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Gardening With Tony

Sustainability: More Than A Fad
Posted by Tony Tomeo on Aug 15, 2012 - 9:02:30 AM


LOS ANGELES—Sustainability is a good idea gone bad. It is often used as a marketing gimmick by those who actually have the least to gain from it. Really. Landscapers and gardeners would not have much business if yards really were sustainable and able to function without their help. The best gardens for landscapers probably compromise between being as sustainable as possible with a few more conventional features to keep gardeners necessary.

For example, conventional lawns happen to be among the least sustainable of landscape features. They need large volumes of water and continual maintenance, typically with gasoline powered mowers. Many lawns are gluttons for fertilizer. Yet, almost all landscapes have a lawn of some sort. Lawns are certainly justifiable for children and dogs.

The trick is to use lawn like rugs for the landscape instead of like wall to wall carpeting. If possible, it should not be an all purpose ground cover for whatever area is not landscaped with something else. It should cover only areas that will get used as lawn.

Bedding annuals are likewise far from sustainable. They need too much water and work, and get replaced seasonally. Even those that sometimes naturalize where a bit of water is available, like sweet alyssum, godetia and nasturtium, really do not perform quite like more pampered bedding plants do.

The best way to see sustainability in action is not in the pretty pictures in the brochures of landscape companies with something to sell, but in the worst of landscapes. Plants that survive in abandoned landscapes where lawns and bedding plants have died off are obviously more sustainable.

Bottlebrush, oleander and various junipers and yuccas may be stigmatized as 'gas station' plants, but earned that stigma by being so resilient and sustainable. The many types of cotoneaster, manzanita, wild lilac and rockrose are also worth investigating, (although wild lilac and rockrose do not live as long as the other shrubbery does.) Many types of eucalyptus, oak and acacia, as well as some palms, are among the more sustainable of trees.

Flower Of The Week: Sweet Alyssum


My neighbor describes sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, as a 'polite' weed. It naturalized over an area of her vegetable garden that was not in use at the time, but was easy to get rid of when the space was needed for something else. A few plants that were left in the perimeter bloom almost continuously and fill in other unused space between herbs and perennials without interfering with them.

As a bedding planting, sweet alyssum is most often planted from cell packs like most other annuals. Yet, seed is so easy to sow in bare spots among mixed annuals or perennials. Naturalized sweet alysssum sows seed so abundantly that new plants replace old plants before the old plants deteriorate.

Bloom is most often white, but can be shades of pink or purple. However, naturalized sweet alyssum eventually reverts to classic white. The minute, sweetly fragrant flowers form small, round clusters over the delicate mounds of finely textured and sometimes sparse foliage. The tiny leaves are only about an inch long and quite narrow. The largest naturalized plants are not often more than a foot tall.


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