Sustainable Garden Design

“Sustainability: to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

World Commission on Environment and Development (1989)


A couple months ago I agreed to do a tweetup on  #gardenchat. I had first wanted to do something on natural pest and disease control since most of Canada has banned pesticides for home use. But Brenda Haas, moderator of #gardenchat, felt it already been covered.  I put my thinking cap on and came up  with “Sustainable Garden Design.”



Brenda loved the topic. And so off I went. Little did I know at the time how complicated the topic would be. And that everybody and his dog uses this very hot buzzword indiscriminately. But here are some of the basics so that you can easily follow along on #gardenchat this Monday, June 25 at 9 pm ET.


Before we plunge into nitty gritty of sustainable garden design, we need to know what “sustainable garden design” means.


A good definition for our use comes from the Norman Booth and James Hiss’ Fifth Edition  Residential Landscape Architecture. To paraphrase:

A “sustainable garden design” is a process of creating a durable self-perpetuating garden with minimal expense of energy and maintenance.

 And it is also a garden that not only suits the climate and terrain (with minimal impact on the land) but it also supports the health of all living creatures within the site.


What makes a garden sustainable is a complex issue.  It takes time, thought and analysis. But it’s not impossible. Whether it is a new garden or a garden renovation, the best way to create a sustainable garden is through the design process.


How do we accomplish this?

The garden site should follow 6 principles:

  • Fit the regional context
  • Have minimal site impact
  • Restore damaged sites
  • Coordinate with natural events and cycles (sun, wind, rain, earthquakes, fire etc)
  • Reuse and recycle
  • Create a healthy environment



And after all is said and done, how will we know that the gardens were have created are sustainable or not?


For gardeners sustainability in the garden is measured by:

  • How efficiently we use earth’s resources (i.e. hardscape materials & plant choices, repurposing, recycling)
  • Whether our use is part of resources’ natural cycle and allows them to be replenished (think compost)
  • How much waste is created (grass clippings, pruned material, plastic pots, use of fossil fuels & pesticides etc)


Now, if your current garden doesn’t meet these criteria, take heart.  We are going to cover step by step the different factors involved in creating a sustainable garden.


Hopefully I will be able to cover all the material in an hour. Regardless of what happens, at least we are having a dialogue in creating better gardens for our planet.


To follow the conversation on Monday, June 25 at 9 pm ET,  log onto Tweetchat with your Twitter
account and put in gardenchat in the box.

Written by Cristina da Silva
Saturday, June 23, 2012 in Soil in Landscaping

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  1. Great idea. I imagine use of native plants must also be part of a sustainable garden design, considering the local ecosystem and the wildlife that we share it with.

    • You are right, Kathy. Native plants, nativars (cultivars of natives) and plants that originate in similar soil and climate conditions, are an integral part of sustainable garden.

  2. Jeavonna Chapman says:

    Really helpful post. Thanks for the information.

  3. Jeavonna Chapman says:

    Please remember some tips for us urban dwellers.

    • Since more than 80% of all Americans and Canadians live in urban centres, the conversation *better* include urban dwellers! Not to do so would be short-sighted. Yes, I do wear glasses… 🙂

  4. Bren says:

    Looking forward to the twitter event tonight … I’m hoping to learn some more planting ideas that will make my garden smile!

  5. I enjoyed the article and am happy to be joining-in with #Gardenchat this evening to learn more.

  6. Topic with a lot of meat to it. I appreciated your time. Thanks a ton. :-D~

  7. Astrid says:

    Hello Cristina
    I follow your blog on a regular basis and it is terrific!
    I also think your blog is “lovely”, therefore I nominate you for the One Lovely Blog award!! Congratulations! You can find the rules on my site

  8. Kate says:

    Love this post, Cristina! I’m especially fond of the definitions of sustainable gardening. It’s so important!

    • Absolutely, Kate. The definitions made all the difference when I guest hosted #gardenchat. I found out that everyone had their own idea about sustainable gardens. Many times it wasn’t a sustainable garden 🙂 People confuse sustainable gardens with edible gardens that make gardens more self-sufficient, self-reliant.

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