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Review and Give-away: Energy-Wise Landscape Design

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UPDATE:  Ramble-On Rose wins the book – congratulations!  The random number generator said “16” and her comment is the 16th.  Thanks to everyone for playing, and for your great comments.

A furniture and harpsicord maker in rural Massachusetts takes up the study of landscape design, establishes a residential practice, then gets herself a publisher to spread the gospel of eco-friendly landscaping.  Meet Sue Reed and her excellent book Energy-Wise Landscape Design. 

Don’t be misled by the title – it’s not just about where to plant shade trees.  It covers the whole eco-waterfront. Buying locally grown plants, avoiding peatmoss, conserving water, improving the
soil, filling our gardens with as many large, healthy plants as

On Lawns
About my pet issue Reed has lots to say and it’s a nice chunk of unusually helpful garden writing.
  After she stopped mowing 10 years ago, she still has to weed-wack to remove the 6-foot-tall Goldenrods and the woodies, and it’s “not a beautiful
wildflower meadow,”  but it sure beats lawn.  Love the honesty.  Also, “Taking care of this
landscape might require a bit more attention than you’re used to giving
your lawn.”  She suggests a “tidiness strip” to keep the neighbors happy, and recommends no-mow grass mixes. 

About lawn removal, she raises a problem we’d rather ignore: “The process of eliminating
lawn grass can consume quite a lot of energy – either in the equipment
that mechanically removes lawn or in the herbicides that chemically
remove it.”  

Her message isn’t anti-lawn but simply: Why have more than you need?  And if you DO have lawn, read her “Five Problems
with Conventional Lawn Treatment” and her on-target guide to caring for it responsibly. 

On Native Plants – a Nit-Pick
Reed is a graduate of the Conway School of Landscape Design, which she describes as “very idealistic”, and that idealism shows up in her discussion of native plants. “There’s no question that using native plants in our landscapes is a way to save energy.”  How?” By providing essential services that save on energy (resources,
time, money).  But her strict nativism bans even well adapted nonnatives that provide the same services (I’m looking at you, Sedums!) Also not okay are cultivars of native plants – species only.  Her designs use only native plants and clients seek her out for that, so “It’s all to the good,” she told me on the phone.  Also, “conventional garden beauty” is not her “main focus.”

That’s fine for the converted but what about the vast majority of potential readers?  Why alienate them by declaring that nonnatives either do nothing for wildlife, or actually harm wildlife by becoming invasive?  We need help choosing from among the thousands of (mostly nonnative) plants on offer – which ones are most self-sustaining, stormwater-retentive, and yes, useful for wildlife.  But to recommend against clover, Hostas, daffodils, Sedums??  (Yes, I’m on a tear for Sedums – more about that coming soon.)

But with that small caveat about a small part of the book, I wholeheartedly recommend Reed’s book for covering the eco-landscape in such a readable and (mostly) practical way.

The Give-Away

Leave a comment to win a copy before close of business Wednesday and I’ll choose one at random.  Your comment can say anything at all – except please, none of those short and nonsensical spammy ones.  (We’ve been inundated with spam comments lately, the somewhat smarter kind that responds slightly to the text or photos in the post.  But we’re onto you – and we’re deleting your spammy URLs!)

I guess I had another mini-rant in me there – sorry about that!

Posted by

Susan Harris
on August 2, 2010 at 3:23 am, in the category Everybody’s a Critic, Gardening on the Planet.


  1. I’m glad to see embodied energy beginning to enter the conversation about the costs and sustainability of gardening. The latest handbook from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, “The Climate-Conscious Gardener,” addresses this topic in a more condensed and, it sounds, accessible form.

  2. For a few years I became a “native only” zealot. However, I now mix natives with good landscaping flowers and bushes. Some of the natives were prone to aphids and downy mildew; so I gradually came to a balance about using the best of the natives with cultivars. I’m looking forward to reading “Energy-Wise Landscape Design.”

  3. I spent yesterday mowing wild parsnip, bindweed, mile-a-minute vine and the truly awful black swallowwort. I am trying to convert our weed-field into a more beautiful and useful meadow, but can only smother a small bit at a time. I would LOVE to read more about sustainable gardening!

  4. As I’ve said before here and elsewhere and Tara so eloquently puts…”Why would testosterone-on-wheels-mow-blow-go landscapers design something for their clients & design themselves out of a paycheck?” Until we provide a practical way for unskilled and marginally skilled landscape maintenance crews to make a living via organic and natural mow ‘n blow change won’t happen unless it’s mandated by law.

  5. I completely disagree with Tara. To establish a meadow is very labor intense. It is not easy to get the right mix of flowers and grass and to keep agressive plants at bay. The soil has to be amended. Weeds have to be pulled, regulairly for the first to years. The meadow has to be cut at the proper time to assure the flowers are not prevented from reseeding.

  6. My invasive removal methods involve hand removal. After you have lawn in an area it is a disturbed area and will allow invasive species to move in. Important to know, as restoring your land will involve species removal.

  7. I am a great admirer of the Conway School of the Landscape Design and their ideals, but I am not a purist. I think we have to be careful of invasives, but I think cultivars of native plants work well in our gardens and in the environment. One way I am eliminating lawn is by planting thyme as a ground cover. It spreads, never needs watering once it has settled in – which takes about 15 minutes and a single drenching – and recalls the romantic Thyme Lawn at Sissinghurst.

  8. I sort of feel the same way about pure-nativism…. it’s a nice idea in practice, but I don’t feel it’s very friendly for people getting into gardening, plus you need to start looking at cultivars if you want to see really nice looking plants. Invasive plants are, of course, bad guys… but why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

  9. I am an ardent fan of native plants, but like others commenting here I agree that they can be less disease-resistant, and purism is not all that helpful with new gardeners. Plants need to be evaluated individually based on their appropriatness for each site and its conditions.

  10. I have two areas around my house I’m trying to make nice. One is a border outside a fence and the other is a thin strip between two areas. Me efforts so far haven’t been going well.
    I need to start doing more intensive research, and this book seems like just the right thing!

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