Try native plants, rock gardens

My residential design/build landscape architecture firm tries to design new and

remodeled outdoor living spaces with both the recent economy and environmental trends in mind. This economy presents challenges to designers and builders to become more educated about the many creative solutions that can be aesthetic, environmentally conscious and even more profitable. The recession has, in effect, helped our business grow as clients are not taking as many vacations, and are spending more time and discretionary income on improving their properties.

Green matters

Although we deal with high-end clients, they remain concerned that their projects are green. Initial costs for a green project might be higher, and they want to know the investment will pay off in the long run. For example, when designing and installing swimming pools and spas, we use high-efficiency variable-speed pumps, LED lighting and automatic covers to reduce heat loss.

We have been designing and installing lower-maintenance gardens and employing the practice of xeriscaping wherever possible. Xeriscaping is landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment following seven principles: planning and design; soil improvement; appropriate plant selection; practical turf areas; efficient irrigation; use of mulches; and appropriate maintenance. We try to minimize the amount of turf we install and encourage the installation of native gardens and meadows. In the New York suburbs where I practice, this sometimes can be a tough sell. It seems ingrained in the American psyche that plush, green, weed-free lawn areas are a symbol of success.

Water issues

Another trend we have been encouraging is the installation of permeable paving where feasible. Although my clients want natural stone for their terraces and walkways, we are encouraging them to set the stone on a permeable base. We install turf block-style paving for overflow and additional parking areas with great success.

Runoff is a major concern to anyone designing hardscapes. Most municipalities we work in have instituted zero additional runoff policies. Therefore, we no longer can let water from our terraces, walks and drives run off onto the property or out into the municipal system. We are trying to stay away from installing concrete or plastic dry wells and taking a greener approach by designing bio swales and rain gardens. Runoff is directed into these areas that have permeable soil and plants that can withstand very wet or dry conditions. They work great and the clients love the fact that they are doing their share to go green.