Plants for Landscape Design
When it comes to landscape design many people often think of pretty flowers and lush green gardens. Though this is probably true in many cases, plants have a lot more to offer than just looking pretty. A thoughtful design utilizing herbaceous plants can make a site sustainable by providing habitat to animals, protecting water quality, increasing biodiversity, as well as adding social benefits like minimal maintenance and increased property value. Using certain herbaceous plants in landscape designs can contribute to the overall goal of making our planet more-sustainable as a whole.
What is Sustainable Design?
According to the General Service Commission (GSA) “Sustainable design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments” (GSA.gov).
Sustainable design should:
- Minimize non-renewable energy consumption.
- Use environmentally friendly products.
- Protect and conserve water.
- Enhance indoor environment quality.
- Optimize operational and maintenance practices.
Native Plants Role in Sustainable Design.
The real importance of native plants is something that is often overlooked in landscape design. One of the greatest benefits of native plants in the landscape is that they are usually self-sustaining. Plants like the Purple coneflower fall under this category, as they can tolerate dry soil, clay soil, drought, and pests like deer. Though this may not seem particularly revolutionary, what it means is that homeowners don’t have to use extra water on this plant (and many other natives) to ensure its survival. They end up both conserving water and saving on utility costs which helps lower the overall environmental footprint that we, as a species, leave on our planet.
For example, the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is not only good at being self-sustaining but it also attracts birds and butterflies. This is another benefit of using native plants in the landscape, as they can create habitat for native wildlife species. As our cities and farmland expand, we continue to destroy animal habitat, it becomes our duty to provide refuge for some of these animals. The easiest way to bring habitat back to some of these native species is by planting the native plants that were lost to urban and agricultural-related expansion. Adding mass plantings of native grasses like Little bluestem (Schizachirium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) or wildflowers like Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), False Indigo (Baptisia australis) and Blanket Flower (Gailardia rigens) are great ways to provide habitat for a plethora of animals, primarily bees, butterflies, other pollinators and birds.
Using Herbaceous Plants to Protect Water Quality
One of the biggest modern day dilemmas is runoff-induced problems caused by fertilizers for lawns, and pesticides in agricultural land. Thanks to modern suburbia everyone wants to have the greenest lawn. Though this is a symbol of the American dream, it has caused fertilizers and weed killers to be washed away after heavy rains, causing pollution when they eventually reach our waterways. The good news is that herbaceous plants, if used strategically, can mitigate a lot of this contaminated runoff.