NYT on sustainable garden design

I suspect that we'll see an increasing shift in paradigms (or at least buzzwords) among the gardening press from native gardening to a more general sustainable gardening. This shift is already well underway but perhaps has not reached full market penetration in the public's eye. A NYT article on garden design and native plants was recommended to me by Maribeth. It nicely highlights this shift. Don't miss the very nice slide show that comes along with it.

There's no new concepts here, just an explicit refocusing on a wider set of concepts that already play together: "Sustainability" includes all the same issues that one might have previously considered in a native garden, but the more general word allows broader conversations about the garden and how it relates to its context and intended use, water capture, water use and reuse, wildlife, human use, aesthetics, and biodiversity.

Here's a part of the NYT article:

Over the past five years, as climate change has become more obvious and energy costs have spiraled up, a number of designers have begun to champion an approach to landscaping that marries traditional environmental concerns — sustainability, biodiversity, restoration, conservation — with a sensitivity to aesthetics and a flexibility that they said was missing from green-gardening crusades of the past.

Movements that gained popularity in the 1970s, like xeriscaping, which introduced the creed of no added water, and the native plant movement, often got in their own way, these designers believe, by getting hung up on orthodoxies.

“Xeriscaping as a rule tended to look horrible,” said Andrea Cochran, 54, a San Francisco landscape architect who did environmental planning for the Tennessee Valley Authority and the National Forest Service before moving on to residential gardens. “The save-the-planet message was powerful,” she added, but a lack of attention to aesthetic issues left her and other well-meaning gardeners unhappy with the results — dusty summer yards full of scrappy native species.

And too often, Mr. Trainor said, those earlier movements were overly rigid and prescriptive. “It’s hard to make ordinary people fit into such a tight scheme,” he said.

The main thing, these newer designers believe, is to win clients over to environmental landscaping through design that is both thoughtful and seductive.

In some cases, the seduction involves small adjustments to traditional eco-friendly practices. Mark Word, a 40-year-old designer who has been creating gardens in Austin, Tex., for 10 years, has faced resistance from some clients to native plants and other low-water alternatives. “Many native Texas plants, like certain grasses, tend to not look so good in 4-inch or 1-gallon pots at the nursery,” he explained. And “most people don’t want their garden to stick out as the only house on the block that looks radically different.”

Believing that he can push clients only so far without losing their confidence, he has found it helpful to temper native plantings with strong design elements that can act as visual anchors, such as crisp-edged stonework or a sculptural non-native plant like a sago palm or a silvery furcraea. In one recent project in Austin, a small front yard and a backyard at a second home for two doctors from Dallas, Mr. Word used a mix of native and foreign species, along with paths and retaining walls made of Texas Hill Country limestone, so his clients could relate to the garden more easily. “My projects need to weave nicely into the residential style of Austin,” he said. “They have to be conventionally attractive and recognizable as a garden in the sense of their particular neighborhood.”

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