Publications (Paul's Blog)

April 29, 2010

Futurescapes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Dowlearn @ 2:30 pm

The future of landscaping is on the brink of radical change. At present, we are beginning to see some cities and communities incorporate ordinances or covenant agreements that involve land use, plant selection, and/or irrigation options. The following statements are my opinions on where the future of home landscaping is headed in the very near future.

Water will, of course, be the driving force behind political action at the local, state, and federal levels. Without a doubt, we are the last generation that will waste water by spraying it up in the air. Evaporation and runoff will be all but eliminated by the mandatory use of drip systems. At present, many cities all over the U.S. either have ordinances in place or they are moving in this direction. Our irrigated farms in the Texas Panhandle are steadily switching over to drip. The Ogallala aquifer continues to drop and many fear that the end of irrigated farming in the Panhandle is near. Bottom line is that as our population continues to grow the demand for fresh water keeps going up. The supplies keep going down.

Besides drip, another option that is gaining popularity is water collection. The only problem with this has been that most people visualize the old rain barrel that was common with previous generations. A fifty gallon drum may supply enough water for a few potted plants on the porch but just isn’t enough for a large vegetable garden, a hungry lawn, or a bunch of new sapling trees. We need to think bigger. Truth is, if we could go back in time to visit grandpa or great grandpa we would find that these folks dug huge cisterns or dammed the creek to make ponds. The rain barrel was just a convenient source.

I predict water collection has a bright future, especially for city dwellers that don’t have room for a pond or water well. We have recently begun selling recycled fifty gallon drums and two hundred fifty gallon plastic containers at the nursery.  Interest in these has been good. We also have access to tanks that will hold thousands of gallons and these are large enough to really make a difference. My wife and I have about five thousand gallons of collection capacity. We rarely have to haul supplemental water and we do not pay a water bill at the house. No kidding!!

As xeriscape (dry landscape) techniques become the norm, plant selection will become critical. Your local native plant species will be the obvious best choice. Notice I stated local natives. At present, buzz words on plant tags like native, heat tolerant, drought tolerant, and so forth are relative terms. You must question native to where, how much heat, and how long a dry spell can the plant really endure? All plants are native to somewhere……….Right? Thirty five inches of rain per year would be a drought in Florida, about normal in the DFW Metroplex, and a flood in El Paso.

The criteria for choosing plants will be based on average rainfall. Some cities have recommended plant lists while others have ordinances that require native or well adapted plants be used in all new construction.

Unfortunately the traditional wholesale plant industry is located in areas that receive thirty five to forty inches (or more) of annual rainfall. In Texas, most wholesale growers are found east of I-35. This is not a good situation for those of us living west of that line. However, this too is beginning to change. We are seeing wholesale growers in West Texas and the greater Southwest. These folks are doing quite well providing dry country plants for their particular needs. Consequently, many of these plants require an arid environment so they are not easily grown in humid, high rainfall locations where most of the big wholesale operations are located. Plants that are grown locally for local consumers will be the wave of the future. We need more growers who will specialize in local natives and plants that will adapt to local conditions.
Another major factor that is impacting home landscaping is the use of the land itself. Habitat gardening is becoming popular even in crowded neighborhoods. Many people have found they enjoy planting for birds, butterflies, or simply wildlife in general. Texas Parks and Wildlife offers a certified “Wildscape” program that has been very successful, especially among city dwellers.

For those with larger properties, Parks and Wildlife has another program that is growing exponentially. This program allows tax exemption for people to leave acreage as natural habitat and develop food plots with water sources for deer, turkey, and quail. This also results in the general well being of all the creatures that live in the wild. Wildlife sanctuary programs work better for people who buy property for recreational use rather than following the old guidelines of growing hay and feeding cattle for agricultural exemption.

The latest issue concerning land use is carbon sequestration. Apparently there is a new program where landowners are paid to leave acreage in its natural state as a repository for carbon. Seems our politicians are beginning to understand the value of green spaces to remove carbon from the atmosphere. At any rate I feel it worth mentioning even though I don’t know much about it. Those who have large properties may find it worth checking into.

There are also some housing developments that are leaving sizeable portions of natural areas for the common use of residents. Some of these developments have covenant agreements that each resident leave a certain percentage of their property as natural habitat. These communities are very appealing to those enjoy the great outdoors for whatever reason.

As a naturalist and landscape professional, I am very pleased with this movement toward a sustainable future. The challenge of working with new ideas and native plants has been a blessing. The best part of it all has been the success of our clients. People say they want low maintenance. Following Nature’s plan and incorporating better technologies is the best way to reduce cost and have more time to enjoy the benefits. Even an older property can become an example of the future of landscaping. Just replace those high maintenance plants a few at a time and think along the lines of living with Nature rather than attempting to control her.

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