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Backyards Getting Greener
By Elizabeth Lexau
This article was published in Architectural West Sept./Oct. 2007,
Eco-friendly landscape design becoming the new, hip thing for homeowners
Today’s homeowners are more environmentally savvy than ever before and one place this interest is really blossoming is in the home landscape. “More homeowners want yards that are not only beautiful and comfortable, but eco-friendly as well,” said Scott Cohen, president and supervising designer for The Green Scene, an award-winning California-based outdoor design and construction firm.
Cohen is known for using the garden to showcase unique designs that put Recycled Items, particularly wine bottles, to beautiful use. Shimmering wine bottle waterfalls, multi-colored mosaics of glittering broken glass, and outdoor kitchen counters constructed of hundreds of recycled bottles are just a few of his signature pieces.
Although these pieces are gorgeous works of art, they also represent Cohen’s respect for the environment. “The Green Scene is more than just a name,” said Cohen. “We’re always looking for creative and practical ways to do the right thing.”
There are many ways to weave environmentally friendly elements to your backyard, from the initial design, to the building process, to the products you use. With a little planning and imagination you can have a backyard that you, your family, and Mother Nature will love.
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Using the right plantings in the right places is a great way to start. “Properly selected trees offer a low energy way to provide a comfortable environment indoors and out,” said Cohen. “Deciduous trees on the west or south side of your house will help control both your summer and winter energy costs. They’ll shade your home in summer and then lose their leaves in winter to let the sun shine in.”
A vine-covered pergola for an outdoor room is another low energy way to keep cool. “People often consider installing a solid roof over an outdoor sitting area to provide shade,” said Cohen. “However, they don’t realize that a living roof does the job much more effectively. Plants actually help cool their surroundings through a process known as transpiration. In hot weather, they release water through their leaves. This helps cool the plants along with the people nearby.”
Cohen prefers deciduous flowering vines like wisteria for these living roofs. Because it loses its leaves, a wisteria-covered roof can adapt to the changing seasons, something a solid roof can’t do. It also adds an intoxicating fragrance to a cool outdoor haven.
Recycling at Every Level
Finding new uses for old resources is one of the easiest ways to integrate environmentally friendly design into your backyard. From striking garden art like Cohen’s wine bottle water features, to functional elements made with unique construction materials, gardens provide a wonderful opportunity to create usable spaces from materials that would otherwise have to be hauled away.
“Recycling can be incorporated into just about every aspect of landscape installation,” said Cohen. “For example, when we remove an old concrete patio or driveway we don’t bring it to a landfill. Instead, we take it to a company that processes it into a substitute for crushed stone, which we then use for a variety of purposes in the landscape. We also use recycled mulch made from shredded urban forest products. We even recycle the plastic containers from new plants. There are so many ways to use old stuff.”
Water wise Landscaping
Water conscious design is one of the most important steps you can take toward an eco-friendly backyard. "Studies repeatedly show that most landscapes are vastly over-watered," said Cohen. "This doesn't only waste money, it also sends one of our most valuable resources right down the drain. A little planning and the right products can have a huge impact."
One way to save is to group plantings with similar water requirements together and create different irrigation zones that meet varying needs. "If you put the lawn on one zone, thirsty plants on another zone and drought-tolerant plants on a different zone, you can water each at different rates," said Cohen. "If you don't, you'll usually end up over-watering many plants while trying to meet the needs of the thirstiest few."
Many of today's irrigation controllers use the latest technology to include highly efficient water-saving features. "Some can be programmed to communicate with local weather stations," said Cohen. "They automatically adjust the watering schedule based on current weather and rainfall in the area." Using low volume sprinklers on the lawn and drip systems in your flower beds can also help. These products are designed to deliver smaller amounts of water at rates tailored to specific plant needs. Because they don't apply water faster than plants absorb it, they promote lush plant growth with minimal runoff.
A number of new, more efficient products can also help homeowners build conservation conscious backyards. "Low voltage landscape lighting is getting better all the time," said Cohen. "New LED bulbs deliver high quality light with four times the energy efficiency of incandescent lights. We also like the decking made from recycled plastic and wood shavings. It performs well and keeps its color without the need for stains or paints that contain harmful chemicals. "There is even a new patio roof that uses louvered panels that can be positioned at any angle for maximum sun or shade, all with the switch of a solar powered motor." These are just a few ways to green up a landscape. Whether you do it yourself or use a landscape professional, some of these ideas can save green in more ways than one.