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Natural Landscaping, The Old Paradigm

by James P. Engel, © 2003

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The hand of man is evident everywhere on the landscape, but nowhere is it more evident than around his dwellings. Drive through suburbia and especially through new developments and you will quickly notice that the same pattern of controlled, regimented and sterile landscaping is replicating itself across the landscape. Apparently 99.9% of the population chooses to live in a landscape devoid of natural processes, of wildlife, unable to support the native populations of flora or fauna. Only where development has imposed itself upon existing woodland, do you see the remnants of nature haphazardly preserved in a cluster of trees. Everything else has been stripped away and molded into an unchanging repetitive reproduction of suburbia.

Today’s residential landscapes are constructed using a standardized recipe. A landscape designer or homeowner chooses from amongst a standard list of landscaping plants bred and grown only to please the eye. These plants are developed for color, shape, texture or flower but seldom are they chosen for their ecological value. The plants are then arranged in a geometric pattern around the foundation of the home. The remainder of the yard is then planted to lawn with the addition of a few strategically placed trees to provide shade, accent the house or break up the large expanse of lawn. This type of landscaping although visually appealing to many people creates the biological desert I referred to earlier.

The modern lawn is the foundation of our human managed habitat. Where ever humans tread lawn is sure to follow. It is used in every possible way and place imaginable. Its blessing is that it creates a very resilient, uniform, colorful, clean, low growing surface that is comfortable and easy to walk on and pleasing to look at. Its blessings to humans are its curse to nature and the environment. It has become a curse because it is so amenable to the needs of people that it has become an unrecognized ecological plague. Nothing larger than a mole can survive in a habitat comprised solely of mowed grass and wherever people live this sea of grass continues to spread displacing everything in its wake. I believe it is not so much development that displaces wildlife but the attendant manicured lawn and contrived landscapes that cannot support wild things. Wildlife can and does thrive in close proximity to people if given suitable habitat. Even the most densely populated metropolitan areas have wildlife where nature is allowed its due course.

Arguing against the pervasiveness of the green lawn and its incumbent problems is as futile as wishing away the automobile and climate change. Lawn is and will always be a necessary component of the human landscape. But with a few simple shifts in design philosophy the modern landscape can transform itself into an ecologically friendly landscape while creating a visual feast for the senses.

This page posted September 10, 2004