Steele: Let Mother Nature maintain your yard

I was delighted to read Don Burnett’s column in the June 5 edition of the Capital News, headlined   ‘Save natural state of hillside lots.’

Frequently, new homeowners come to my xeriscape class to find out how to recreate the natural beauty that attracted them to their property.

Unfortunately, the native vegetation was destroyed in the building process, leaving disturbed soil infested with invasive weeds.

Sadly, it is very difficult to restore what has been lost.

Putting a true value on natural landscapes is long overdue.

Natural landscape

“Building with Nature,” by Andy Wasowski, is an excellent book detailing how owners and builders work together to maximally preserve the natural landscape. Used copies of this are available online.

I strongly recommend it to anyone involved in land development or construction as well as those planning to have a home built.

In Kelowna, we have a wonderful example of this method of building by the late John Woodworth, a prominent architect and ardent conservationist (founding and 25 year member of the Nature Trust of B.C, chair of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, co-founder of Brandt’s Creek Marsh, and recipient of the Order of Canada for conservation work).

As his final project he designed a home for his wife and himself on the extremely steep hillside beside his long-time residence.

His goal was to preserve the natural vegetation on that slope with less than a six-foot perimeter of disturbance around the narrow, three-storey home. All but the top floor is built into the slope.

Each time I visit the hillside below the house I am astonished at his achievement.

Preserving the natural landscape is the easiest, most cost-effective way to landscape. It provides both immediate and long term savings.

When thinking about this in the context of the Principles of Xeriscape, or water-wise gardening:

Mother Nature has taken care of the design cost. There is no need to install or maintain a costly irrigation system or pay for water to irrigate.

There is no need to improve the soil as the plants are already growing and adapted to the soil they are in.

Existing plant roots will hold the soil to prevent erosion. There is no weekly mowing and trimming of lawns.

Where the ground has not been disturbed, it will be covered in natural vegetation which prevents weed growth so there won’t be much weeding.

There won’t be any need to fertilize or mulch.

The natural mulch formed by vegetation dying back in winter and leaf/needle drop, will gradually break down and feed the plants.

The plants are all well adapted to the climate so will thrive and not need replacing.

There will be a diversity of plant species that will attract a diversity of birds and beneficial insects to take care of insect pests.

This leaves lots of time to relax and enjoy the Okanagan sunshine.

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