Review and Give-away: Energy-Wise Landscape Design



UPDATE:  Ramble-On Rose wins the book – congratulations!  The random number generator said "16" and her comment is the 16th.  Thanks to everyone for playing, and for your great comments.

A furniture and harpsicord maker in rural Massachusetts takes up the study of landscape design, establishes a residential practice, then gets herself a publisher to spread the gospel of eco-friendly landscaping.  Meet Sue Reed and her excellent book Energy-Wise Landscape Design

Don't be misled by the title – it's not just about where to plant shade trees.  It covers the whole eco-waterfront. Buying locally grown plants, avoiding peatmoss, conserving water, improving the
soil, filling our gardens with as many large, healthy plants as

On Lawns
About my pet issue Reed has lots to say and it's a nice chunk of unusually helpful garden writing.
  After she stopped mowing 10 years ago, she still has to weed-wack to remove the 6-foot-tall Goldenrods and the woodies, and it's "not a beautiful
wildflower meadow,"  but it sure beats lawn.  Love the honesty.  Also, "Taking care of this
landscape might require a bit more attention than you're used to giving
your lawn."  She suggests a "tidiness strip" to keep the neighbors happy, and recommends no-mow grass mixes. 

About lawn removal, she raises a problem we'd rather ignore: "The process of eliminating
lawn grass can consume quite a lot of energy – either in the equipment
that mechanically removes lawn or in the herbicides that chemically
remove it."  

Her message isn't anti-lawn but simply: Why have more than you need?  And if you DO have lawn, read her "Five Problems
with Conventional Lawn Treatment" and her on-target guide to caring for it responsibly. 

On Native Plants – a Nit-Pick
Reed is a graduate of the Conway School of Landscape Design, which she describes as "very idealistic", and that idealism shows up in her discussion of native plants. "There's no question that using native plants in our landscapes is a way to save energy."  How?" By providing essential services that save on energy (resources,
time, money).  But her strict nativism bans even well adapted nonnatives that provide the same services (I'm looking at you, Sedums!) Also not okay are cultivars of native plants – species only.  Her designs use only native plants and clients seek her out for that, so "It's all to the good," she told me on the phone.  Also, "conventional garden beauty" is not her "main focus."

That's fine for the converted but what about the vast majority of potential readers?  Why alienate them by declaring that nonnatives either do nothing for wildlife, or actually harm wildlife by becoming invasive?  We need help choosing from among the thousands of (mostly nonnative) plants on offer – which ones are most self-sustaining, stormwater-retentive, and yes, useful for wildlife.  But to recommend against clover, Hostas, daffodils, Sedums??  (Yes, I'm on a tear for Sedums – more about that coming soon.)

But with that small caveat about a small part of the book, I wholeheartedly recommend Reed's book for covering the eco-landscape in such a readable and (mostly) practical way.

The Give-Away

Leave a comment to win a copy before close of business Wednesday and I'll choose one at random.  Your comment can say anything at all – except please, none of those short and nonsensical spammy ones.  (We've been inundated with spam comments lately, the somewhat smarter kind that responds slightly to the text or photos in the post.  But we're onto you – and we're deleting your spammy URLs!)

I guess I had another mini-rant in me there – sorry about that!


  1. I’m glad to see embodied energy beginning to enter the conversation about the costs and sustainability of gardening. The latest handbook from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, “The Climate-Conscious Gardener,” addresses this topic in a more condensed and, it sounds, accessible form.

    Gardeners who want to act in mind of these concerns need more information. However, as you note, preaching to the converted isn’t going to build the flock. To mature this work from niche to movement we need to meet people where they are.

  2. For a few years I became a “native only” zealot. However, I now mix natives with good landscaping flowers and bushes. Some of the natives were prone to aphids and downy mildew; so I gradually came to a balance about using the best of the natives with cultivars. I’m looking forward to reading “Energy-Wise Landscape Design.”

  3. I spent yesterday mowing wild parsnip, bindweed, mile-a-minute vine and the truly awful black swallowwort. I am trying to convert our weed-field into a more beautiful and useful meadow, but can only smother a small bit at a time. I would LOVE to read more about sustainable gardening!

  4. Rosemary Verey goes deep into creating meadow from lawn in, Classic Garden Design, 1984.

    “Tidiness strip”, a degradation of landscape design principles. Been mowing meadow at 2-3 heights for almost 2 decades as part of landscape design principles.

    “Conventional garden beauty”, alas, in the macro, belongs to testosterone-on-wheels-mow-blow-go. Most homeowners assume a neat landscape is a good landscape. Most homeowner assocations outlaw meadows.

