What is Ecological Landscaping?
As described by the Ecological Landscaping Alliance (www.ecolandscaping.org) it is more than just a pollinator garden. It is the design and management of a yard/garden habitat attracting a maximum diversity of birds, butterflies, and native bees. It is also a design reducing the amount of active management. Active management means, reducing the amount of time and money spent on pesticides and herbicides. IT is NOT the exclusion of unique, cultivated plants. Making sure 50% or more of the plants in your landscape are native to where you live is the goal. Along with healthy habitats (healthy for you, pets, and pollinators).
What do these landscapes look like?
They are as variable as the human imagination. Perhaps you want a series of curving pathways running through a riotous display of native prairie plants. No? Do you instead prefer a well-defined series of gardens in the English (or any other) style?
The photographs displayed here are a few examples of an ecological landscape. These landscapes are not design-limited but they are and expansion of diversity. They are aimed at landscapes that are a celebration of local flora and fauna.
What do these landscapes do?
They utilize ecological sciences to design landscapes from ground-to-crown. We humans are the primary force for changing landscapes thus, we have the power to make our changes more or less hospitable to other living things (e.g., birds). For example, we can make the new coastal Resort's habitat a turf lawn full of trees totally foreign to the wetland upon which the resort has been developed. OR we can create a resort full of flowers, trees, and shrubs indigenous to the local area. Choosing the latter is a wiser economic choice and a happier ecological one.
Why? How? Landscapes dominated by turf or introduced plants have several of weaknesses. First, they require more fertilizers to keep them growing and pesticides. Introduced plants have not evolved in the local soils or to the local bugs and other pests. Thus management is about manipulating through chemistry to force these plants to live in an inhospitable place. That's more time and chemistry = more money. Second, filling a landscape with introduced plants from halfway around the globe means the butterflies, birds, and bees that have evolved with the local flora no longer have food or housing in these introduced plants. Third, what is happening above ground is happening below. We know now the soil is an ocean of biodiversity. When we introduce non-native plants into the soil-world these plants do not form the same relationships as the indigenous plants. The ultimate outcome is lower soil fertility and a change in soil structure. A final point is, by discarding the local flowers and trees in favor of two dozen cultivars, we lose our local plants. They become relegated to protected forests or pockets outside the suburbs.
What can you expect when switching to an ecological landscape?
First, soil testing to determine what will grow best or if soils need to be remedied. Bad soils = bad diet.
Second, your designer will give you a mulching plan to determine how to eradicate the turf, weeds, etc. so that weeding is limited. To be clear, this means weeding will be necessary and possibly intensive the first 1 - 2 years of the garden. The goal is to make the landscape more self-sufficient in the long run.
Third, what kind of garden do you want? Do you want to bring a native prairie to your back yard or do you want a formal Persian, Japanese, or English garden? Once you have decided this you and your designer can start picking out plants and color schemes.
Finally, an ecological landscape is NOT an instant yard/garden. Some designs can be instantaneous others will take 2 - 3 years to mature. Prairie habitats along highways or industrial backwaters (or elsewhere) will take a couple years.
You may need to hire a hardscape designer with your ecological landscaper. I do not do hardscapes; I have not been trained in them and I am not interested in adding that to my repertoire. My training has been and remains devoted to ecology and I am not unique. There are teams out there that have a hardscape or landscape architects as part of their team. Decide if you’ve got the pension to work with two people or you want a combination team and if you have one locally.
Ecological landscapes are the latest trend in landscaping. Unlike other 'trends' this one is likely to take hold for 100s rather than 10s of years.