As in real estate, so in sustainable landscape architecture: Location is everything. A successful coastal Florida garden is going to require some very different elements than one in California’s Napa Valley. “Everything really depends on the site,” says Lauren Stimson, principal at Stephen Stimson Landscape Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is known for its agrarian approach and sensitive use of local materials.
Highly considered landscapes are all unique. However, several common denominators connect sustainable gardens everywhere. Water usage, native plantings, efficient irrigation, managing storm-water runoff, and reducing lawns are key elements to success, regardless of climate or clientele.
“Whether it’s in Santa Fe or Annapolis,” says Ron Radziner, design principal at Marmol Radziner, a full-service architectural design-build firm in California known for forging connections between indoor and outdoor spaces, “our goal is to use plantings with the most appropriate use of water. Being drought-tolerant doesn’t preclude a beautiful garden,” says Radziner.
From a homeowner’s perspective, saving water simply makes economic sense, especially in drought-prone regions like California, where some towns and cities have begun restricting usage and fining for overages. But even in places like coastal Florida, the constant sun means high-maintenance landscapes can be expensive to keep up.
For a project in Palm Beach, Florida, landscape architect Keith Williams’ client asked him to keep her water bill almost impossibly low at $500 or less per month. Nevertheless, Williams delivered a lush, romantic design that met the parameters by limiting the use of turf to just the entry and pool surround, and locating water-loving plantings in the shade. An advanced irrigation system also monitors weather and humidity, and uses drip irrigation, rather than a mist, which can quickly evaporate. Williams, partner and vice president of Nievera Williams in Palm Beach, explains that designing for water efficiency is part of the standard service he provides.
Lower-maintenance plants also require less water, so native plants and cultivars, naturally, are part of sustainable garden design. For a project in Maine, SSA used native ground covers harvested from nearby sites. Keeping existing…