The word of the day is sustainability. The United Nations World Commission for the Environment defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The other word that makes headlines is “green.” What that means for gardeners and landscape designers: We must pay attention to the materials we use in our landscapes. Hardscape materials should be renewable. Plants should not require major input of chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides) to keep them healthy. Water needs should be easily fulfilled by the local climatic regime. We can also invite in native sources of nutrients and pest control agents. In an ideal natural ecosystem, there are no major inputs from outside sources. Think about an old-growth forest. Seeds sprout, trees and herbs grow and die. Their elements are recycled by decomposing fungi and bacteria to feed the roots of the remaining members of the forest. The model for us to emulate is to recycle all of the organic material produced either on site or by directing it to the local recycling program. We are used to calling it green waste, but it is really a green resource. Caring for our landscapes, whether we have a small city lot or manage a golf course, should mean thinking about sustainable practices. We must begin to see our personal green spaces as little pieces of a much larger urban ecosystem. What are the integral parts of that ecosystem? Who or what are the major players in this cycle? What are their needs? What practices will we need to adopt to encourage this natural process? And, just as important, what practices must we abandon?
The goal of sustainable gardening is to have a complete cycling of nutrients and maximum health of the soil and plants.