Sometimes you must push through to complete a task no matter how much you don’t want to do it. That was the last piece of advice I gave out in 2021 to my son, encouraging him to complete all his work for the end of the semester. This thought will expand into 2022 in the hopes that people will come together for the betterment of the nation.

This semester I took a sustainable landscaping course at the Front Range Community College. (Shout out to Professor Saunders of HLT132!) I would like to share a little about what I learned. Creating a beautiful environment without harming the earth for generations to come is what sustainable landscaping means.

I grew up in the south and the land was lush and green, sometimes in excess. I came to Colorado in the 1980’s and had to learn about drought conditions, high desert and mountain environments. It takes a big effort to create a beautiful garden in a western back yard. Water restrictions makes you learn how to successfully grow plants and trees with limited resources in the west. Learning about the 7 Principles of Xeriscaping (Denver Water, look it up! It’s not just about cacti!) taught me about plant placement and tree selection based on  water needs in  order to create that cool backyard that everyone wants.

My original mentor (Val) was the mulch queen and she taught me so much about mulch. The clay soil must be amended and will promote healthy soil. I am an avid mulcher to this day and although the harsh conditions of these last two years saw the death of so many plants and trees, yet others, such as the natives she suggested, have survived over time with frequent mulch additions. “Right plant, right place” is a motto I will continue to live by when I am re-designing parts of the yard and, hopefully, presenting evidence to not only the Planning Department in my city but to other cities, to help refurbish and create sustainable landscapes in parks and open spaces. Reducing the heat in the land through tree canopy and shade structures will keep me outside for years to come. The mosquitos were less vicious this last year because I learned about how to control pests with “good bugs” and native “bug-friendly” plants, rather than pesticides. I hope that my efforts have saved contamination to the streams in my neighborhood with less deadly runoff from harsh pesticides.

How can we apply sustainability strategies and methods to the industry of landscaping in the areas of design, maintenance, and installation? First, in the future, embrace strategies such as “Do no harm” to people and planet. We can expand our beautiful gardens to our cities if we voice our opinions at the local government level. We can work with cities and private industries to create realistic goals to change at least one harmful thing every day. We can submit re-designs for landscapes that use the 7 Principles of Xeriscaping.

Work with city planners to create a sustainable landscape. Use native species to help renew the landscape, use less water, and provide decent air quality in the neighborhood. Make inquiries to the stormwater and water treatment managers to see if the reclaimed water is not creating more harm in the landscape. It is okay to ask the leaders in this industry questions such as How “clean” is the reclaimed water? Work with local governments to encourage changes to their equipment such as changing out gasoline engine tools and vehicles to electric and/or renewable resources. Create better open space areas and always lobby for planting more trees that will create a beautiful, cool, and clean corridor in your city! Lobby to raise wages so more parks and open space maintenance workers and advocates will be excited to seek this job market. Even if a city is building condominiums and apartments as fast as they can, it is still possible to make sure there is a pocket park and tree islands in these new builds.

The adage that “you are never too old to learn something new” holds true to this day. Learning about sustainability creates a skill and knowledge base that will help cut through all the negatives of others. When dealing with the public and government entities, remember that sometimes established work plans take precedent and innovative ideas might threaten the status quo. Help them get a new perspective on sustainable practices. Help them see “the light at the end of the tunnel” and that new ways are sometimes easier than the old. Government and landscapers must be on the same page from the beginning that this investment in time and money will be worth it for the future endeavors and thus create a new ethic and workforce beyond the throwaway society of the last forty years. Understanding your skillset is the most important aspect of your life. If you have ever watched Young Sheldon the episode “A Research Study and Czechoslovakian Wedding Pastries” brings home that being smart is only one of the skills that you need in life. Sheldon excelled in tests and facts, but Missy, his twin, excelled in people skills. Being able to combine those skills is part of a continuing education, the most important dynamic that will convince others to embrace your cause for a sustainable world.

Let us all get onboard for change. Help the environment. Help the climate. Make things happen. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Turn all the negative into positive action. Happy holidays everyone!

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