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Nature has been at work landscaping the world for eons.
Living in Colorado, we are fortunate to be immersed in many of the majestic landscapes created by nature – mountain lakes and streams, forests and prairies, meadows and alpine void. The ancient wisdom at our fingertips is immense, so we need to ask, “How does nature landscape?”
Then we must apply this knowledge, as professionals in the landscape industry, to create balanced, harmonious landscapes.
When we started Wild Heritage Gardens in Boulder County in 2016, we were determined to follow Mother Nature’s lead by providing Earth-centered, all-natural outdoor sanctuaries for our local community.
By observing nature, we can see a terrifically self-sustaining model at work: cyclic actions built to create an efficient land management strategy. Through the various seasons, we see how nature cultivates just what it needs. No more and no less.
We sometimes hear the adage echoing, “but it’s always been done this way,” referring to industry standards. Yes, the standards are important and valuable, but what is not of value is when standards do not consider the future impact on the earth.
While the industry has made great strides in recent years, it has done harm to the environment.
We do not believe it is irreparable, but the industry needs to continue to evolve, and the time is now.
Ethical, nature-based landscapes – key components
It seems that, historically, most humans have wanted to control nature, instead of working with it.
When we step back and observe how nature works, we see creation of diverse, living, natural landscapes providing healthy habitats for pollinators, birds, insects and other wildlife, while also reducing the heat and CO2 released into our atmosphere and returning water to the aquifer.
The important sustainable principles discussed below might sound familiar but worth revisiting in a new light.
Xeriscape: It is one of the main requests from clients, but we have seen time and time again how this is often misunderstood, poorly designed and poorly executed.
In Colorado, nature creates low water, low maintenance landscapes by integrating cooling plants, trees, shrubs and groundcovers to retain moisture and suppress weeds. A human-built xeric landscape with excessive amounts of rock, weed cloth and pesticides kills the microbiome, and the microbiome is the life of the earth.
Drainage: Building bioswales, rain gardens and dry rivers to reuse water on the property not only decreases pollution downstream, but also provides water to plants on the site and slows stormwater runoff. The goal of proper drainage is to slow the water – diffuse it, use it, clean it, sink it, and send it back to the aquifer.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that as development continues, “…we replace forests and meadows with buildings and pavement. And now when it rains, the water runs off roofs and driveways into the street. Runoff picks up fertilizers, oil, pesticides, dirt, bacteria and other pollutants as it makes its way into the storm drains and ditches – untreated – to our streams, rivers, lakes and ocean. Polluted runoff is one of the greatest threats to clean water in the U.S.” (www.epa.gov/soakuptherain/soak-rain-what-problem).
Lawns: The average lawn uses 55,000 gallons of water a year per 1,000 sq.ft.
Converting 100 lawns to low use water gardens, could save 5.5 million gallons a year!
Many conversion options exist.
Overseeding a high-water lawn with a lower-water lawn seed, such as clover or a Colorado native grass mix, is a great way to reduce the water consumption.
Plugs are available for buffalograss and blue grama grass.
For clients who want sod, a lower water fescue can replace thirsty Kentucky bluegrass.
Introduce clients to options such as veronica, thyme, Greek yarrow or Mount Atlas daisy as we have with clients. Mix and match for a great design.
Weeds: Weed cloth is a common commodity in the landscaping world, but should it be?
Although it prevents weeds from the base, it does not prevent seeds from blowing on top of the mulch or soil and making a home. Nature is in constant procreation mode. Seeds blow and weeds grow where there are negative spaces, so by designing a landscape with abundant native or Plant Select plants and low-water ground covers, we can combat the weeds without the use of chemicals.
Source Local: Colorado has a wonderful selection of natural stone and many other products.
Using natural flagstone, cobble and boulders from local vendors, brings the natural beauty of Colorado to our client’s backyard along with locally grown, native plants.
The project we showcase below, highlights a few practices Wild Heritage has integrated into our designs and installations.
Books and Berries project
In 2021, a client came to us wanting to remove their front lawn and reduce water use, while creating a habitat for pollinators and a yard with year-round interest that also incorporates a ‘little free library’ at the front sidewalk. A main design goal was to use and move the water from the gutters into dry rivers that flow through the pollinator gardens and ground cover areas.
To traverse the dry river swales, we installed a path with natural flagstone bridges leading to the patio and gardens.
We also incorporated woolly thyme, veronica
and clover for low, green areas, which provide a place for art sculptures and an area to walk through the bountiful gardens throughout each season.
The ‘little library’ area includes boulder seating and a berry patch for children in the neighborhood to have a place to learn and read in the midst of raspberries, blackberries, honeyberries, strawberries, gooseberries, thimbleberries and more.
One concern was how to establish separation between public versus private space.
We added a low garden fence behind the row of berry shrubs to provide division while the hedge of berries grows in.
We look forward to seeing how this garden flourishes over the years to come!
Adapting to nature’s way
The urgency of consistently engaging in practices that protect the planet cannot be overlooked, particularly with advancing climate change and water shortage in the dry West.
Polluted waters and declining biodiversity are screaming for us to do things differently. As Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese philosopher and farmer known for ‘natural farming’ said, “…rain grows from the ground up. Our climate is destabilizing because we are stripping the earth of her natural clothing.”
We get that some in the industry may be defensive or resist, but by collectively reexamining our practices and bringing our clients onboard to help them understand, we can reduce water consumption and help heal the earth’s microbiome and still enjoy our landscapes.
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At Wild Heritage, we are committed to following nature’s lead and nurturing the deteriorating microbiome by minimizing pesticide use, and curb water use and polluted runoff.
Written by: Jody Ash & Wesley Cooper, Wild Heritage Gardens, Ltd.
Photos by Emily Sierra Photography and Wild Heritage Gardens©