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  • Writer's pictureCoy Heath

The Difference Between Conventional and Ecological Landscaping

Updated: Aug 21, 2018

What is ecological landscaping, and what sets it apart from conventional landscaping? At first glance, it may seem like all landscaping is “ecological” or “natural” – after all, don’t all landscapers deal with soil and what grows in it?

Unfortunately, conventional landscaping practices are often incredibly energy-intensive and toxic, and actually cause soils and ecosystems to degrade. That's because conventional landscaping operates with a mindset of “control nature” rather than “cooperate with nature.” The norm is that manicured look – water-wasting and chemical-dependent lawns and ornamental plantings that serve no ecological function. But creating and maintaining that look requires intensive intervention.

Hence the "mow and blow" approach of most conventional landscapers: mowing the lawn and blowing leaves with noisy gas-powered machinery, pruning shrubs to artificial shapes, and of course liberal use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides that kill many beneficial organisms as well. Water is usually treated not as a resource, but as a nuisance that needs to be diverted away as quickly as possible in pipes, culverts, or on paved surfaces, so that it contributes to flooding downstream. Even the nursery industry relies on chemical-heavy cocktails to keep those plants looking perky at the nursery.

What's the alternative?

It is entirely possible to create beautiful, abundant landscapes in ways that are also restorative for ecosystems, water cycles, and wildlife, and actually help people to rebuild connections with the natural world.

Through a careful, ecologically intelligent design process, we can create landscapes that catch and harvest water, build healthy soil, create wildlife habitat, and provide food, beauty, privacy, and interest.

Ecological landscape design begins with careful site assessment, an analysis of what nature is already doing at a given site: the sunlight, the water flows, the topography, the soil, the existing plant and wildlife species, and so on. All this information allows us to create a holistic picture of the entire site, and start implementing landscape features that work elegantly together, providing ecological solutions.

Ecological Solutions:

  • Using earthworks to catch and store water in the soil itself, as a reserve for drier periods.

  • Incorporating plants that serve many functions, such as producing food, medicine, attracting pollinators, fixing nitrogen in the soil, or producing biomass for compost or mulching.

  • Instead of only ornamentals, planting edible plants that are just as gorgeous while providing healthy, fresh, super-local food right at your doorstep.

  • Managing plant health without toxic sprays by starting with soil health: instead of chemicals, we provide good-quality compost, heavy mulches, and a diversity of living plant roots in the soil (including cover crops)

  • Using certain plants and fungi to remediate contaminated soil or water.

  • Installing systems such as rainwater catchment,greywater systems,or compost bins to help the homeowner live more sustainably

The difference between conventional and ecological landscaping, then, really comes down to a difference in mindset: are we trying to fight nature, or are we collaborating with it? Choosing an ecologically minded landscaping company is a choice for a more sustainable world and healthier ecosystems, yes, but it’s also a choice that means a better quality of life for you and your family. No need to worry about toxins in your soil or on your plants. Less money spent on your water bill and landscape maintenance. Fresh, delicious food, yours for the picking, right in your backyard. The delight of watching the abundance of birds, butterflies and other pollinators that naturally flock to a balanced ecosystem. A sense of connection with your environment, which doctors and psychologists alike believe reduces stress and depression. All of this together creates the conditions for a feeling of well-being in the very place where you want to have it: your own home.

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