As any backyard gardener knows, getting things to grow involves a great deal of trial and error – and also time, money, patience, and even wonder: How can it be that your next-door neighbor has more perfect tomatoes than she knows what to do with when all you can produce is a handful of mealy specimens each year? It could be her soil or her technique, but most likely the difference is that her backyard’s microclimate is a better environment for growing tomatoes.
In the bigger picture, this imbalance occurs not just across the globe but also from county to county. Yet, you can visit any garden center in, say, Colorado, and find a huge selection of plants that evolved not on the Western plains but in coastal climates or even the dampest regions of Scotland. These plants may survive in the dry Colorado air with enormous amounts of irrigation and probably lots of chemicals, but it begs the question: Why fight nature?
Choosing plants that are well-adapted to the local climate (and your yard’s microclimate) is the first step in creating a green landscape, both literally and figuratively. In many regions, this also means limiting the amount of conventional grass because of its insatiable thirst for water. The next step is to look for ways to use water more efficiently and for collecting free water when Mother Nature provides it .
When it comes to the manufactured elements of the landscape, the basic precepts of green building apply: Choose renewable, recyclable, and healthful materials such as recycled-plastic decking and locally produced mulch. Also consider permeable paving in place of concrete and asphalt to keep storm runoff in the ground instead of loading up the sewer system with water and all the yard and driveway chemicals it brings with it. In this illustration you’ll find some of the features in a well-planned, low-maintenance landscape.
A green yard tends to look very natural and very at-home in its surroundings. It should be populated with native plants that don’t require heroic efforts to thrive and it should require little or no watering or chemical fertilization. Ideally, a green yard also has a positive impact on your home and property by providing valuable shade or preventing soil erosion.