The Guardian (UK) reports that many U.S. homeowners are removing their ”chemically-treated” manicured lawns and adding organic vegetable and fruit gardens, native plants, and other natural landscapes in their place. The movement is growing because “eco-conscious” consumers are learning more about the negative environmental impacts of conventional lawns. “Groups as diverse as urban garden clubs, environmental groups and wildlife protection groups are spreading the word that a big, lush lawn harms biodiversity and is an eco- disaster.”
U.S. lawns are grown from non-native grasses that use lots of water, pesticides and fertilizers. That even dark green color prized by so many actually requires the use of lots of chemicals. The use of these fossil-fuel-based derivatives are unhealthy for lots of reasons, but their production also creates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Steven Saffer, Audubon Society’s At Home program, said: “Lawns contribute to climate change. The fossil fuels used in fertiliser and pesticide production add CO2 to the environment.”
As has been noted by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the first rating system for sustainable landscapes, the total surface area of U.S. lawns is larger than any other irrigated crop. The Lawn Institute, which represents the $35 billion turf industry, estimates that there are now some 25 million acres of lawn, which have replaced ecosystems that once provided a range of local ecosystem services. Saffier said: “The nutrient, hydrology and nitrogen cycles that happen naturally in biodiverse ecosystems are completely absent in lawns.” Additionally, wildlife like birds and many insects don’t get much out of lawns — there is no natural habitat there.
According to The Guardian, almost all birds rely on insects for their food source. These insects rely on just two-to-three types of native plants. Audubon says one fourth of all U.S. bird species are in decline. “Populations of meadow larks and other grassland species in the mid-western U.S. have plummeted 60 percent, while interior forest birds, like scarlet tanagers, have also seen a precipitous decline.”
Birds may be declining because they can’t find insects to eat, but they are also negatively impacted by all the 90 million pounds of chemicals used to treat lawns each year. “Of the 30 most common pesticides used on lawns, more than half are toxic to birds and fish, and linked to cancer and birth defects in humans, according to the environmental group, Beyond Pesticides. Eleven of the 30 are endocrine disrupters, chemicals that interfere with reproductive and other hormones in humans and animals.” All those chemicals also filter off lawns into groundwater.
While lawns remain a status symbol in many places, some communities are helping to end the long reign of turf. Food Not Lawns, one organization, encourages homeowners to rip out lawns and add “fruit and nut trees, like pecans, walnuts and almonds, as well as vegetables.” Fritz Lang’s Edible Estates has also helped popularize the yard as farm movement (see earlier post). In fact, in many urban areas, small-plot lawns have already been turned into productive garden landscapes despite the many obstacles. For instance, in many local counties, zoning rules ban front-yard vegetable gardens out of fear that they will attract rodents or be visually unappealing and decrease property values (see an earlier post for a full discussion on urban agriculture).
Also, check out an example of one restrictive lawn-related zoning call that makes sense. A few wayward homeowners have been ripping out lawns and replacing them with fake plastic versions in an attempt to create the appearance of lush, verdant dark green lawns. The Press-Telegram in Long Beach, California reports that “today’s fake grass is made from polyethylene, a popular plastic, which is cut into ribbons. The ribbons can be custom trimmed into a variety of shapes and colors.” Local planning commissions in California are now limiting the use of synthetic turf.
Image credit: American Consumer News
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
There are many landscape features that make Kentucky what it is: limestone rock outcrops, durable plantings that take dry summers with infrequent downpours, and undulating hills of grasses. The rocks found on the site during construction were used to build mini retaining walls to add interest to the required berms to shield the parking lots from the street. The rocks formed backdrops for the plantings at the entrances and for the street trees. Grasses, easily maintained shrubs, and perennials form a multi-season landscape that work well in the Kentucky climate.
<a href=”http://www.verdantky.com/projects/2701-eastpoint-parkway/”>More on 2701 Eastpoint Parkway</a>
Friday, June 18, 2010
The Smith Residence shows how a very steeply sloped back yard can become its greatest asset. The slope of the yard meant water cascaded down the slope and would erode the soil in the shady part of their yard. Most of the time the area is dry (as many creeks in Kentucky behave) but while it rains, it controls the water. The dry creek swale, or shallow depression, slows the water down and allows it to soak in. The created swale is a point of interest in the yard and is low maintenance. Click here to learn more about the Smith landscape. Detailed design and installation was done by Boone Gardiner Nursery.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
This is an attempt to show the best process for creating tree components from photos. I also tried using Adobe’s new Photoshop CS5 tool, Refine edge, in the process. In terms of rendering a the photo’s edge, the traditional methods using Select by Color Range proved superior. SketchUp seemed to show Refine Edge’s marks in the .png of the tree.
The new technique that seemed to speed up the component process was using Photoshop to find the tree’s edge using the Magnetic Lasso tool, then converting that selection edge into a Work Path. The Work Path was exported to Illustrator, then exported as a .dwg. In SketchUp, the image is brought in as a texture and the .dwg is imported for the outline. With some scaling and rotating they are put on the same plane. The square surrounding the image is erased, the new .dwg outline is hidden and the component is made.
The largest benefit is the speed by which the outline can be created and the reduction in edges needed (999 in the dwg process compared to 2592, in this example).
Try the process and let me know if you have similar results.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
If you live/work along Frankfort Avenue, Downtown, or the Highlands, you need to try Soup By Cycle. Ian Ritchie delivers by bicycle fresh, homemade soup using local, organic ingredients. For us, it is terribly convenient: he drops the soup off frozen at the house and we pay him for the soup. He can even do a monthly soup subscription. Ian was featured in a C-J article where you can read more about him and his business.