It’s getting warmer: Creating a garden that fights back againstclimate change

Courtesy of Tanya Kucak 
Globe gilia, which offers both pollen and nectar, attracts honey bees, green sweat bees and mining bees.

Is your landscape a carbon source or a carbon sink, and why does it matter? Which gardening practices will help your landscape stay healthy and make your home and garden more comfortable as warmer summers and more unpredictable weather patterns continue? How can you help birds and pollinators as well?

In the 306 well-organized pages of their book "Climate-Wise Landscaping: Practical Solutions for a Sustainable Future" (New Society Publishers, 2018), landscape architect Sue Reed and botanist/gardener Ginny Stibolt offer answers to such questions.

The book is comprehensive enough to serve as a reference and inspiration for seasoned landscapers yet accessible enough for beginning gardeners. Although little of the information is surprising if you’ve been paying attention to the latest science on ecological gardening, pollinator preservation, biodiversity or water and energy conservation, it is heartening to find so many practical, state-of-the-art solutions in one place.

Each chapter focuses on a specific area: lawn, trees and shrubs, water, ecosystems, soil, planning and design, herbaceous plants, urban issues, food and materials. Following an introduction laying out the issues, each chapter has several action topics, subdivided into specific actions.

The practical actions Reed and Stibolt describe are intended to meet one or more of the following goals.

• Shrink the carbon footprint of each landscape.

• Adjust landscaping practices so that gardens can flourish despite challenging and unpredictable conditions.

• Support birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife as they adapt to changing conditions.

In the chapter on lawns, the authors note that conventionally managed lawns are a carbon source: "Liberating lawns from artificial fertilizers, pesticides and unsustainable irrigation ... is the easiest and most significant earth-friendly and climate-friendly action that homeowners, communities, schools, businesses and municipalities can take ... and the underlying soil will be able to sequester more carbon." The chapter offers further solutions for managing lawns of every scale in a more climate- sensitive way.

Action items

What makes this book stand out is the explanations of each topic and action, plus well-formatted background material. You can leaf through the book to see the action items highlighted in bold, then read the reasons behind each action. Not only that, each group of action items has a "why this matters" section. Short sidebars give details on supplementary topics such as co-evolution (of plants and insects) and types of mulch. Longer sections offer "a primer on ..." such broad areas as water chemistry and plants, soil carbon and ecosystems.

Ecological responsibility, and creating an aesthetic that expresses our values, is the overarching theme.

"Our gardens and yards are places where, with just a slight shift in attitude and some minor adjustments in our practices, we can be part of the remedy. … Millions of us can take the countless small actions that will be needed to help curb and reverse climate change," the authors state.

A useful companion to "Climate-Wise Landscaping" is the free 36-page online booklet from Cornell University, "Gardening in a Warming World," which offers systems thinking as a tool to inform garden-management decisions and advises keeping a garden journal to enhance observations. d

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