Ecology + Design

Green Landscaping Practices – Westchester, Fairfield and Putnam Counties

What is Green Landscaping? Is it a trend? A gimmick? What does it mean? What does it represent?

At the core, we can hope that going green in your landscape means managing and conserving resources ecologically and economically to improve our health and well being. Nature does a pretty good job on her own. Take trees for instance. In Southern New England (as well as elsewhere), trees, particularly native species, dominate our natural landscape, while making up a significant part of our man-made, designed landscapes. They sequester carbon and clean the air while producing precious oxygen essential for life. They are responsible for stabilizing and cooling the soil. Additionally the natural beauty, aesthetically..visually and the positive calming effects both physiologically and psychologically on our emotional and spiritual life cannot be overrated. Trees do an excellent job of utilizing nutrient and water uptake. They contribute mycorrhizal fungi necessary for life in the soil community which in turn insures and increases biodiversity in the ecosystem and plant communities. Although a single tree certainly has value, its contribution is not only enhanced by its proximity to its brothers and sisters but also increases exponentially in terms of habitat as well as conservation value.

One of my favorite examples was experienced during an early evening stroll on busy main street (Greenwich Ave) in Greenwich, CT not too long after storm Sandy changed our local ecosystem and environment. I pointed out to my partner the unusual yet obvious behavior of the flying squirrels who were flying from street tree to street tree right above our heads. These cute animals are essential indicator species of a healthy environment/ecosystem in suburban as well as rural settings. In addition to hosting a variety of mammals, these street trees are necessary for supporting a wide diversity of insects and birds which are essential to a healthy, balanced ecosystem. The ecosystem services provided are indispensable and can’t be replaced or replicated artificially.

This brings me conveniently to one of my first suggestions for improving our landscapes by going green. A BMP or Best Management Practice we can institute and observe would be cease and desist from tree spraying of any kind. By applying insecticides, fungicides etc. we disrupt the natural defenses and immunities which trees possess naturally. Even worse no one studies the effect of the volatilization of these toxic substances into our air. By now it is obvious that we are plagued by respiratory ailments, as well as, other disruptive diseases or conditions prevalent in our contemporary society, which were not an observable and documentable threat to our life and health. I suggest at minimum it would do no harm to adopt this proactive policy. In my considerable experience with landscape management, I have found that tree spraying has had very little beneficial effect anyway since it appears, in many cases, the same numbers of trees were lost despite tree spray programs. It is my further concern that the impact on our soil and water quality is certainly at least potentially negatively impacted and …Why Take That Chance? The benefits of not spraying could reverse the adverse affect that chemicalization of the soil biology has caused. I believe good intentions are an end in themselves. A noble, worthy goal is to clean our air, soil and water while preserving our precious natural resources. I honestly think we could do better and certainly no worse by adopting this policy.

American landscape design should consider planting trees in more natural compositions, for instance in groups or family units layered with native shrubs and perennials. This would absolutely enrich the landscape environment as well as our health and well being. This I suggest will be a lifestyle improvement. There are many such examples in existence today. Another factor to consider is the effect our obsession with the great American lawn has on our life, our health and our community culture. A green lawn has a place and appeal in our cultural landscape in as far as it provides a playing surface for our children or a nice landscape feature yet there are many under-utilized alternatives such as wildflower meadows, fern glenns and ground covers where playing fields are not required.

Our landscapes, our ecosystem and our lives and community would be richer with a greater variety and diversity of species. So let’s take one giant step for mankind to make our landscapes more interesting, less boring, more lively, healthy, better to look at and more fun.

Jay Archer, President


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