    Why would testosterone-on-wheels-mow-blow-go landscapers design something for their clients & design themselves out of a paycheck?

    Disagree with the section about meadows taking more attention than traditional lawn. It does take learning something new. Energy Wise Landscape Design will teach it. (You may prefer to learn it from Rosemary Verey, no hints of the Victorian didactic with her.)

    Glad I learned it decades ago, studying landscapes across Europe that never stopped using historic landscape design principles.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  5. As I’ve said before here and elsewhere and Tara so eloquently puts…”Why would testosterone-on-wheels-mow-blow-go landscapers design something for their clients & design themselves out of a paycheck?” Until we provide a practical way for unskilled and marginally skilled landscape maintenance crews to make a living via organic and natural mow ‘n blow change won’t happen unless it’s mandated by law.

  6. I completely disagree with Tara. To establish a meadow is very labor intense. It is not easy to get the right mix of flowers and grass and to keep agressive plants at bay. The soil has to be amended. Weeds have to be pulled, regulairly for the first to years. The meadow has to be cut at the proper time to assure the flowers are not prevented from reseeding.

    However, once established, a meadow is a beautiful thing. A lawn is always boring.

  7. My invasive removal methods involve hand removal. After you have lawn in an area it is a disturbed area and will allow invasive species to move in. Important to know, as restoring your land will involve species removal.

    I recommend restoring a little at a time.

  8. I am a great admirer of the Conway School of the Landscape Design and their ideals, but I am not a purist. I think we have to be careful of invasives, but I think cultivars of native plants work well in our gardens and in the environment. One way I am eliminating lawn is by planting thyme as a ground cover. It spreads, never needs watering once it has settled in – which takes about 15 minutes and a single drenching – and recalls the romantic Thyme Lawn at Sissinghurst.

  9. It would be great to see a detailed acct of how someone removed their lawn and set about establishing a no-mow lawn.

  10. I sort of feel the same way about pure-nativism…. it’s a nice idea in practice, but I don’t feel it’s very friendly for people getting into gardening, plus you need to start looking at cultivars if you want to see really nice looking plants. Invasive plants are, of course, bad guys… but why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

  11. I am an ardent fan of native plants, but like others commenting here I agree that they can be less disease-resistant, and purism is not all that helpful with new gardeners. Plants need to be evaluated individually based on their appropriatness for each site and its conditions.

  12. I need this book so if I don’t win it I might have to buy it. And that will cut into my plant budget 😉

  13. I have two areas around my house I’m trying to make nice. One is a border outside a fence and the other is a thin strip between two areas. Me efforts so far haven’t been going well.
    I need to start doing more intensive research, and this book seems like just the right thing!

  14. As a new homeowner, and one with a very steep, and seemingly impossible to do anything with, front yard, I’m very interested in ideas on going grass-free, while also being energy efficient in the process.

  15. I gradually transformed the grounds of my business after I purchased it 4 years ago. Many overgrown, exotic tropicals were replaced with wildlife friendly natives. My clients were a little sceptical at first, but now they admire the birds and the butterflies. They are not, however, thrilled with the industriously hunting snakes!

  16. I’m in a new house with a new garden so any and all advice is wanted. Lucky for me the acre and a half of lawn is mostly Centipede turf which in this area only needs an occasional mowing – it only gets 5 inches tall. The weeds on the other hand require a lot of work. So far, ripping out the ‘un-wanteds’ and nurturing the ‘wanteds’ hasn’t been a problem. If it didn’t involve work you wouldn’t be able to call it ‘gardening’.

  17. I do not want to win this book. I intend to buy it as soon as possible, for this kind of garden writing that should be encouraged.
    The land around our homes should contribute more to our lives than aesthetics. Slowing and retaining rainwater, hosting insect populations, feeding birds, creating corridors to connect wild areas for species movement,etc…etc.
    Thanks for the recommendation.

  18. I hope you don’t mind if I place this quote from the website here. It said clearly what many are thinking.
    “It’s time for us to imagine a new kind of landscape, one in which beauty is not just a social convention or a glossy magazine image, but also an expression of our social values. Now in the 21st century, we can design, build and care for our landscapes so that in addition to looking attractive they will also work for our own good and the good of the larger world.” page 255

  19. Thanks, Susan, for taking the time to blog about my book. I appreciate all efforts that stimulate intelligent discussion about the complex subject of how we garden and care for our landscapes.

