Gardening is much more than growing plump tomatoes or fragrant roses. Gardens are part of the chain of life, with environmental consequences that can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the choices a gardener makes.
That is the central theme of Landscape for Life, a five-week course that 15 people will begin taking Tuesday through the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. The course focuses on the concept of sustainable gardening and examines the effects of gardening on pollinators, wildlife, the immediate environment and the watershed.
“Sustainability, in the Landscape for Life framework, essentially is to meet our current needs without decreasing the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” said Nan McCarry of Lucketts, the lead teacher of the course. “Sustainable gardening is just one small way that a person can have a positive impact on the local and wider ecosystems through their . . . yard or garden.”
The Landscape for Life curriculum, which was developed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Garden, uses a “train the trainer” model to adapt the course to the local community, McCarry said.
The course is divided into three main subject areas: soil, water and plants. The unit on soils covers topics such as erosion and soil compaction, which is a problem in neighborhoods that have been recently developed, she said.
The need to conserve drinking water is an area of particular concern for McCarry.
“We are seeing really frightening droughts in other parts of the country,” she said. “Right now, we are lucky to be experiencing some wet years, but water is going to become a more limited resource everywhere as we have more people.”
Landscape for Life advocates smaller lawns that require less water and fertilizer to maintain, as well as the use of rain barrels to retain water in the yard. Collecting water in a rain barrel conserves water that otherwise would flow down the driveway or through the yard, McCarry said. The collected water can then be used in the garden.
The class also teaches how to create rain gardens by growing deeply rooted native plants, such as white oak, coral honeysuckle or bee balm, among other varieties, to trap water that would otherwise run off the property, McCarry said.
“The water can flow in there and sink down into the deeper layers of the soil instead of just running off the surface,” she said.
“So you’re really getting use of that water, and then your rain garden is actually cleaning that water as it goes down through the soil.”
Native plants are also beneficial because they can better coexist with local pollinators and other wildlife, McCarry said.
“We’re losing our local insects, and this is really a concern, because we’re going to lose our butterflies and we’re losing our bees, which do our pollination for us,” she said. “It’s the basis of the food supply.”
Julie Borneman, who took the Landscape for Life course last year, said that the classes provide useful tips and tools gardeners can apply at home, such as testing the soil and creating maps of their own yards. The maps are helpful in planning what to plant, or dealing with problem areas in the yard, she said.
“It’s a really good class for the everyday homeowner — people who aren’t into gardening, and [who] want to be more eco-responsible,” said Borneman, who runs a native plant nursery in Hamilton. “It puts it in terms that everybody understands, and it gives them tools that are really easy to apply to their own garden, without having horticultural or wildlife background.”
The Landscape for Life class that will begin Tuesday is full, McCarry said, but she hopes to continue offering the class in the future.
“If people continue to be interested, I’ll continue to teach it, because it’s my passion,” she said.
Barnes is a freelance writer.