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The Place and Time

by Jack Pizzo

The time of critical mass is approaching. All around us we see green initiatives. The kids see it at school; we see it at work; we see it when we play. We hear about why a product or service is the one to buy because of some green ingredient or process. I saw it just the other day on the interstate. Crews had ground up the asphalt and used it right then and there to repave. No waste. The public is demanding that companies be more responsible, and they are acting. Being “Green” is good business.

As a Landscape Architect, Horticulturist, and Nurseryman working with the landscape industry, I have seen more interest than ever before in ecological services. We receive requests to incorporate native plants from all sectors of the market. The projects range from wide open prairies and meadows to green roofs and from native trees, shrubs, and perennials in the landscape to natural areas restoration.

A traditional landscape can incorporate native plantings with beautiful results.

The push is on to make our land use decisions more sustainable. So what is keeping sustainable landscaping from dominating the landscape? In two words: Beauty and Function. We know that landscapes today are an aesthetic and functional exercise, so if the landscape fails at the former then the later does not matter. If it satisfies both then we have a landscape that people enjoy.

Achieving Functional Beauty

Aesthetics are a big part of acceptance of sustainable landscapes. Weeds! I hear that all too frequently when people mention a landscape that is not mowed and sculpted. How do we win the battle of beauty and tip the scale? Simple, use the right plant in the right place and always maintain the landscape.

Parking lot bioswales, shown right after planting and two years later, are good locations to utilize native plants being careful not to overfill the space.

The right plant is a function of finding the right species or variety that fits the space. Generally native plants have flowers that produce seed. If that seed is viable and lands on the right soil conditions then we have new plants. That is good where there is lots of space to handle ever increasing plant numbers, but in a small space that can be a problem. Too much plant for the space and it looks unkempt. Species or varieties spreading to other planting beds looks disorganized. Not all spaces in the urban and suburban landscape currently have a native plant to fill them. Therefore as we tip the balance towards sustainability do not feel pressured to fill all spaces with natives. Use them where you can, and your landscape will be beautiful. As demand grows we nurserymen will produce more and more species and varieties that fill those niches.

Don’t go wild! Random native plantings are fine where they have space. Plant a small space with a diverse mixture and eventually you will have one or two dominant species. You will have promised all season color that the planting cannot provide. A disappointed client is sure to follow.

Handling Maintenance

Maintenance! One of the early failures of sustainable landscapes and natural areas restoration was a complete lack of maintenance. We all know when the soil is disturbed that the weeds soon grow. Sell a sustainable landscape with a maintenance package or requirement. Know what weed/invasive species are likely to need attention and plan for it. If you are the designer and a contractor is doing the work, then specify performance standards not means and methods. That way you can hold them to the standards. I mentioned seed production previously so here is the upside. Collect that seed and distribute across the site to increase diversity in low diversity areas or to fill in bare areas. When you have abundance then move species from site to site in a seed exchange.

This swath of land evolved from a plain-looking maintenance obligation to a colorful prairie on its way to limited stewardship.

The scale is tilting our way. Now is the time to make every square foot count. When we cause the scale to finally tilt in a sustainable way, the landscape in all directions will be beautiful, functional, and biodiverse.

Three years after native plants were installed in this homeowner’s association stormwater management area, dead sod has given way to a restored wetland teeming with life.

About the Author

Jack Pizzo is the owner of Pizzo & Associates, Ltd., Native Landscape Contractors LLC, Pizzo Native Plant Nursery LLC and Ecology and Vision LLC. The Pizzo Companies provide full service ecological consulting, contracting, stewardship and native plant material to the mid-section of the country and beyond. As a Landscape Architect and Horticulturist he has blended the fields with ecological restoration to bring a 21st century, practical, hands-on approach that creates beautiful and award winning projects.