Flip through most gardening books and you'll see pages and pages of excess -- high-maintenance blossoms, exotic trees and shrubs, even trickling waterfalls and fountains. But all that lushness comes at a high price, both financial and environmental. Martha Stewart Living editorial director of gardening, Stephen Orr, shares greener ways to create lovely outdoor spaces.
Be Smartly Selective
Considering using hard materials like gravel, broken concrete, and salvaged metals; add greenery to the space to make it work, as in this yard in Palo Alto, California. Just be sure to pick climate-appropriate species so you can cut back on fertilizer, water, and coddling. Popular blooms like roses and most hydrangeas demand a ton of water; consider equally pretty spirea and vitex if you live in a dry climate. Your local USDA Cooperative Extension can provide more specific regional guidance.
"Gravel doesn't have to be a poor substitute for people who can't or don't want to have a lawn," Orr writes. He remembers growing up in Abilene, Texas, near an elderly woman who carefully tended a yard filled mostly with tiny rocks and drought-tolerant plants. The neighborhood kids figured this was a sure sign that she was a witch, but clearly she was onto something.
A mere 10-square-foot section of grass requires 62 gallons of water per week. That layer of loose stones also helps keeps soil and water in place in wet regions. And, of course, there's the obvious benefit of having way less to mow. To make an eco-conscious choice, buy local crushed stone over smoothed pebble, which is often dug out of glacial deposits. You can also choose a border of found materials, such as this row of wine bottles in Napa, California.
Increasingly, homeowners want their land out front to serve a purpose and not be just a useless showpiece. Orr points out that street-side gardening can boost community engagement, as here in Portland, Oregon, whether it means several houses on a block each growing a different kind of edible to share or those with land lending it to locals without. (Hyperlocavore can help facilitate arrangements.) If the soil quality is poor, consider building beds six to eight inches high and no more than four feet wide so you can tend them without stepping inside.
We're not just talking about secondhand patio furniture and reclaimed fencing here. Gardeners are reusing unconventional items, like computer motherboards. "These types of sophisticated, design-focused solutions made me think about the difference between recycling and reusing," Orr says. What neighbors and local businesses consider trash could become decorative (and useful) elements that make your yard truly unique.
Gardening expert Stephen Orr wrote and photographed "Tomorrow's Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening," highlighting the best examples of creating horticultural beauty without all the waste.