Table of Contents

Sustainable Landscapes
   – working with Nature & other trends

The 70s see an increased interest in sustainability in the environment. This exhibits itself in recycling, composting, and other ‘green’ approaches to gardening, minimizing the need for pesticides, herbicides, and watering. There is also a reaction to the blandness of large suburban lawns, and some are replaced with perennial gardens, including hardy native plants attractive to butterflies and birds. Garden architecture, native grasses, ponds with circulating water and small fountains add to the garden experience. By the 1980s urban area gardens often include a boulevard garden, and rain gardens.

The Arts and Crafts and the Abstract Styles, with emphasis on low maintenance, native plant materials, and outdoors living spaces, merge and are the strongest influence in garden design. “The geometry of abstract art has been blended with the sensuous delights of arts and crafts gardens” (Turner, 1986).

1978 sees the first nursery in Minnesota to specialize in prairie seeds and restoration. The loss of habitat for wildlife, reduced maintenance costs, less run-off (cleaner lakes and rivers), and not a little nostalgia for the prairies of the 19c is a driver for restoration of public lands around city lakes, parklands and private properties.

Design firms after the 1980s begin to specialize in prairie restoration and more ecologic landscape design. Recognizing that all landscape is manipulated they design a landscape by going beyond an ecological solution, not necessarily one that simply looks ‘natural’. An ecologic approach does not provide a design method, but does suggest the use of natural ecosystem principles. These principles include less weeding, less use of chemicals, more native plants, layers of plant growth, species’ diversity, resilience, providing habitat to birds, beneficial insects, and small mammals (Turner, 1986).

By the first decade of the 21c, the idealized Romantic view toward nature is outdated. And yet, in this technologic era, the future stewards –our children, are more removed from nature than ever and may have difficulty relating individual choices to impacts on the environment. Direct experience with Nature, in hands-on children’s gardening programs is the best assurance that children will have a desire to work with nature. Rather than fearing, idealizing, or trying to tame it, working “with” nature will provide the responsible stewardship needed for the future.

Energy Efficiency
Fig.66, Solar panels to heat homes
Fig. 66
Smaller families, higher energy costs have an effect on design. Susan Suzanka, David Salmela and other local architects stress the advantages of smaller but more personally designed homes. Concerns about climate change are also affecting home and garden design. The 70s see the first attempts at earth-sheltered homes in the Twin Cities. Solar panels to heat homes and water (Fig. 66), green roofs on homes, businesses, and garages, and cisterns to utilize rainwater are becoming commonplace (Youso, 2007). Well-planned landscaping around a home can lower heating and cooling costs, screening the home from the hot summer sun while shielding it from cold winter winds. See other sections of the University Minnesota web site:, for guidance.

Feng Shui
In the 1990's Feng Shui (the ancient Chinese Art of Placement) is a popular approach to home decorating and garden design. The belief is that a person’s surroundings are a metaphor for their life, and that intentionally improving ones surroundings will have a positive effect on their life. The most visible characteristics meant to bring good fortune are wind chimes, a water feature and a red front door. While any design pleasing to the owner could have good Feng Shui, a distilled miniature Chinese landscape, using all the elements: fire, metal, wood, earth, and water is a good start. The elements may be represented symbolically as outdoor lights for fire, or anything white, circular for metal.

The Chinese garden is a symbolic representation of nature, inspiring transcendence, lacking the formal, and symmetric, with meandering paths allowing for surprises. Popular plants are “The orchid, the bamboo, the chrysanthemum and the flowering plum suggest[ing] the four seasons” (Thacker, 1979). For the western gardener, Japanese gardens may be a more accessible reference for garden layout but they are even more symbolic, and codified, with a very limited color palette – mostly lacking flowers. Japanese motifs for the garden are meandering paths, water features, moss beds, ferns, artfully placed stones and sculpture, and picturesque, weeping evergreens. Feng shui classes or professional practitioners are a good resource.

Rain Gardens 1990s-
Fig.67, Rain garden
Fig. 67
A growing concern for the impact of human activity on the environment is encouraging home owners, and commercial property owners to include rain gardens in their landscaping plans. Rainwater basins retain runoff from roofs, and pavement. This is especially meaningful when rain is diverted from large parking lots (Minneapolis provides storm water fee reductions to businesses installing rain gardens). The rain garden at left is in its third year, next to a commercial parking lot. It is showing beautiful results from a good design and modest maintenance practices. For the homeowner, rain gardens are near downspouts or on the boulevard. Not all plants are suited to fluctuating water levels. Most nurseries supply suitable plant lists and installation information. More information is also available on the University of Minnesota SULIS web site.

A short list of plants suitable for a rain garden could include Sweet Flag, Nodding Onion, Swamp Milkweed, New England Aster, Turtlehead, Rose Mallow, Prairie Blazing Star, Great Blue Lobelia, Black-eyed Susan, Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, Purple Meadow Rue, and Common Ironweed. It is helpful to select plants by the amount of sun at the location - some are shade tolerant while others prefer sun.

The future of Elm trees in Minnesota
In 1961 the first case of Dutch Elm Disease (DED) is confirmed in Minnesota. Because of the preference for planting elms in the early 1900s, this causes a dramatic change in the urban landscape. Inoculation of valuable healthy trees is available and effective for up to three years. Diseased elms may be saved if the disease is treated early. The spread of the disease can be slowed by prompt removal of diseased branches, or the entire tree if the infection is extensive. The disease has not run its course, and it will continue to attack older less resistant varieties of elms. There are breeding programs to create resistant elms, using Asian varieties with the same vase-shaped character. A single species planting is more susceptible to attack by disease and insect and fungal pests. For larger plantings it is advisable to plant a variety of cultivars such as the ‘American Liberty’ series, a group of six elm cultivars, which may reduce the risk of mass infection from DED or other diseases. No elm is completely resistant to DED, but the new varieties are worth trying.