Sustainable Landscaping

 July 2011

By Abby Edwards VanMuijen

When I hear the phrase “drought tolerant” or “native planting,” the first image that used to pop into my mind is a yard coated with dirt and cacti—really ugly cacti. Somehow my imagination failed to draw from the 5,862 other plant species that are native and have adapted to the water-sparse California climate.

When I used to think of “greywater retention and reuse”, I imagined a stream of homemade sewage trickling through my flowerbeds, replacing the smell of fresh roses with that of a fresh Port-a-Potty. Assurances of California sanitary codes for greywater systems often failed to deter my silly imagination.

“Recycled yard materials” used to prompt images of plastic bottle fences adorned with crushed Diet Coke cans, “permeable paving” called forth images of paths made out of sponges and “drip irrigation”—well, I know what that is—but for some reason, every other phrase associated with sustainable landscaping brought forth images of unfortunate outdoor spaces.  Luckily they are only the images of my imagination.

Contrary to popular belief, sustainable landscaping is not about transforming your yard into a desert or a wastewater treatment plant.  Just as an architect pays close attention to sun exposure, wind currents, rainfall, and other natural conditions when designing a sustainable building, landscape designers utilize information about the soil characteristics, native plant species and the local climate of a site to create a more sustainable outdoor environment.

Sustainable landscaping employs drought tolerant plants (which I assure you are not all cacti) because they require less water and less money to grow and flourish. Greywater recycling systems are installed to transport the water that is otherwise wasted from your laundry and shower facilities to the thirsty plants in your yard. Don’t worry toilet water and kitchen water still goes to the sewer. On a more advanced scale, recycled greywater can even be stored alongside the walls of your home and used to provide insulation— saving you money on water and heating/cooling needs for your home.

Sick of running your sprinklers at 2 am? A drip irrigation system helps to concentrate and monitor the level of water being delivered to your flowers, bushes and vegetables while ensuring that your pavement is receiving the proper saturation—zero.

Recycled and Reusable materials—Construction waste is one of the largest contributors of waste to landfills. Wood, stone, mulch, cement—you name it and someone has some sitting around or is trying to throw it away. Reusing materials is not only less expensive than purchasing material that has been freshly chopped or mined, but it helps to preserve natural resources and limits the amount of waste we send to landfills. Sustainable landscaping involves designing a plan for an outdoor space with a conscious effort to conserve water, energy and resources.

As you can see, there are a multitude of options to pursue if you are looking into any level of sustainable landscaping. Companies like CK Landscaping in Danville work with clients who are hoping to make their yards more sustainable by creating individualized plans that are cost efficient, maintainable and save incredible amounts of water. At the same time, their designs still provide the aesthetic quality and beauty that any stunning outdoor space ought to possess.

Obviously not everyone is ready to jump into a full-throttle backyard renovation, but I want to emphasize the fact that sustainable landscaping doesn’t necessarily require a large commitment—just a will to participate.  Like most other aspects of sustainability, it’s important to create a focused project or learning opportunity that you have the time, budget, and genuine desire to follow through with.

Start by looking up a few drought tolerant plants that you could plant in your yard this summer to reduce your water needs.  A terrific resource is ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer – Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region’ written by East Bay Municipal District (EBMUD).  This lovely ‘coffee-table’ book is widely available at bookstores, at Heather Farm (whose master gardeners contributed to the content) and even for loan from the library.  Flipping through the pages of flowers, trees and bushes will definitely banish visions of arid wastelands.

Bring a chair or blanket and join Sustainable Danville Area for our July 20th monthly forum (6pm @ 379 Diablo Road, Danville).  Our hosts, Bill & Teresa White, Allstate Insurance Company of Danville welcome us to their lovely, tranquil courtyard under the stars.

Our speaker Alex Cartwright, CK Water Systems & Landscape Development, is a certified Water Conservation Manager that will share his wealth of knowledge from domestic and Australian education in Ecology, Bio-stimulants for soil and plant well being, Greywater/Rain Catchments systems and Sustainable Landscaping.  For more information, please visit:

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today News