What is Sustainable gardening? | The Garden Artist
Sustainable gardening includes the more specific sustainable landscapes, sustainable landscape design, sustainable landscaping, sustainable landscape architecture, resulting in sustainable sites. It comprises a disparate group of horticultural interests that can share the aims and objectives associated with the international post-1980s sustainable development and sustainability
programs developed to address the fact that humans are now using
natural biophysical resources faster than they can be replenished by
Included within this compass are those home gardeners, and
members of the landscape and nursery industries, and municipal
authorities, that integrate environmental, social, and economic factors
to create a more sustainable future.
Organic gardening and the use of native plants are integral to sustainable gardening.
Main articles: Sustainability and Sustainable development
After the establishment of sustainable agriculture in the early 1980s it was some time before the emergence of Sustainable Horticulture (as sustainable production
horticulture) at the International Society of Horticultural Science's
First International Symposium on Sustainability in Horticulture held at
the International Horticultural Congress in Toronto in 2002. This
symposium produced "conclusions ... on Sustainability in Horticulture
and a Declaration for the 21st Century".
The principles and objectives outlined at this conference were
discussed in more practical terms at the following conference at Seoul
Many of the eco-friendly principles and ideas espoused by
sustainable gardens, landscapes and sites perpetuate sustainable
practices established as a reaction to resource-intensive industrial agriculture.
These practices were established as movements for self-sufficiency and
small-scale farming based on a holistic systems approach and ecological
principles. Included here would be: biodynamic agriculture, no-till farming, agroecology, Fukuoka farming, forest gardening, organic gardening and others. On a larger scale there is the more recent "whole farm planning" which was established in 1995, and ecoagriculture
established in 2000, and other variants of sustainable agricultural
systems. Perhaps the most influential of these approaches is permaculture, established by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren as both a design system and a loosely defined philosophy or lifestyle ethic.
Permaculture shares many principles and practices of the above but not
the broad philosophical base as indicated by the title of the 2002
publication Permaculture, principles and pathways beyond sustainability.
The application of sustainability principles to the horticultural
sphere has now become broadly accepted in commerce and academia.
The American Sustainable Sites Initiative is an interdisciplinary approach used by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden
to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for
sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices: it was
founded in 2005. Using the United Nations Brundtland Report’s definition of sustainable development as a model, it defines sustainability within its own sphere of reference as:
...design, construction, operations and maintenance
practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs
by attempting to:
...protect, restore and enhance the ability of landscapes to provide ecosystem services that benefit humans and other organisms.
Principles and concepts
global biophysical cycles and ecosystem services for the benefit of
humans, other organisms and future generations has now become a global
The method of applying sustainability to gardens, landscapes and sites
is still under development and varies somewhat according to the context
under consideration. However, there are a number of basic and common
underlying biological and operational principles and practices in the
sustainable sites literature.
management of man-made landscapes emulates the natural processes that
sustain the biosphere and its ecosystems. First and foremost is the
harnessing the energy of the Sun and the cycling of materials thereby
minimising waste and energy use.
Running within, and dependent on, the natural economy there is
the production and consumption of goods and services in the “human
economy” which has now significantly altered, in a detrimental way,
natural biogeochemical cycles (notable here are the water cycle, carbon cycle and nitrogen cycle so sustainable practices maximise support for ecosystem services.
The use of native plants
in a garden or landscape can both preserve and protect natural
ecosystems, and reduce the amount of care and energy required to
maintain a healthy garden or landscape. Native plants are adapted to the
local climate and geology, and often require less maintenance than
exotic species. Native plants also support populations of native birds,
insects, and other animals that they coevolved with, thus promoting a healthy community of organisms.
Plants in a garden or maintained landscape often form a source population from which plants can colonize new areas. Avoiding the use of invasive species
helps to prevent such plants from establishing new populations.
Similarly, the use of native species can provide a valuable source to
help these plants colonise new areas.
Some non-native species can form an ecological trap in which native species are lured into an environment that appears attractive but is poorly suited to them.
However, in Britain research by the University of Sheffield as
part of the BUGS project (Biodiversity in Urban Gardens in Sheffield) 
has revealed that for many invertebrates - the majority of wild animals
in most gardens - it is not just native plants which can sustain them.
The findings were published in popular form in Ken Thompson's book 'No
Nettles Required: The truth about wildlife gardening'. He confirms the approach which Chris Baines had promoted in 'How to Make a Wildlife Garden' .
of ecosystem services is encouraged throughout the lifecycle of any
site by providing clear design, construction, (operations), and
To be sustainable over the long term requires environmental, social and
economic demands are integrated to provide intergenerational equity by
providing regenerative sustainable systems. Operational guidelines will
link to and supplement existing guidelines for the built environment
(supplementing existing green building and landscape guidelines), the wider environment, and they will include metrics (benchmarks, audits, criteria, indexes etc.) that give some measure of sustainability (a rating system) by clarifying what is sustainable or not sustainable or, more likely, what is more or less sustainable.
Impacts of a site can be assessed and measured over any spatio-temporal scale or context.
Direct and indirect environmental impact
Impacts of a site may be direct by having direct measurable impacts on biodiversity and ecology at the site itself or indirect when impacts occur away from the site.
Compost heap at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The following are some site principles for sustainable gardening:
- do no harm
- use the Precautionary principle
- design with nature and culture
- use a decision-making hierarchy of preservation, conservation, and regeneration
- provide regenerative systems as intergenerational equity
- support a living process
- use a system thinking approach
- use a collaborative and ethical approach
- maintain integrity in leadership and research
- foster environmental stewardship
Measuring site sustainability
major feature distinguishing the approach of sustainable gardens,
landscapes and sites from other similar enterprises is the
quantification of site sustainability by establishing performance
benchmarks. Because sustainability is such a broad and inclusive concept
the environmental impacts of sites can be categorised in numerous ways
depending on the purpose for which the figures are required. The process
can include minimising negative environmental impacts and maximising
positive impacts. As currently applied the environment is usually given
priority over social and economic factors which may be added in or
regarded as an inevitable and integral part of the management process. A
home gardener is likely to use simpler metrics than a professional
landscaper or ecologist.
Three methodologies for measuring site sustainability include BREEAM
developed by the BRE organisation in the UK, Leed, developed in America
and the Oxford 360 degree sustainability Index used in Oxford Park and
developed by the Oxford Sustainable Group in Scandinavia.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative
is producing recommendations for the American Landscape Industry. The
standards and guidelines finally adopted will lead to a uniform national
standard, which does not currently exist. Sustainable Sites is
currently in the pilot program stage, and will formally introduce its
first rating system by 2013.
The U.S. Green Building Council supports the project and plans to adopt
the Sustainable Sites metrics into future versions of its Leadership in
Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System. Sites are
rated according to their impact on ecosystem services: The following ecosystem services have been identified by the study group:
- Local climate regulation
- Air and water cleansing
- Water supply and regulation
- Erosion and sediment control
- Hazard mitigation
- Habitat functions
- Waste decomposition and treatment
- Global climate regulation
- Human health and well-being benefits
- Food and renewable non-food products
- Cultural benefits
- Fossil fuels
- Embodied energy and water
- Ecology & biodiversity
- Hard landscape materials
- Energy & water
- Green waste
- Ecology & biodiversity
- Old hard landscape materials
- Old equipment
- Old products
kind of auditing or benchmarking will depend on the selection and
weighting of the metrics chosen; the depth and detail of analysis
required; the purpose for which the figures are required; and the
environmental circumstances of the particular site.
Sustainable development portal