How to Design a Sustainable Garden

Most gardeners love nature and want to do their part to protect the environment. That means paying attention to how much water we use, managing storm-water runoff and selecting native plants that will thrive in our yards. We asked Glenn Frey, president and principal designer at Black Mountain Landscape Design in San Diego’s North County for his best tips on designing and maintaining a sustainable garden.

What defines a garden as sustainable?

A sustainable garden uses a minimal amount of resources for its creation and maintenance. Sustainable landscape design is an important component of a sustainable garden. We minimize water use, along with materials, energy and chemicals, if possible, and we use an organic approach. The garden should be in harmony with nature and attract wildlife. In Southern California, we plant native and drought tolerant plants using drip irrigation when feasible. Upcycled materials such as weathered wood or onsite boulders are used, along with organic fertilizers or compost. Rain harvesting can also be part of a sustainable garden.

Why did you decide to focus on sustainable landscape design?

Because of our ongoing drought in California, we started designing with minimal water use in mind. Our focus changed from just water conservation to minimizing all resources because it made perfect sense. It’s not difficult to garden sustainably; it’s more of a mindset for gardening practices. Once you think sustainably, additional practices fall into place. I educate my clients, and encourage them to conserve resources. Most of them are very enthusiastic about sustainable design. We created a video that shows how easy it is to conserve water in the garden.

Why should our readers strive to incorporate sustainability into their outdoor spaces?

Gardening sustainably is good for the environment and in most cases it’s less expensive. Water bills are reduced, compost is free if you have a composter, and you’re not putting chemicals in your landscape. Sustainable gardening also minimizes waste.

For gardeners who have a ‘blank canvas’, what’s the best way to design a sustainable garden?

As with everything else, do your homework first. Decide which design elements – patio, shade structure, paths, planting beds – you want in your garden and why. Figure out a layout in your yard and how you can incorporate these elements with a minimal amount of resource use.

Any other tips you’d like to share?

Enjoy the process and don’t expect to learn everything all at once. If you have a sustainable garden mindset, you’ll continue to become more knowledgeable. Incorporate different practices and if something doesn’t work for you, abandon it and utilize the practices that do work. Pass your sustainable knowledge on to friends and family. I enjoy doing just that with my sons and their significant others, along with my grandchildren. My daughter-in-law’s birthday is on Earth Day, how perfect is that?


All photos courtesy of Black Mountain Landscape Design

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