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Appropriate Landscapes

Horticulture is not what it used to be. The tending of flower and vegetable gardens was once one of the simple pleasures. Nutrients were recycled from one generation of plants to another. The vital soils were amended frequently with composts and manures. Lawns included a combination of several grass species as well as low-growing broad-leafed plants. A tolerance of beneficial insects as well as a tolerance of some insect damage was part of that mindset.

Today, we use man-made chemicals to eradicate the insects, both harmful and beneficial, from our gardens. A lawn is now defined quite strictly as consisting of  99.99% of one variety of grass with no other plants permitted. If brown patch invades our lawn, we don't determine the cause of the infestation, we'll just spray a fungicide. We treat only symptoms, and neglect to remedy the root causes of disease. 

The formerly placid garden is viewed as a living collection of problems in need of products to provide quick fixes. To advocates of sustainable horticulture, the biggest problem though, is that our chemically-dependent gardens are presently in worse shape. Several decade's worth of successful advertising campaigns, marketing triumphs that sold us on the need for ever more bactericides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and miticides have led us far astray.

These chemicals, whether man-made or "organic", should not be the first response to a pest or pestilence. They are best employed as a last resort. And we then should select the least toxic pesticide. Having realized that eradication of pests is an unattainable goal, we now seek to manage them. We manage pests by understanding they exist in a triangular relationship that must also include an appropriate environment and a susceptible host. By determining the ecological basis of an infestation or disease and effecting change at that level, we can cure the essential problem not just one of its symptoms.

Sustainable horticulture, however, is much more than how to manage pests effectively.  It is a study concerned with renewing the soils in which roots can thrive, selecting the right plant for the right site, minimizing maintenance and conserving resources.  Appropriate landscapes, narrowly called xeriscapes by municipal water utility bureaucrats, are one important facet of sustainable horticulture.

A landscape becomes an appropriate landscape when it contains plants, native or exotic, which are well-adapted to its soils and climate. A further refinement involves using the correct plants for sun or shade, and of the proper mature height and spread for each specific site. The surest way to condemn yourself to twenty years of hard horticultural labor is to plant a shrub maturing at 15 to 25 feet high right below a low window. 

A landscape, to be appropriate should match the needs and wants of those who will enjoy it. Consider the ages of those who will be using it as well as their interests.

Also, plants of identical irrigation needs are grouped together to avoid over-watering some and under-watering others.

Landscaping can be a learning opportunity. It is best, though, to learn from otherís mistakes. Ask many questions. Make notes on which plants are thriving in your neighborhood. Know your site intimately. Read books and articles pertaining to your region and its plants. 

The goal is not to eliminate all horticultural mistakes, but to reduce their frequency and cost. Remember, a green thumb is attached to an observant mind. Observe what thrives in your area. Observe your site closely and inspect plants weekly, correcting problems immediately, while they are minor. 

Happy planting!


The botanical images on this site were produced by The Photon Hunt.

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Copyright at Common Law by Manuel Flores