Keep Landscaping Green!

Don't forget about lanscaping! Site design can greatly improve the comfort of a home.

Sustainable Landscaping

Today, our construction industry has evolved to the point where almost anything is possible. Topography no longer halts man, and land can be cleared, flattened, paved, etc. Historically this was not the case, and traditional landscape design considered the site, in terms of orientaion to the sun and the topography of the land. Native plants were used simply due to their availability and the cost associated with importing exotic plants.

However, over time, the possibilities expanded, and today they seem almost limitless. The transition to exotic plants, fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial agents magically transform gardens and landscapes - however, not without costs to the land. Today, the fields of conservation and sustainable landscaping articulate many of the principles used historically in landscape design. The use of native plants, solar shading with trees, the capture and re-use of rainwater, and limiting impervious surfaces are common traditional landscape practices. Returning to these principles not only treads lightly on the environment and the natural site, but can also improve the comfort of a home, while lessening energy consumption by relying on natural features.

Deciduous Trees

Shade trees block the rays of the sun from entering the house. Historic bulidings are often shielded by fully-grown deciduous trees, which provide summer shade. Deciduous trees along the south and west sides are particularly effective and can greatly contribute to cooling of interior spaces. Upon losing their autmn leaves, these deciduous trees also allow winter sunlight to heat the building. Trees and other landscaping can also direct prevailing breezes, improving ventilation and the air quality in the house.

Native Plants

"Designing with native plants marks a return to commonsense gardening, to landscapes that restore biodiversity. Diversity is the rule in nature. Native landscapes should resemble the natural community models. It seems logical to use plants that have evolved in the region because they are adapted to the climate and often require less maintenance. Although most native shrubs are deciduous, they provide a lot of design options and feel-good benefits of doing something that enhances wildlife habitats. Native shrubs benefit wildlife by providing cover, food, and nesting habitat. Shrubs benefit from wildlife aiding pollination and seed dispersal.

The first basic questions to be addressed relate to the physical conditions of the site. What geographic area or region is the project? Is the site sunny, shady, wet, or dry? What are the soil conditions? Is the soil pH acid, alkaline, or neutral? What are the landscape needs: screening, foundation plantings, accents or perhaps erosion control? Once these parameters are decided upon, then design and plant selection can begin.

Native shrubs can fill design needs for flower, fragrance, fall color, and define spaces as outdoor rooms. The wonderful thing about designing with native shrubs is the opportunity to do something different and natural while staying within tried and true design principles. For example, instead of traditional foundation plantings, the focus should be on loose groupings of several species. This approach breaks the monotony and affords a variety of color, textures, and forms.Some of my favorites are Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra), Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginicus), Summer Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), and Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). These are very hardy and versatile shrubs that provide a lot for the money. In our urban landscape, there is often a need for a privacy hedge. Some great evergreen choices are Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), and Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) which can serve as a large shrub or small tree. A sampling of large shrubs for shade to part shade is Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Catawba Rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense), Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Possumhaw viburnum (Viburnum nudum), and all the native azaleas. These are just a sampling to the many choices, so investigate the options. Native shrubs can offer new frontiers for American gardeners and return many of us to our roots. The excitement comes from breaking the landscape mold and from doing the right thing by landscaping for wildlife and enhancing our understanding and respect for nature. Happy gardening, and — go native!! - Rick Huffman, Lowcountry Native Plant Society Upstate Chapter President

Beware of Buildings

When landscaping around your historic home, it is important to keep plants, trees and shrubs away from the actual building. Plants close to buildings trap moisture and can create problems for the building in terms rot and rising damp.

Rainwater Capture

Thoughtful landscape design can also help conserve resources and save money, with traditional features like rainwater cisterns to collect water for re-use. Historically, rainwater cisterns were commonly used for water conservation and rainwater irrigiation. Today, this traditional feature has inspired a revival of modern cisterns for rainwater capture and re-use. Again, cisterns not only save water, but also save money!

Stormwater Management

Hardscape such as asphalt pavement and other impervious surfaces cause water runoff. Imagine after a strong rain, water collecting gasoline from parking lot surfaces and causing runoff into our streams, rivers and ocean. Stormwater management requires a balance of "grey space" such as hardscapes and "green space" or softscapes such as lawns, gardens, and fields that can absorb water naturally.

The best way to achieve this is to honor that natural conditions of the site. Where paving is required, explore permeable paving such a brick pavers, often seen on historic properties. Today, permeaple asphalt and concrete are also available.

Community Gardens

Community gardens provide much needed green space relief in urban environments. Not only do they contribute to the preservation of open space, but also ensure the sustainable use of that space. Sometimes 'green' buildings fail in that regard. These simple plots of land not only beautify, but most importantly provide space for the community to come together and grow. Literally. These gardens help raise environmental awareness, promote healthy lifestyles, help children learn new skills, strengthen community bonds, and provide food! In Charleston, the Charleston Parks Conservancy and the Charleston Horticultural Society make great efforts to establish the resources needed to start community gardens around the City. Check out their websites to learn more on gardening workshops with master gardeners, plant sales and more information on local community gardens!


Community Garden at the Corner of Bogard and Rutledge
Green beans, jalapenos, mesclun lettuce, collards, potatoes, basil, banana peppers, sugar snap peas, carrots, cherry tomatoes and many other delicious veggies are harvested in the Bogarden! Not to mention the Bogarden won a Charleston County Community Pride Award when community members installed rainwater harvesting system to re-use rainwater for garden use!

Lowcountry Community Gardens Blog!

The Lowcountry Native Plant Society

Invasive Plant Species of South Carolina

The Charleston Parks Conservancy

The Charleston Horticultural Society