  20. I love the idea of living amid a “pure” landscape that harkens back to pre-European invasion, but orthodoxy gets you only so far. Maybe a better test is not to define native/non-native, but rather to judge by what grows well with minimal pests/diseases, is attractive and is controlable by someone for whom gardening is not a 24-7 activity.
    Sedum is not alone in fitting that description.

  21. I replaced about 60% of my front yard with a garden this year, and it was indeed a lot of work. I can’t imagine trying to fill all that bare ground without some fast-growing non-natives, especially hostas and daylilies.

    Probably the most interesting effect of creating this new garden has been the increased contact with my neighbors – I think I’ve spent more time chatting with the neighbors this summer than in the previous 4 years combined!

  22. I would love to win this book. I am on the Education Committee at our local Horticulture Society and convincing 50something Gardeners of a more responsible way to garden is not always easy.

  23. I would love to see someone address the strict native versus native cultivar issue. It would be lovely if the cultivars had some label information regarding what characteristics of the strict native remained, or even how many crosses away from the native they are (and crossed with anything else or simply selective breeding within the same species).

  24. Would love to have the book as I’m working on my first “public” landscape project – re-vamping the landscape around the 50-year-old school building my kids & their classmates are moving into. Though the campus has not been vacant since it was built, in the last few years the lawns & perennial areas have fallen victim to declining enrollment & revenues. They are not in great shape.

    Since the lawn will rarely be used, I’d love to learn more about the conversion process and these no-mow mixes. And insights into natives ? Would love to hear more, though I’m still going to mix them with the existing roses and rhododendrons. That’s just saving human energy (mine) !

  25. Eco-friendly gardening should also encourage appropriate practices during construction. As Lao-Tsu said, ‘thistles grow where the army passes.’ Our woodland acreage came with large areas disturbed by prior construction and septic installation — local ordinances at the time did not require restoration. It’s taken years and much effort, with mower, weed trimmer, and hand, to eliminate the thistle, hawkweed, and other noxious weeds. Finally it’s something approaching a meadow. Build with care, and make sure your builders share your commitment!

  26. Wow. I really struggle with native vs. non-native. I try to plant natives whenever possible, but there are a few non-natives I would really miss. And then there’s reality. Living on a wooded lot and on (these days) a very tight budget, I keep dividing and replanting the many hostas that were already here. I know they’re not native, but they are free and they’re tough. Is it really such a crime to gradually replace the lawn with hostas? It seemed like an improvement…

  27. I like the fact that the latest posts about meadows have been honest about the maintenance required. Intriguing book! Thanks for the review

  28. Well… I DO live amid a landscape that “harkens back” to pre-European time… but it’s not quite “Pure”, nor do I worry about “friendly non-natives”. I HAVE been meaning to get around to digging up those few daffodils in the back woodland…for the last 25 years. Maybe someday…

    Striving for a basic native vegetation “structure” is good (and there are certainly good reasons for not planting some of what garden centers still sell!), but “pushing the envelope” with cultivars and “friendly aliens” seems to do no harm.

    It IS a nice change from 30 years ago…when growing native plants was not only discouraged by neighbors (Hey… you haven’t mowed in 5 days!), but was actually illegal in places. There are still problems in some places, of course, but overall, the changes have been HUGE.


  29. I would love to read Sue’s book! I think that it’s great when people use these types of ideas in their landscape.

  30. Hey Emily. You asked ” Is it really such a crime to gradually replace the lawn with hostas? It seemed like an improvement…” My answer is: no, I don’t think it’s a crime but if it is, it falls very very near the bottom of the master list of environmental crimes. I also think that all the energy and passion exhibited by the native purists would be better directed at something higher on the list of environmental crimes: water pollution, for example. Lawn chemicals. Gas-powered anything.

    And to Luise H — who wrote: “convincing 50something Gardeners of a more responsible way to garden is not always easy” — I say ouch. your stereotype is showing.

  31. For anyone interested in my actual point of view about native plants, I invite you to read pages 77-81 in my book (the only portion of the 291-page book that focuses on this subject). There you will find a rational discussion of some of the reasons one might choose to incorporate regionally-native plants in a landscape. This is information only, and a gentle suggestion. Labelling it purism, zealotry or gospel really doesn’t help anyone understand the facts.

  32. I am in the process of rehabilitating the yard of a rental duplex, with the landlady’s blessing to do whatever I want. Having now gotten rid of a decade’s worth of weeds, old plastic buckets and broken glass, I am at a bit of a standstill, especially since I’m now gardening in a new zone, with completely different soil conditions, rainfall,etc. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t want a conventional garden! This book sounds as if it would be a great help as I move forward.

