

Reed also suggests that since pines will often loose their bottom branches and needles a planting of laurels and rhododendrons at the edge of the grove will not only be functional but attractive.  In fact she suggests that a windbreak can include deciduous trees to make a more natural looking grove of trees. Lots to think about there. Time to plan before spring.

Reed has been thinking about trees for all her professional life, but from different angles. She started out working as a furniture maker, but as she entered her 30s she started to realize that the heavy work was not something she would be able to continue as she aged.  “Also I wanted to expand my life. I had been building out of trees – I wanted to work with [living] trees,” she said.

Because design was still what she wanted to do she enrolled in the Conway School of Landscape Design. After graduation she said she was fortunate to be able to work for Conway Design Associates with Walter Cudnohufsky, Ruth Parnell and Don Walker for three years. She said many Conway graduates struggle after they graduate and work for companies and organizations that do not understand the principles of conservation that underlie their design ideals.

Reed and I strolled around her own gardens. The house is on a slope. “When we bought it about 10 years ago there was no place to sit in front of the house.  We built a stone wall and flattened out an area in front of the house designed so it would not kill the big tree nearby. Then we created a lively ecosystem under that maple tree.  There are wildflowers in the spring. I look for solutions that solve more than one problem,” she said.

Looking at the leafy mulch under the tree I asked why the leaves didn’t all blow away. Reed said that to begin she had to spread a lot of leaves and hold them in place with netting that she pegged down. “Now they stay in place by themselves.”

Reed’s house is also on a busy road. To provide some privacy she planted a small group of trees to the front and side of the house. She said people often plant or build right barriers in front of a house for privacy, but “cars coming up the road see the house from that side; that is where privacy needs to be provided.” She pointed out that by the time a car is in front of the house the driver is no longer looking at it.

A landscape changes over time, and the needs of a family, or a new family moving in, require changes. Reed has worked with homeowners on their existing landscapes, but she especially enjoys working with homeowners when they are just beginning to plan their house. “I love to help siting a house. . . . [For me] design is about making the arrangement of all major components support the life you want to live. It is not a purely aesthetic exercise.”

Energy-Wise Landscape Design grew out of a Greenfield Community College workshop, The Ecological Homestead. It is a practical and comprehensive guide to creating an energy efficient landscape, yet Reed’s style is engaging and will draw you further and further into the many ways that energy can be saved. She includes human energy in her calculations. “It is important for professionals and homeowners to know that there are many ways to save energy. Even minor changes can save energy. Getting rid of unused lawn also lessens the human energy needed to maintain a fine lawn” she said.

Reed is also available for consultations, especially around saving energy.  “A consultation can last for 2-3 hours – time for a walk around the site, and time to talk about particular concerns, or to find ways to save energy.” However, the book alone will certainly help homeowners who want to make energy saving changes in their landscape by themselves.

Signed copies of Energy-Wise Design are available at the World Eye Bookstore. ###

Between the Rows   December 11, 2010

Leave a comment on the December 13 post here before midnight tonight and participate in my final Blogoversary Giveaway. You could win The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer.

1 comment to Energy-Wise Landscape Design

  • I liked her tips about saving human energy too; it’s something that we don’t always think of in terms of “energy” per se. I wish that I could implement her guidance about windbreaks, but unfortunately my lot is too small for more trees.

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