What is sustainable landscaping?

One definition:

A landscape that minimizes the inputs of
natural resources, maximizes recycling of
materials, and minimizes outputs that have
negative effects on the environment – while
still supplying the social need of aesthetics
and utility.

Sustainability — Practices that would ensure the continued viability of a product or practice well into the future.

Sustainable Development — An approach to progress that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Sustainable Landscaping — Low-impact, low-maintenance, low-resource-use landscaping that fits a particular site and climate.

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board’s (CIWMB) “Sustainable
Landscaping” publication, “Sustainable landscapes are managed by using practices that
preserve limited and costly natural resources, reduce waste generation, and help prevent air,
water, and soil pollution. The goal is to minimize environmental impacts and maximize value
received from dollars expended.”

Brad Roeller — My definition of a sustainable landscape is one where, once the plants are established (typically a one- to two-year process) the need for additional irrigation, fertilization, or pesticides should be nil. Sounds nice, but I have seen very few examples of sustainable landscapes.

Many “sustainable” landscape designers are using the “natural” model, going “wild” by using native plants in a more naturalistic design. While these intentions are laudable, unless one thoroughly analyzes the growing characteristics of the property and makes wise plant selections based on their investigations, their plantings are destined to need continued sustenance. Even if the necessary site investigations are made and plants are selected based upon growing constraints, unless accepted planting and post-planting care guidelines are used, even the best natives for your site will perform poorly.

One popular application associated with landscaping with natives involves restoration projects in woodlands, meadows, wetlands or other riparian areas where the goal is to introduce indigenous native species back into their representative habitats. This approach is also finding some popularity in residential and even commercial landscapes. While it is typically used for large areas that have varying degrees of functioning native plant communities present, it does have a place in “small” landscapes. The time has come for ecologically designed landscape, and there is no reason that even the smallest of landscapes can’t duplicate a particular and appropriate habitat and landscape with plants obligate to that ecological niche.

What is sustainable landscaping?

San Diego’s Mediterranean climate

notes from ::

A Visual Tour of
San Diego’s Sustainable Urban Landscapes

presented by
Marian Marum, ASLA

Mediterranean habitats account for 8.5% of land in California, and comprises20%
of the Earth’s named vascular plant species

•Within a single day in this county, we can experience numerous ‘enviro-zones’

•Canyon habitats surround us with incredible natural beauty, despite the lack of rainfall

Mediterranean regions (only 5 in the world) cover only 2.2% of Earth’s surface, yet
host 20% of all known plant species on the planet

•MOST threatened ecosystems on the planet: (Nature Conservancy)

For every 1 ac. of Med. habitat saved, 8 ac. have been permanently lost
(*The Nature Conservancy has protected 1.2 million acres in California)

•Warm/dry summers & cool/wet winters

•Average rainfall in San Diego is only 10 inches. We import over 90% of our water

-Scripps Institute of Oceanography/NOAA (renowned global research)
-San Diego Foundation (Climate Change Study in San Diego)
-San Diego Regional Sustainability Partnership (Consortium/Sustainability Calendar)
-San Diego Sustainability Forum
-San Diego Civic Solutions
-County Water Authority
-California Center for Sustainable Energy
-CleanTech San Diego
-San Diego Natural History Museum
-San Diego Roots (Food not Lawns)
-Nature Conservancy
-USGBC (LEED rating system/NC/EC/Schools/Advocacy)
-CCSE (Regional Energy Office)
-ASLA (Sustainable Sites Initiative & the local Stewardship Committee)
-AIA (Committee on the Environment)
-CITIES Going Green = San Diego, Chula Vista, Encinitas, Solana Beach
-School Districts

(swales, basins, permeable surfaces, constructed wetland/bio-filtration units, )
3) WATER EFFICIENT LANDSCAPES (WEL) (reclaimed water, drought tolerant plants
(WUCOLS), smart irrigation, inert decorative mulches)
4) PROTECT and RECLAIM SOIL (erosion protection and composting)
5) RECYCLE MATERIALS (sustainable products and green waste)

San Diego’s Mediterranean climate

Landscape Architects Designing Chicken Coops : TreeHugger

Many people say that when we dig ourselves out of the current economic mess, the world will look very different. But how will people adapt? Daniel Gross writes at Slate that “if the economy is going to recover, Americans need to start taking risks again.” Many of those risks involve careers that didn’t exist before. He describes a few risk-takers, including Landscape architect Susan Durrett.

durret garden image

Gross writes about how she got started:

Layoffs can prove a powerful spur to entrepreneurship. Last October, Susan Durrett was laid off from her job at a San Francisco-based architecture firm whose business designing large resorts and condominium projects had dried up. “Starting my own business was actually my best alternative,” she said. Reasoning that people might be forswearing major remodeling projects for smaller ones, she started her own firm, Susan Durrett Land­scape Architecture, and now has four proj­ects in the works.

