Sustainable Landscapes in the NYT


Check this out and let us know what you think of it – coz it’s already generated some potentially juicy disagreement.

I saw it this morning and reacted strongly against the "gardens" shown in the slide show.  Not exactly spaces I’d find myself drawn to – to enjoy the beauty of a wide variety of plants at their most lush and healthy.  Really, aren’t landscapes this austere destined to appeal to an awfully small audience?

Then I see Ketzel Levine’s interesting reaction to the story. First she’s right-on in coming to the defense of xeriscapes because they CAN be absolutely gorgeous.  But then she takes exception to this quote from the article:

… the message of conservation and environmental
responsibility cannot be couched in punitive terms if it is to succeed.
"People shouldn’t have to make a choice between beauty and
sustainability," Ms. Cochran said. "Our work is designed so that I am
able to say to our clients during a presentation, ‘Oh, and by the way,
its also sustainable.’ "

Ketzel’s criticism being:

It’s a solid-enough article for the NYT, but if you’re not among the
privileged and the monied –who often seem to lack the great, good
sense that they have to share the planet — this last quote may stick
in your throat.

My throat’s pretty clear of obstacles and I’ve expressed those sentiments myself, so readers, please enlighten me.


  1. I’m just glad to see that “sustainable” is something higher echelon garden designers are thinking about. Maybe there will be a trickle down effect so that more gardens will be designed to be sustainable and that more garden centers will cater to this.

    And speaking of sustainable, one of my premises is that it’s sustainable to prepare your garden areas for disasters. I enlarged some of my rain gardens this year and now tropical storm Fay is sitting off the coast near Daytona dumping ever so much rain on us. We are slated to receive up to 15 inches (!) of rain (but not too much violent wind) between today and tomorrow. We’ll see if the rain gardens can handle the volume–so far they have.

  2. I read the article twice and it just seemed so fake to me. Are these ideas real? are people really talking about this, in this way? using these words? I move in some pretty powerful horti-circles and nobody shares these views. I’ve never heard anyone complain about xeriscaping involving ugly plants (or seasonally ugly plants), or that sustainability is such a hard sell.

    Maybe I need to read it again.

    Maybe I need new friends.

    The expression of the conflicts just comes off as forced, like they are trying to sell an idea they had, a conflict they perceived, but when I look out at the real world it just isn’t there. At least, not in my world.

  3. Hang on, I hit the POST button too quickly. What bothers me in that last quote is that it implies that smart, “sustainable”, and environmentally sound design needs to be snuck in or apologized for lest one turns off or offends a client who gets the heebie jeebies at the idea of stepping up and doing the right thing.

  4. I could easily be drawn into these gardens because landscapes this austere are designed to fit the architecture that was shown in those photos. The whole space becomes a piece of art. I wouldn’t have a garden like that myself. I can’t afford it and I am horticulturally incapable of such restraint, but it appeals to me a great deal.

    Part of Ketzel’s feeling about this article being a decade to late is very right. These issues are old news. I think to it reflects a learning curve to take green and sustainable to the high end of landscape design by some designers and having the plant resources and materials available to accomplish it for their rich clients instantly.

  5. These are gardens for thought like an abstarct painting or sculpture. Are they gardens as we like they look like gardens designed by landscape know the people who in college can’t make up their minds if they want to play with concrete or dirt………

    The (liks playing with dirt) TROLL

  6. I guess we like what we like, and what we don’t like draws an even stronger reaction. I like what Christopher had to say, and I loved this: “and I am horticulturally incapable of such restraint. . .” Um, yeah. Me too. That said, I did like the grasses by the walkway, and there was something about that pool reflecting the sky with the meadows all around. I didn’t care for much of the rest of it, just like I don’t care for much considered “contemporary,” be it architecture, furniture or style. And I just don’t know about the tone or the comments on sustainability. I guess I’m just too new at some of this. I thought the article was interesting, and it didn’t prompt a strong response with me. Some of the photos did, but the words did not. They did, however, get me to thinking about just how sustainable, or maybe not, the new border I’m planning will turn out to be.

  7. “Sustainable” is such a catch phrase – use “easy to maintain” and then detail sustainability in your final report and plant list.

    Yesterday at 5:05 I finished the design/installation of a garden in Manhattan. A parade of construction, elevator, air conditioner, alarm system, etc. guys all “took lunch” to watch yours truly digging in over 200 gallon and bare root perennials with a bag of lobster compost at my side. If I had heard “where’s the lawn?” one more time I would have resorted to physical violence!

  8. Don’t you think the NYT is just trying to make a conflict where there is none? The line that sustainable gardens are less aesthetically pleasing is so old that I can’t believe people are still bringing it up. Sustainable gardens (whatever that means) aren’t inherently any more or less beautiful than any other type of gardens, they are just different. I have seen some very ugly gardens of all types.

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