Eco Landscaping Courses
Sustainable Landscape Design

The Sustainable Garden

Every intentional village we design includes a design for a sustainable landscape. We also teach a member of the community how to maintain the landscape once it is installed. However we also offer courses on Sustainable Landscape Design to the general public on a regular basis.

The main goals of sustainable garden design are to conserve water and energy, reduce waste and decrease runoff. In order to achieve these goals residential gardens should treat water as a resource, value soil, preserve existing plants and conserve material resources.

Principle #1 - Treat Water as a Resource

The demand for water is at an all-time high. Wasteful irrigation accounts for over one-third of the residential water use in the United States. Additionally, rainwater is treated as waste and allowed to flow into gutters and sewers. A sustainable landscaping approach would be to treat water as a valuable resource. With proper design and plant selection, the need for irrigation can be reduced or eliminated. Furthermore, rainwater harvesting can be to capture stormwater on site and use it for irrigation.

Principle #2 - Value Your Soil

It's likely that your garden's soil is compacted. Compacted soil leads to problems such as restricted plant growth, erosion, runoff and flooding. Runoff caused by compacted soils is one of the main sources of water pollution.

Principle #3 - Preserve Existing Plants

Many homeowners want to remove all the plants from their property so that they can start with a clean slate. Often this ends up doing harm because it disrupts the natural processes occurring in the yard. A sustainable landscaping approach would be to assess the existing plant material and preserve native plants. Invasive, non-native plants should be removed and replaced with a more appropriate choice. Right plant, right place is a popular saying that should guide your plant selection.

Principle #4 - Conserve Material Resources

The typical American landscape produces high amounts of yard and construction waste. Additionally, many of the hardscape materials used are energy-intensive and transported hundreds, or even thousands of miles. A sustainable landscaping approach would be to reduce yard waste by selecting appropriately sized plants and reusing and recycling construction waste. Furthermore, building materials should be carefully selected, using locally sourced materials whenever possible.

The Sustainable Landscape

Howver the principals of Sustianable Landcaping take to to another level and begins to treat the entire site as an eco system of interedependant relationships

The Edible Forest Landscape

The Edible Forest Landscape takes it to a whole new level of providing not only a healthy eco system and biodiversity, but a community of plants selected to also feed a community of humans in the process. This is permaculture in action and one of the prime objectives of most of our intentional community designs.

While each edible forest landscape will have unique design goals, a forest landscapes in general has three primary practical intentions:

These three goals are mutually reinforcing. For example, diverse crops make it easier to design a healthy, self-maintaining ecosystem, and a healthy garden ecosystem should have reduced maintenance requirements. However, the edible forest landscape also has the goal of improving the health and well being of its humans.

Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodlandlike patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems. You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden. If designed with care and deep understanding of ecosystem function, you can also design a garden that is largely self-maintaining.

In many of the world's temperate-climate regions, your garden would soon start reverting to forest if you were to stop managing it. We humans work hard to hold back succession—mowing, weeding, plowing, and spraying. If the successional process were the wind, we would be constantly motoring against it. Why not put up a sail and glide along with the land's natural tendency to grow trees? By mimicking the structure and function of forest ecosystems we can gain a number of benefits.

The Benefits

Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees form an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruits swelling on many branches—pears, apples, persimmons, pecans, and chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy. They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other lesser-known fruits, flowers, and nuts at different times of the year. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies. Others act as soil builders, or simply help keep out weeds. Here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbors with fruit hanging through the foliage—hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. Their bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky. This is an edible forest garden.

The Design

At its simplest, forest garden design involves choosing what plants to place in your garden in which locations, at which times. However, these seemingly simple acts must generate the forest-like structures and functions we seek, and they must also achieve your design goals. A forest garden design process, then, must be information intensive if it is to achieve even moderately complex objectives. Therefore, we begin by articulating the goals and assessing your garden site. Then we select and apply design patterns, ecological principles, and plants in such a way that you integrate your goals and the site into a coherent whole. The challenge is to array the available design elements to create a set of ecosystem dynamics that will in turn yield the desired conditions of high yields, maximal self-maintenance, and maximum ecological health as inherent by-products of the ecosystem.

One can use design patterns drawn from natural ecosystem examples or invent your own patterns that solve specific problems your design faces to help accomplish the objectives. Patterns also arise from the requirements of the goals themselves and from a deep understanding of the site's characteristics. The goals guide the site analysis and assessment, and the site assessment informs the design


The beauty of the Edible forest Landscape is that it mimics the structure and function of forest ecosystems—this is how we create the high, diverse yields, self-maintenance, and healthy ecosystem we seek for our the gardens in an Eco Village.

Take a look at some of the Intentional Communities we have designed. Copyright © Earthwalk Inc.