But what is really interesting is this description from her website:

We specialize in creating healthy environments and promote sustainable living through our expertise in:-green roof design,
-edible landscapes, including organic vegetables, fruit tree orchards and espaliers, and chicken coop design.

I really don’t think there were very many landscape architects promoting their expertise in chicken coop design and edible landscapes until very recently. The jobs that people are creating for themselves are different, and right now we need fruit tree orchards and chicken coops more than we need resorts.

No chicken coops in the portfolio yet but we will watch Susan Durrett Landscape Architecture

via Light at End of Tunnel Dept: Landscape Architects Designing Chicken Coops : TreeHugger.

Landscape Architects Designing Chicken Coops : TreeHugger

Reflecting Seasons


Native plants “spring” to life in early winter during the winter rains, with flowering periods starting at that time and running throughout spring. As things heat up in the summer, some of the local natives, those that are not evergreen, go dormant, which some people consider a disadvantage.

In one sense, this opposition to natives may simply be a matter of personal taste. There are also people for whom the whole process of dormancy can look beautiful. For example, the leaves of the Black Sage (Saliva melifera) begin to brown in June after the plant has finished flowering. Some of the leaves fall off right away, others remain for different lengths of time. This leads to beautiful contrasts between the ones that are still dark green on the top sides, the bottom sides of others that are light green, and those leaves that are turning different shades of brown.

There are also ways in which opposition to dormancy may be more than simply a matter of taste. On a conceptual level, it is strange that so many people are unfamiliar with the idea of summer dormancy, even people who were born and grew up in California. To me, this fact demonstrates the extent to which imported horticultural standards dominate or condition our expectations of what a garden should be, and even of what nature should be. What seems even stranger to me is that in the East the concept of dormancy is accepted, and even appreciated during the winter. However, this tolerance for dormancy was not imported alongside the Eastern lawn-based traditions.

Whatever the cause, we seem to have learned to expect plants and lawns to behave as if we lived in New Hampshire, or Georgia, or as if we were in the tropics and San Diego were a Hawaiian island and not a desert climate. Whatever the causes, to fulfill these expectations and ideals we certainly water the heck out of our yards throughout the summer to attain them.

I suspect that underlying the adoption of these foreign horticultural standards is the sentiment that seasons just get in the way. People want their gardens to reflect a constancy and uniformity that defies nature. Because of the mildness of our climate it has been possible to achieve this ideal, but we are slowly coming to realize the extent of the costs of this sentiment, and that it leads to waste on a very large scale.

Besides the incredible waste of resources, I believe that the most unfortunate result of the horticultural ideal of making our gardens look the same year round is a growing disconnect between people and the nature that surrounds them. It is not hard to see how this disconnect has lead to damaging consequences for the environment.

Were we to learn to value the concept that each region should reflect its own character, there would be less problems with invasives. One step in this process is to plant a native garden. Very simply, by planting natives you decrease the number of invasives that are planted. Hopefully, helping our neighbors become familiar with natives in this way will lead them to do the same, and the use of invasives could really decline.

To me, it is a dynamic prospect that using local natives not only helps conserve resources but can also strengthen the image of San Diego as having its own identity, and that this in turn could help inspire people to preserve the natural environs that we have outside of the garden domain.

Of course, one downside of expressing individuality in this way is that planting a native garden goes against a strong current of traditional horticultural conditioning. That is, going native would seem to put one directly at odds with a blind, powerful force in the world that makes money by perpetrating and maintaining a dead-end horticultural direction.

Fortunately going native is not as scary as this sounds. All the drama one may feel associated with such a change in direction dissipates quite easily from the simple act of placing a young native plant in the earth and watching it grow. How refreshing that such a simple action can undo years of misdirection.

Reflecting Seasons

Sustainable Urban Landscape Conference

These are links from the talks at the Sustainable Urban Landscape Conference at Cuyamaca College, March 12-13. For an overview of sustainable landscaping, see “What is sustainable landscaping anyway?”

This Web site is developed and maintained by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California


Effective July 1, 2008, SoCal Water$mart is a region-wide water efficiency rebate program brought to you by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Family of Southern California Water Agencies.

