By BECKY GILLETTE
As the name suggests, environmental landscaping is about the design of urban landscapes in a way that benefits the natural environment by saving energy, conserving water and providing food and habitat for wildlife.
Clay Stewart, CEO, Stewart Environmental Construction Inc, Tupelo, said initially both landscaping and environmental landscaping have many similarities in that you are using trees, shrubs and other types of plants that are beneficial to the environment.
“As a description, environmental landscaping would deal more with native plantings such as native wetland grasses and native trees and shrubs,” Stewart said. “Commercial landscaping would include more urban type plant material.”
Stewart works for a design that will add signature elements to differentiate businesses who want to impress clients and satisfy employees. That is accomplished by the use of special elements in the landscape such as natural garden areas, dry stream beds for aesthetic purposes, as well as function and outdoor living spaces with arbors, seating areas, fire pits, etc.
Stewart Environment Construction has been involved in large projects like the Column Barium Memorial Garden and the Vietnam Memorial Replica Wall, both in Tupelo. The company has also done work on a number of sports complexes.
“Special considerations in sports field construction would be the access of the sports complexes to the public and location for public use,” Stewart said. “The specific consideration for sports turf would be an existing soil profile for drainage purposes and specialty turf for durability such as hybrid Bermuda grass.”
There is a lot of interest in low maintenance landscaping for commercial projects. Two primarily elements are turf and tree plantings.
“In situations that require more than these two elements, the use of blanket ground covers would be utilized using high volumes of shrub material plants,” Stewart said. “In high visual or entryway areas, the use of annual color is utilized. To increase aesthetics, these areas would be able to be re-cultivated two times a year.”
Sadik Artunc, professor and head of the Department of Landscape Architecture, Mississippi State University, said doing the best thing for the environment can also considerably reduce maintenance costs for the owners. You can cut water bills considerably and also may benefit by having perennial plants instead of annuals, which have to be replaced every year.
Environmental landscaping starts with the choice of plants. Artunc said an example is using native and non-invasive plants that require little, if any, additional irrigation, as opposed non-native ornamental and invasive plant materials that can provide little food or habitat for wildlife.
“You won’t see it too much in Mississippi yet, but if you travel to areas like Washington D.C., you will see lots of tall grasses used as ornamental plantings,” said Artunc, a licensed architectural landscaper. “These are not grasses that have to be mown, and are used in landscaping quite a lot. In commercial landscapes, people are doing more and more grasses. Big eateries like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are trending towards more environmentally sensitive landscapes.”
Some of the techniques are not new. Those include planting large deciduous shade trees on the south side of a home or commercial building that provide shade to cut air conditioning bills in the summer. When the trees lose their leaves in the fall, that also helps with heating bills because the sun helps warm the buildings.
Environmental landscaping can also reduce labor costs. But there is no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape.
“You need to get plastic plants if you want that,” he said. “Every landscape requires maintenance. Local plant materials tend to require less maintenance, less water and less or no mowing. It cuts down some on maintenance.”
There is great concern about the decline of pollinators like honey bees, which have seen populations reduced by 90 percent in the U.S. since 1962, according to Greenpeace. About 30 percent of food crops are reliant on honey bees for cross pollination.
Plantings that provide food and habitat for honeybees and other pollinators are also becoming popular both because people like doing their part to help nature, and just because of the enjoyment of seeing bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds in the garden. And there is a boomerang effect: a healthy bird and pollinator population helps with the survival rates of just about everything in the garden from flowers to trees, Artunc said.
“Also, if you select the correct material for pollinator gardens, you do not have to replace them,” Artunc said. “The idea is if everybody does their part, collectively we will be able to turn back that disaster of losing the pollinators. This whole thing goes back to the idea of sustainability. Think globally, act locally. We are acting at the local level and hopefully, if everyone joins in the effort, it will do some good.”
Rainwater runoff is a major component of environmental landscaping. Artunc said the idea is to use designs and materials that allow rainwater runoff from your roof and paving infiltrate as much as possible instead of being running off into a pipe and dumped into a river.
“Using impervious pavement allowing water to recharge groundwater is very important,” Artunc said. “You may need less water to irrigate if you are designing the rainwater runoff so it goes into the ground. If the rainwater leaves the site quickly, eventually somebody downstream gets flooded. Some of the more progressive municipalities have strict stormwater controls. You can’t increase water coming off land after development. In some areas of the country like Maryland, Ohio and Michigan, there are regulations on developments as small as a quarter of an acre.”
Rainwater runoff can also contain pollutants from asphalt pavement, vehicles and chemicals placed on yards.
“All that is collected and ends up in somebody’s backyard,” he said. “The next thing you know, somebody downstream drinks it. Every drop of water on our campus ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. It may take awhile, but it will get there. So, we all need to preserve the quality of our water.”
Some of the largest landscapes that benefit from environmental landscaping include golf courses. Artunc said in some dry areas of the country like Arizona and parts of California, the only true grass seen on most golf courses is the greens. The rest have local native plant materials from cacti to native grasses.
“Amazingly, golfers have come to prefer natural looking golf courses as opposed lush looking landscapes,” he said.
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