When I woke up on the first Earth Day, nearly 40 years ago, gas for my old car cost about 29 cents a gallon, I had never heard of recycling, and I didn’t worry much about lights left on, or watering my lawn.
Things have changed since then. Gas prices got up to over $4 a gallon and struck terror into all our hearts. Recycling is an everyday habit for many of us. I not only turn out lights in a room when I leave, we have switched to Compact Florescent Lights CFL) and even Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights to save on energy. I never water the lawn.
Over the years I have added any number of new habits to do my part in protecting the earth and the environment.
Although we have worked, over time, to save energy in our house, adding insulation, insulating draperies, Energy Star appliances, and most recently, a new energy efficient heating system, we have also been concerned about protecting the environment around our house.
I compost kitchen and yard waste, along with hen house cleanings. I consider myself lucky to have hen house cleanings. I even collect leaves from neighbors and others in the fall to add to the compost pile.
I don’t fertilize the lawn, or use herbicides or pesticides anywhere in the garden. This protects groundwater, local birds and wildlife – and my grandchildren. Recently I was talking to Walter Cudnohufsky about ways to garden and manage our plots of land. Cudnohuksky founded the Conway School of Landscape Design on ‘green’ design principles, believing that protecting habitat, water quality, plant diversity, soil health and energy conservation were all necessary elements of good landscape design.
I am sure that Cudnohufsky, like any designer, would like to work on a site even before a house is built, but most of us have a house and yard with all its faults, and with unexplored possibilities. When we make changes we have an opportunity to meet new needs, and to protect and work with the natural systems of water, sun and shade on our site.
I am not alone in becoming more and more aware of the threats to clean water supplies in our world. Towns and cities struggle with providing clean drinking water and the difficulties in handling storm water run-off now that so much of the landscape is paved. In the suburbs and small towns especially it is clear that homeowners can play a positive part in managing these challenges.
On the home landscape we often complain we either have too much water or too little. Cudnohufsky works to keep as much water as possible on site. This means using porous paving, planting slopes to slow surface runoff, and designing swales or dry stream beds that can add a beautiful element to the garden as well as handling storm water. Our own energy is saved by this kind of design because if we keep most of the water on our site we won’t have to water our gardens as much, or replace and redo areas that are always washing out.
Keeping water on site is a benefit to our town, especially if we don’t use a lot of chemicals, by decreasing the amount of water that goes into storm drains and then into local waterways.
Gardeners spend time choosing plants. Cudnohufsky points out that a lot of human energy can be saved by selecting plants for existing conditions whether they be sunny or shady, or dry, damp or wet areas, rather than endlessly working to adjust the conditions. I also like his idea of working with the natural model of multi-level gardening: canopy, understory and ground cover.
It is easy to find attractive native trees and shrubs that will thrive in our climate, and will suffer little trouble from pests or disease. Native plants will also provide the food and shelter that birds need.
With the resources of the New England Wildflower Society (NEWFS), the oldest conservation organization in the country, so near at hand in Whately at Nasami Farm, finding native plants that are as beautiful and they are healthy and useful in the garden is not difficult.
Trees can also ameliorate the effects of the weather. Windbreaks protect our house from winter winds, and help us save on heating costs. Trees planted to shade the house from afternoon sun will keep the house more comfortable in summer.
My husband is in total agreement that our lawns are too large and require too much labor. “It’s unsustainable,” he says. My one recent effort to cut down on lawn is removing sod and planting a native groundcover, barren strawberry or Waldsteinia. I got mine at Nasami which is now open on weekends, Thursday through Sunday into June.
We are fortunate to live in a beautiful area. It is our duty and our joyous privilege to protect the beauty and health of our earth in every way that we can.
For those Ashfield residents who are interested in how Walter Cudnohufsky’s principles can take beautiful form, he is holding an interactive Residential Landscape Design Clinic for home owners on Saturday May 8th and/or Sunday May 9th 8:30 – 5:30 PM. Five or six sites will be visited. “The goal is to have participants perceive design and problems differently and to have a sense of what quality design thinking is and produces,” Cudnohufsky said. For more details including the modest cost, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 628-4600, ext. 11. You can also logon to www.wcala.com.
April 18, 2009