* High-Efficiency Toilets: starting at $100
* High-Efficiency Clothes Washers: starting at $85
* Weather-Based Irrigation Controllers: starting at $80/controller for less than 1 acre of landscape; $25/station for more than 1 acre of landscape
* Rotating Sprinkler Nozzles: starting at $4/nozzle
* Synthetic Turf: starting at $0.30/square foot

Some participating agencies offer additional rebates beyond the base SoCal Water$mart rebate. Visit the Rebates page to learn more.
SoCal Water$mart provides rebates for residential customers only; residents of single-family detached homes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes are eligible. Customers interested in rebates for multi-family units should inquire with the Multi-Family program.


The U.S. Green Building Council is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everyone within a generation. This is the place to:

» Certify your green building
» Join USGBC as an organization
» Join a chapter as an individual
» Sign up for courses and workshops
» Purchase LEED Reference Guides
» Learn about Greenbuild 2009
» Sign up for e-newsletters
» Become a LEED AP
» Learn about green building



The vision of the U.S. Green Building Council – San Diego Chapter is an environmentally responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life in the San Diego region.


Founded in 1899, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is the national professional association representing landscape architects. Beginning with 11 original members, ASLA has grown to more than 18,000 members and 48 chapters, representing all 50 states, U.S. territories, and 68 countries around the world. ASLA promotes the landscape architecture profession and advances the practice through advocacy, education, communication, and fellowship.


The Sustainable Sites Initiative is an interdisciplinary effort
by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden
to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction
and maintenance practices.





Assembly Bill 1408, authored by Assemblymember Paul Krekorian and co-sponsored by PCL and the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, provides a new tool to allow communities to accommodate growth without increase water demand. AB 1408 would institute a water neutral development option that developers and water agencies can voluntarily choose to utilize during the development approval process. The bill would encourage developers to build highly efficient houses, and further encourages developers to fully offset the water demand of the development by taking part in water conservation programs for existing homes and businesses.

California Drought Management



AB 2717, AB 1881

In 2004, AB 2717 was passed, it requested the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC) to convene a stakeholder task force, composed of public and private agencies, to evaluate and recommend proposals by December 31, 2005, for improving the efficiency of water use in new and existing urban irrigated landscapes in California. Based on this charge, the Task Force adopted a comprehensive set of 43 recommendations, essentially making changes to the AB 325 of 1990 and updating the Model Local Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. The recommendation of the bill charges DWR to update the Model Efficient Landscape Ordinance and to upgrade CIMIS.

The Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881) enacts many, but not all of the recommendations reported to the Governor and Legislature in December 2005 by the CUWCC Landscape Task Force (Task Force). AB 1881 requires DWR, not later than January 1, 2009, by regulation, to update the model ordinance in accordance with specified requirements, reflecting the provisions of AB 2717. AB 1881 requires local agencies, not later January 1, 2010, to adopt the updated model ordinance or equivalent or it will be automatically adopted by statute. Also, the bill requires the Energy Commission, in consultation with the department, to adopt, by regulation, performance standards and labeling requirements for landscape irrigation equipment, including irrigation controllers, moisture sensors, emission devices, and valves to reduce the wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, or unnecessary consumption of energy or water.

Cottonwood Creek Park — Encinitas



The California Landscape Contractors Association is a non-profit trade organization of licensed landscape and landscape-related contractors. Also included among its approximately 3,200 members are landscape suppliers, landscape architects, public officials, educators, and students.

Water management study guide


Rick Halsey — California Chaparral Institute


Wildlife Urban Interface (WUI)


Greg Rubin


Cuyamaca Water Conservation Garden


Sustainable Urban Landscape Conference

Going green, without a lawn

Virtually all the bungalows in Jennie and Chas Rightmyer’s Kensington neighborhood have well-tended lawns out front – part of the American dream, along with picket fences and two-car garages.

But increasingly dire warnings about statewide water shortages prompted the Rightmyers to remove their Bermuda grass. They are replacing it with a drought-tolerant garden that should be completed by month’s end.

The couple hope the new landscaping will cut their overall water use by more than 20 percent.

“It just feels like the time has come,” Jennie Rightmyer said.

Californians should end their love affair with lawns, said water officials, lawmakers, conservationists and landscapers. Many of these advocates have promoted native plants for years, but they now sense a greater potential for change because of the public’s growing concerns about global warming, drought and ever-rising water bills.

“It’s the beginning of the end of lawn at home,” said Nan Sterman, who teaches a class called “Bye Bye Grass” at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon.

Last week, the garden’s managers started a hotline for people to seek advice from Sterman about “water-smart” landscaping.

“It’s not just the early adopters anymore,” Sterman said. “It’s (average) people who are really getting the sense that we have to do something . . . which tells me that it’s becoming part of the mainstream.”

via Going green, without a lawn.

Going green, without a lawn