Friday, November 05, 2010

Energy-Wise Landscape Design

Friday, November 5, 2010

35° here on the mountain with rain pouring down since it woke me at 4:30. Still too dark to see what's been happening all night but my guess is the snow that was a possibility remained as heavy rain. Yesterday afternoon as the new front moved in, large snow flakes fell until dark so there was that question of what would materialize. Karl the Wonder Dog is a great weather dog as he refuses to budge from dog dreams this morning, sleeping but fully aware that it's not too pleasant out there.

Sometimes publishers or authors send me books to review. I love the respect to be asked to comment but I always feel guilty in how long it takes me to respond. I treat each book as if I wrote it myself and I ponder, reread, make notes, rewrite and finally complete the opportunity. Back in September I received a special book from New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia. I have to say that late summer is not the greatest time to send me anything as work at the nursery is intense and reading is not on the list. But now it is.

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden by Sue Reed is a special book representing an incredible mix of science, history, botany, math and physics combined with great writing, descriptive image references and sound ideas. Sue is a graduate of the Conway School of Landscape Design and a registered landscape architect. You needn't read many chapters before it is abundantly clear that she is organized, skilled at research and competent in pushing critical landscaping issues to the front. Do you notice I love the book? I do! Here are some personal analogies.

A couple weeks back Gail and Alex and I went to the Shelburne Museum. I was intent on seeing the Ansel Adams/Edward Burtynsky exhibit, walking the decks of the steamship Ticonderoga, reading medicine bottle labels at the apothecary, and sitting in the Bostwick Garden admiring Stephen Procter's giant garden urns. But as we entered the Stencil House, a house originally built in 1804, my hand landed on the door sill as I entered the place. I stopped as I noticed my hand completely surrounded the entire width of the house wall suggesting a time when home insulation was obviously not the priority it should be.

This encounter reminded me clearly of the lessons Sue Reed offers in Energy-Wise Landscape Design. How a home is built and how it is situated on the land to take advantage of wind and solar to heat and cool are topics the author covers from a scientific, meteorological and practical approach. As I exited the house and looked back at the grass surround and lone apple tree "landscape", Reed's lessons rewound for me. Her method of presenting concepts on energy efficient landscape design obviously worked for me and they will for you too!

For the past several years I have been on a crusade to get people to think differently about what they plant around their homes in New England. Sue doesn't make this sound like a crusade but we both promote the same concepts. Planting trees and shrubs under the eaves of northeastern homes makes no sense for a variety of reasons. Ice and snow destroy plant material over time and planting trees or shrubs that will grow to cover windows or interfere with rain gutters, shingles and pedestrian traffic flow just doesn't make sense. Sue's book starts with situating a new home or reinventing the landscape of an existing home. In both opportunities she guides the reader through an evaluation of the merits of the surrounding land relative to soil composition, ground water, light and wind.

Somewhere along the line Sue must have read Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall as she indirectly mentions "good neighbors" relative to fences, parking cars, and placing high activity areas where they respect need for mutual owner-neighbor privacy. These are all critical issues and deserve priority long before the planting begins.

I enjoy the organization the book displays and the summaries at the close of each chapter. Sue defines needed "actions" and follows up with design tips, images, specific explanations of relative associations. In Chapter 9, Using Water Efficiently, one of the action statements is "Manage Runoff with Topography". Water management has become a giant topic in America and here in Vermont legal challenges in Chittenden County have mandated that builders, home owners, and zoning administrators consider what happens with water on a property. Everyone is mandated to survey how much runoff derives from every flat surface on one's property. This translates to total square footage from roofs, driveways, walks, patios and recreation areas--any hard surface that leads to runoff. The days of water runoff from a development heading for a storm drain, into a brook and into the lake are no longer acceptable.

Energy-Wise Landscape Design discusses understanding and use of native plants and stresses buying plant material locally. Sue does an excellent job explaining the need to make the best use of all resources and to spend time up front with design to the long term benefit of the entire property and budget. This is dear to me as a nurseryman because I spend time each day explaining to folks very common things like why their zone 8 box store plant didn't make it in zone 4 Marshfield, Vermont or how tall their "in-front-of-the-bay-window" conifer is really going to grow.

Sue Reed should be proud of her book as I am proud of her for writing it. It's a serious book that should be required reading for all building and landscape architects, Master Gardeners, garden designers, landscape and building contractors and plant and soil science students and staff. As a book it would make a great radio or television garden show as every chapter is a story unto itself already well prepared for production. It's not the same as when I pick up a book by Vermont author Chris Bohjalian and don't want to put it down until it's finished. Energy-Wise Landscape Design is a book I have already picked up and put down so many times that dog ears are forming, margin scribbles are more noticeable and I recommend it every time I can. If you get a chance, order it from you local bookseller or my favorite 'big" store, Borders. And don't forget to check out New Society Publishers--they really are ahead of the curve. Thanks Sue, please keep writing!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the contractors have headed to the pond for winter construction projects while two doves sit on the empty platform feeder waiting for food. Sorry birds, no food in the feeders until the bears go to sleep.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as George Africa and also Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
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Shona Martinez said...

We are all familiar with the need to use energy wisely. The title of the book 'Energy-Wise Landscape Design' instantly caught my attention. At the very least, we should all welcome new developments as regards more efficient energy use.

Shona Martinez

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