How Green Can You Go?

By Leslee Temple, FASLA, vice president and CFO, NUVIS Landscape Architecture and PlanningWhat should multifamily developers do when faced with the extreme challenge of building and marketing a new community, while significantly reducing the use of water that would normally be required for landscaping? From a sustainability point of view, efficient use of water can be achieved in a number of ways, including use of drought- resistant plants, strategic use of artificial turf and technology.  First, a definition of a “native” plant:•    A species that reproduces in the region without human intervention;•    A species that survives in the region without human care;•    A species that co-evolves with, and depends on, other plants or animals    (excluding humans) for survival; and/or•    A plant not transported to the region by humans purposefully or accidentally.Utilizing native plants is a key component to a sustainable landscape architecture plan. They can significantly reduce maintenance costs. In order to achieve important sustainable or “green” goals, consider the following advice: do away with water-hungry landscaping in favor of more drought- and animal-resistant plant materials. This does require some research and you may have to hit a lot of nurseries and suppliers. The best sustainable designs usually have an extensive list of plant materials. (Remember, water-efficient landscaping does not have to be drab and gray!) You should also think outside the proverbial water box by identifying places where water is not really necessary (even though it might go against every instinct you have). These places could be great spots for outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, waterfalls, Koi ponds, rock gardens, meditation gardens and pieces of art. Don’t overlook the benefits of artificial turf—your residents may love a putting green. Besides drought-resistant landscaping, other water conversation measures include water-control devices on irrigation systems and water-efficient systems inside and outside the home. Toro Intelli-sense “Smart” controller gathers weather data from a nearby weather station. This weather information is used to automatically adjust run times according to the site and plants’ actual requirements, resulting in more efficient water management. With the ET-Everywhere subscription weather, data is gathered from NOAA Weather Satellites and is accurate down to one sq. km., providing the accuracy of an on-site weather station without the cost and maintenance. This is definitely an ideal water conservation tool for residential applications.Realize that the maintenance is very different since the water requirements are so different. For example, extra drainage may be required at certain times of the year along with minimal overhead sprays. More subsurface or drip techniques are needed when irrigating. Subsurface drip line and drip irrigation eliminate any overspray, thus saving water. These irrigation methods also work well in windy areas providing uniform irrigation. With proper operation, subsurface and drip irrigation use about half of the water of an overhead system. Water is applied directly to the root zone and seasonal plant growth interference is eliminated.In the final analysis, each individual component of the landscape architecture plan–hardscape and softscape–makes an aesthetic contribution to the whole of your home’s environment while still protecting the earth’s environment. Here are a few more tips:•    Recognize that “native” does not always mean “grey”–foliage and flowers can be very colorful.•    Recognize that “native” softscape does not mean rockscape–although it might be a personal or community/local preference.•    Seek professional advice as to a plant’s requirements for water, growth, soil condition and drainage requirements.•    Understand the water cycle of native plants–they are generally NOT thirsty during late spring/summer and therefore DO NOT prefer water to survive.•    Watch for microclimates and study sun patterns so that shade plants are planted in shaded areas and sun-loving plants are planted to receive the most sun.•    Understand the ultimate height/width of plants and the aesthetic value of tiering material from low to high (or vice versa).•    Native softscape does not necessarily mean “haphazard” or untamed “clutter”–native plant design can be planted in formalized patterns, resulting in “formal informalness.”•    Be aware of the seasonal attributes and plant combinations together so that when a strong spring/summer performer goes dormant, a dominate fall/winter plant is ready to fill the area.•    Likewise, combine deciduous and evergreen plant material, especially vines.•    Clipping and pruning is still necessary, but more than likely not as often, and the maintenance follows seasonal patterns versus regular or programmed events.•    Do your research. There are many low ground covers options as turf/lawn substitutes.•    Mix textures, colors, aromas and forms for dramatic effects.•    Consider using drip or subsurface irrigation and/or rainwater collection systems.•    Use permeable hardscape materials.•    Be patient. Not all retail nurseries are ready for the demand for native material–seek out specialty nurseries or arboretums, farmer’s markets or master gardener sales.Leslee A. Temple, FASLA, is vice president and CFO of NUVIS Landscape Architecture and Planning.