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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan

Sustainable Landscapes

The term Sustainable landscapes has been tossed around for many years and all the buzz and misinterpretation of this idea persists. What is a sustainable landscape? Well by definition the word sustainable is " able to be maintained at a certain rate or level" and if we apply that to today's industry and marketplace I would say for the most part it is headed in the wrong direction. For 50 years I have worked in the green industry and from start to finish I have witnessed some appalling versions of what is referred to as sustainable landscaping in all aspects of the field, rich and not-so-rich. It takes more than money to achieve a sustainable landscape, it takes intuitive design, well-executed site analysis, skilled labour, and applicable quality materials both hardscape and softscape. Then followed up by timely seasonal maintenance relative to the ingredients.


Here's one of my earliest installations after 36 years. Clients have maintained this site with minimal changes ie. plant replacements and releveling of individual (locally quarried) dry-set flagstone pieces, along with annual composting of gardens to keep the soils rich and fertile.

So from an economic point of view after a landscape installation, it's up to the owner to either pay someone to or do it themselves. This is a perfect example of a sustainable landscape.


Now fast forward 36 years and here is one of our most recent design/builds of what I consider to be a sustainable landscape all done to scale physically and financially relative to the reality value and clients' aspirations.


The clients requests were low maintenance with a lot of seasonal colour and curb appeal. So I began with designing a landscape with no lawn and site-specific plant selections. This is year one!




But how? The 1st answer is Sedum mats. Nine low- growing varieties blended to provide colour and texture with both leaf and bloom. Sedum loves the heat and can endure moderate foot traffic from the local canine community. The neighbourhood is buzzing with interest as everyone stops and stares and says "Wow" what is that? Initial watering for approximately 4-6 weeks thereafter will never need attention to watering (pending the future of global warming) . Approximately every 5 years a spring or fall topdressing of compost will ensure a continuous lush low maintenance.

2nd answer all trees, evergreens, seasonal flowering shrubs and perennials are planted in a well-drained heavily composted soil blend with a thick 3-4" layer of cedar mulch. After the 1st season of timely watering and any wind-blown weeds removed (when young!) that show up this landscape will be as carefree as possible yet still offering a beautiful artistic realtive landscape with minimal timely maintenance.

  • Note the required cost of a lawn mower, weekly cutting and irrigation (hand or system), seasonal fertilizers, and weeding costs of two-three years max, and the sedum is paid for. Bonus a very sound investment! There's ample room for the woody plant selections to flourish through their life-span with minimal pre-spring pruning and top-up mulches until the plants cover the landscape.

  • All plant materials nurtured and supplied by Connon's NVK one of the industry's benchmark growers in southern Ontario.

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