Sustainability - Make the Choice, Make a Difference

The day and times that we are living in have caused consumers to evaluate nearly everything that we do through purchases we make and activities we engage in to what amount of a carbon footprint we are leaving on the Earth. Never before in history has society been as conscious of individual impact on the environment and future sustainability of our resources.

Let's talk about sustainability, since this is the buzzword of the times. True sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of today without hindering the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This principle needs not only apply to large-scale agriculture and farming but also to our day to day practices on our own properties no matter the scale. From the decisions we make when choosing fertilizers, pesticides and soil amendments to the plants for our landscapes to the hardscape features and the manner in which they are installed, gardeners play a serious role in what manufacturers promote and provide. It begins with a decided attitude of change.

As gardeners we are called to be stewards of the land. As such, it truly is our duty to be aware and educated about our actions and to bring this awareness to the forefront of conventional consumerism. I relate the concept in this way: aside from marketing to a client who is already sold on the idea of sustainability and natural and organic landscaping, is it not better to reach out to the community and to the nation of people who are unaware of the myriad benefits of this transition? Sure the idea of sustainability and organic gardening is well-received by avid shoppers at the Whole Foods, Fresh Market and local CSA co-ops, but what are we doing to take this mainstream? I believe that when gardeners get on board and make the commitment to minimizing our impact on the land, it will strongly resound in other industries and thus reverberate into other aspects of living.

Now, many people think, how can I make a difference. This goes back to the attitude of change that I mentioned earlier. Early on, you must adopt the concept that, yes, even you alone can make a difference through your decisions and actions. No matter the size of your effort, be encouraged to take steps in the right direction. Ways you can begin your journey can be as simple as replacing the conventional fertilizers and pesticides you use in your landscape with organic and natural products and composts. Local home improvement stores have begun filling shelves with plentiful selections of natural products from which to choose. You may have room on your property to start a composting bin or pile. Composting and vermiculture, or worm farms, make rich soil out of kitchen scraps that would otherwise be thrown away.

Read up! Learn about your landscape. Understand what insects and other garden pests have set up home and plan to guard against them. There are websites devoted to growing and selling beneficial insects that will parasite on virtually every type of garden pest. Invite beneficials and wildlife to your garden through planting a wide variety of wildflowers, perennials, fruiting plants and ornamental shrubs. When beneficial insects have host plants to live and breed on, they are less likely to leave when food sources are scarce. Landscapes that are not treated with synthetic pesticides and chemicals have a greater chance to populate with "good bugs" such as ladybugs, praying mantis, parasitic wasps and green lacewings. When nature is in balance, there is little need for supplemental means of control.

Another area where you can gain awareness with respect to sustainability in your landscape is with your drainage. Topsoil loss through erosion is causing serious sedimentation issues in storm water runoff creeks and rivers. Over the past several months since the drought in Georgia was announced to be finished, many places where hard-packed soil was previously dried and compacted, mulches have washed away and groundcovers and plants have died out in many areas so soil is bare and is rapidly eroding. Do your part in noticing whether your property has erosion and work with a professional to appropriately address problem areas with the most sustainable solution possible. Ideally, your water runoff from downspouts and hard surfaces will never leave your property. In many cases, plantings, berms and low areas can be created to capture and filter out running water. Use of rain gardens, bio-swales and rainwater capture basins have become widely sought after as an effort to maximize the water retention on properties.

Now that you've had some awareness brought to areas where you may choose to delve deeper into transitioning your property, make a plan and have a goal. When there is a bigger picture in place of what the outcome will eventually be, it is a less daunting task to get started on a project. I don't believe that you must immediately wipe all your knowledge and "be green", but I do believe that it can be done one step at a time. Be inspired! The commitment and attitude to transitioning your conventionally maintained landscape to that of a sustainable one will not only convert your yard, but it will also resonate throughout your life.


Betsey Norton is an Environmental Horticulturist and holds certification in Sustainable Urban Landscaping. Having worked in the field of horticulture since the late nineties, Betsey has experience in many aspects of the industry. Working her way through college in nurseries and doing landscaping, she gained a true passion for "all things green". Upon graduation, Betsey helped build, grow and manage a start-up perennial propagation farm and retail nursery. At the tender age of 21, she earned the ...

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