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Landscape for Life: Put your Garden to Work!

by Alexandra Torres

Our gardens have both a responsibility to support life and the potential to provide incredible benefits. As our population and urban areas continue to grow, our natural areas and the services they provide are seeing a decline. Offsetting this decline by building healthy, productive landscapes “at home” is critical to sustaining life. The Landscape for Life program was developed to help homeowners harness the power of nature by creating gardens that work, offering essential benefits such as water storage and filtration, habitat for wildlife, and energy-savings through cooling.

In recent years the sustainable landscape movement has gained momentum, due in part to our built areas not living up to their true potential and the overwhelming rise in research supporting the many benefits offered by natural systems. A key advancement in this movement has been the development of comprehensive guidelines to assess sustainable planning, design, and development. The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), a follow-up to LEED building certification, is a voluntary system that provides credits for the development of healthy, productive landscapes. To date, 34 projects have received SITES certification, with many more underway. The ability to obtain certification is revolutionizing industry standards, compelling many landscape professionals to incorporate sustainable practices into their business models. Public desire to improve environmental health and conserve resources has certainly contributed to demand for improved landscape practices and increased resources.

Educating Homeowners

Derived from SITES, the Landscape for Life program was created to meet the demand for increased education and understanding of sustainable garden design. A major goal of the United States Botanic Garden and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in developing this program was to increase the accessibility of SITES and help homeowners realize that creating a sustainable garden is not only achievable, but also a practical investment. Small, smart changes in the way we garden and how we think about our landscapes can save resources and help us retain or restore benefits that are vital to life. For example, a simple effort to incorporate greenery into designs has been shown to provide as much as a 36 degree reduction in asphalt temperatures, a 7% reduction in landscape runoff, and a 52% reduction in crime.3,2,1

Landscape for Life Manual may be  downloaded at

Landscape for Life Manual may be downloaded at

To help guide homeowners in the design of their landscape, Landscape for Life offers a free educational toolkit. A key feature is the Student’s and Instructor’s Manuals that can be accessed and downloaded on the website ( These manuals were developed with the intent of building sustainable gardening networks within communities by providing the resources needed to teach locally-tailored courses in sustainable landscape design. Four major themes – plants, soil, water, and sustainable material use – are explored in depth. The functionality and ease of use of the manuals is supported by features such as a curriculum map, a pre-course questionnaire, lesson planners, guided discussions on each of the major topics, detailed activities, post-course discussion questions, and supplemental resource sections.

Teaching Tools

Those interested in teaching the Landscape for Life curriculum will also find additional support in the form of PowerPoint presentations for each of the lessons, which can be used as is or adapted to fit the requirements of the course. Train-the-Trainer webinars are offered to provide an overview of the program. Although all Landscape for Life materials are free and fully accessible, we strongly recommend participation in the online course. The course will connect you to a network of trainers who can provide valuable insights on topics such as effectively teaching and promoting the course, lessons learned in designing a sustainable garden and the use of inspirational garden features.

Sustainable garden, Taylor Residence, Kennett Square, PA

The sustainable garden at the Taylor Residence, Kennett Square, PA demonstrates many sustainable features.

To date, over 300 individuals have been trained to become Landscape for Life Instructors. Landscape for Life courses take many forms and are being taught both nationally and internationally at a variety of institutions, from public gardens to universities and community groups. Gardens resulting from the Landscape for Life, SITES and the sustainable landscaping movement are proving to be both beautiful and highly valuable parts of the larger community. The Taylor Residence, Kennett Square, PA (above) is SITES certified and features many sustainable practices that homeowners can replicate to improve the health of their landscape. A drip irrigation septic system disposes of wastewater onsite. The retention of hillside vegetation and the incorporation of bioswales, below ground cisterns, soil berms, wet ponds, and raingardens all help to capture rainwater and reduce flooding. Salvaged materials, including twenty tons of stone unearthed in the construction process, were transformed into steps, terraces, roadways, and retaining walls. We hope that examples like these and the Landscape for Life program will inspire the long-term health and productivity of your garden. Happy gardening!

If you have questions or would like additional information about the Landscape for Life program please visit or contact Alexandra Torres at


1. Kuo, F.; Sullivan,W. 2001. Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime? Environment and Behavior 33(3).

2. Miller, Alban L.; Riley, J.; Schwaab, E.; Rabaglia, R.; Miller, K. 1995. Maryland’s Forests: A Health Report. Annapolis: Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service.

3. Scott, Klaus I.; Simpson, James R.; McPherson, E. Gregory. 1999. Effects of Tree Cover on Parking Lot Microclimate and Vehicle Emissions. Journal of Arboriculture 25(3).

About the Author

Alexandra Torres works as the Environmental Education Specialist for the National Fund of the United States Botanic Garden. Her work focuses primarily on the development of sustainable programming and providing accessible education and resources to those wanting to create a healthier environment. With a BS in Environmental Science and a MS in Urban Forestry from the University of Maryland, she has great love and respect for native trees of the Northeast and a keen understanding of the critical role that all plants play in shaping a landscape and promoting long-term environmental health.

Visit to become a Friend of the National Fund. Support our mission of creating extraordinary educational programs that inspire the active stewardship of plants and the many natural resources that support life on earth.Logo.300