  33. Appreciate Sue Reed’s no-nonsense honesty about the work and extra efforts that may be entailed in a naturalized yard.

    Would like to be the lucky recipient of Reed’s book as I’m just beginning to learn more about the importance of providing wildlife habitats where ever you love. good Stuff here. Love your Web site. Deb

  34. And to Luise H — who wrote: “convincing 50 something Gardeners of a more responsible way to garden is not always easy”

    Luise, Luise, Luise, way off base there. Many of us 50’s somethingers started gardening in 60’s and 70’s which was another “green period”.

  35. I would love to win this book. It sounds like it is full of thoughtful and well researched ideas. I need lots of ideas for landscaping around my new deck.

  36. There is much misunderstanding about what ‘native’ and ‘nonnative’ mean. To exclude all plants that have survived for generations and become part of our plant choices simply because they are not native, doesn’t seem the way to think, in my opinion. That might mean a large percentage of the plants I grow should not be there. What a shame! I saw an old Weigela shrub in the 19th century Roseland Cottage garden in Connecticut earlier this summer. That plant has been there for a long time. It bothers no one, and gives off a display of color that results in stopping in your tracks to look. You can’t believe it.

  37. I’d love this book, looking for some new inspiration as i’m starting over with a new garden and would like to design it more efficiently than I have in the past.

  38. I do not want to win the giveaway. I think that it should go to someone new. I am sure that it would help to have more people love what we love. I think it is a great thing to do though.

  39. In an interview with Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, I asked about the efficacy of native cultivars. His reply was that certain aspects, like changes in size, made no difference in the plants’ role as a native. However, cultivars which have undergone changes affecting leaf chemistry do not retain the original plants’ functionality. As people turn to natives more often, we will get better choices as the growing industry sees a better financial return for providing them.

  40. Whoa, what a great “seeking” discussion going on. Minimizing our inputs while seeking beauty, function and integration into our regional ecological community. . .

    But Susan, some quick research would confirm we have hosts of native Sedums from all over our continent. Check out or William Cullina’s “Growing and Propagating Wildflowers” or any wild flower guide!! Continue your plantings! There are options for sun to partial shade.

  41. It’s true, chemicals and power tools are overused on lawns across America. But I think a home set off by an emerald frame of lawn is lovely, and to achieve this for my house I selected a wonderful variety of turf. Zoysia is slow growing therefore rarely needs mowing; does not need weed killer b/c it is so dense; does not need water but merely goes dormant tan in drought; also goes dormant in winter so even less mowing is needed. Plus it’s fun to roll on.

  42. Hmm, actually one of the things I love about gardening in the 21st century is that I don’t have to live in a “pure” landscape. The selection and variety we have available to us now makes me swoon! Although maybe Sue’s book could convince me otherwise. Sometimes there’s an element of romancing the past that just doesn’t resonate with me – like when people wax nostalgic about living before indoor plumbing.

  43. Hi, did not mean that comment of teaching 50something Gardeners in a bad way,I am 60 and sometimes I need a good,thorough explanation why something different can be better than what I have done for ages.I love “mixed” gardening,Natives and non-Natives live happily in my Garden.But there is always so much more to learn,is’nt there?

  44. It’s not likely that I will agree with her on native landscaping, as my CA yard would be filled with nothing but flammable chaparral if I chose natives only from this area. But by choosing wisely from Mediterranean-adapted plants such as lavender and laurel I have year-round beauty with zero inputs (except my labor in hand-pruning).

  45. I love Garden Rant! It brings me information and humor all wrapped up together. Thank you for bring this book to my attention. I support the use of natives and use them in my designs where they fit. Like a Pride of Houston Yaupon Holly instead of a Japanese maple : ) But I also use non native plants that have been around for a century. I love sedums but my favorites are rain (fairy)lilies. I plan gardens that are aesthetically pleasing year round and will thrive with out too much work. I live in Houston which is a very difficult climate but what does work grows like weeds. I live in a historic district in a Victorian house and I planned my garden to match with iron fences and brick paths. In my own garden we don’t use chemicals and we pull our weeds out by the roots. Using natives and adapted plants I was able to create a very lovely English (looking) formal garden using Antique roses, Louisiana Iris, dwarf Yaupon holly, caladiums, liriope, crepe myrtles etc. I applaud creativity and thinking outside the box!!! Thank you all for your inspiration…

Comments are closed.