Like most discussions of sustainability, the questions and responses at a recent council candidate forum focused on water and energy use. Listeners could have been forgiven for thinking that gardens have little to do with a sustainable environment or concluding that they are by nature counterproductive to it. They would have been very wrong, though.
A sustainable city is one in which people want to live and that means it needs to have features that attract them and keep them there. We continually hear about Claremont being a “city of trees”, but imagine for a moment that all plants but trees were suddenly wiped out—a pretty desolate picture. Our extensive urban forest is only part of the reason visitors know when they have entered or left the city limits.
But, apart from making areas look inviting, do gardens have any sustainability benefits? Indeed they do!
First, some obvious economic benefits are that beautiful surroundings attract new city residents and commercial enterprises. Buying plants and gardening supplies and employing maintenance firms support local businesses.
Second, there are social sustainability benefits. Considerable evidence shows that working in a garden or just sitting and enjoying the green stuff and the animals that live in it reduces stress and improves health, both of which promote better interactions with other people. And gardeners love to share plants and info, and donate surplus fruit and vegetables to food shelters. Home-grown food often uses fewer pesticides as well.
And third, environmental benefits certainly can balance and often outweigh what many see as environmental costs. How so? Well, although plants do require water, good garden design and sensible plant choice can substantially reduce water usage. Plant coverage shades the ground, cooling it and reducing evaporation from the soil. The water that transpires from the leaves cools the surrounding air and raises local humidity, in turn helping to reduce water loss. This also reduces air temperature around a house, and can reduce the need for air conditioning in hot weather. Shrubs slow down wind which can wick heat from a house in winter.
Plants act as filters, cleaning pollutants from both the soil and the air and release oxygen for us to breathe. They reduce our carbon footprint by absorbing carbon dioxide. They retard erosion and the movement of pollutants into runoff and storm drains and slow down water so it can percolate back into the soil.
Many gardeners grow edible as well as ornamental plants. Being able to harvest a lemon, lettuce, or rosemary outside your door eliminates the need to drive to the store, saving energy and reducing carbon emissions, as well as other environmental costs of transporting food. Gardens provide living space for wildlife and help maintain populations of pollinating insects which are crucial to our food supply.
Bottom line: Everything comes with a cost. Even gravel and other hardscape materials require some water and energy for production, transportation, installation, and cleaning. They can reflect light and overheat the surrounding area, they don’t provide wildlife habitat or nourish the soil, and their health benefits are limited.
If you use good sense, then the overall benefits to you individually and to the city as a whole of having a garden filled mostly with plants are more than likely to outweigh the costs in energy and water.
So, reap the benefits of creating a beautiful garden! For help and inspiration:
- Come to Garden Club meetings!
- Take a look at the Garden Club information on sustainable gardening and garden design.
- Go on the April 9 Garden Tour.
- Check out fellow gardeners’ floral skills or show off your own at the free Flower Show on March 10th and 11th
- Dates and info for all of the above can be found at www.sustainableclaremont.org
Demystifying Sustainability is an initiative of Sustainable Claremont (susustainableclaremont.org).