Sustainable Residential Landscapes – A Three Part Series: Part 1

Posted on | September 13, 2011 | No Comments

Sustainability is a hot topic and complex subject—and so we took some of our questions to landscape architects, Dan Sears and Ron Price, of Sears Design Group, in Raleigh. In this three part series, they explain how sustainability practices can be incorporated into the landscape design plan.

Dan Sears is passionate about his business, and he is more than just casually interested in sustainability, his company delivers it. “Sustainable landscapes use less energy, water and natural resources. They generate less waste, and minimize the impact on the land compared to more traditional design, construction and maintenance techniques,” says Sears.

Sears Residential Landscape Design Presented by North Carolina Design OnlineImage Courtesy of Sears Design Group

Sustainable designs need to be environmentally sound.
Limiting lawn areas and preserving existing natural areas in this home’s urban setting provides both wildlife and bird habitat as well as aesthetic and property value. Turf areas are limited yet still provide a contrast to the native and adaptive shrub plantings that transition into the surrounding woodland. The plantings provide both food and cover for small wildlife and birds.

For Sears Design Group, practicing sustainability principles in residential landscape design involves incorporating both native and adaptive plant species into their designs – always sensitive to livability, with an emphasis on sustainability. They choose many more plants that require little or no irrigation. The same is true for grass type for lawn areas. The designs also include a lot of ornamental grasses in combination with traditional shrubs.

Sears Residential Landscape Presented by North Carolina Design Online Image Courtesy of Sears Design Group

Sustainable designs need to be functional.
Example of slope treatment. Turf areas on steep slopes are difficult to maintain. Here a small strip of grass next to the drive creates a pleasing and functional edge that contrasts the colorful groundcover and low shrub plantings higher up the slope. These plantings and organic mulch lessen runoff and soil erosion and provide visual interest to this area.

Sears Residential Landscape Presented by North Carolina Design OnlineImage Courtesy of Sears Design Group

Sustainable designs should be visually pleasing.
Example of limited turf, plant massing and providing shade on western exposures. The entry into this home has limited turf area and uses groupings of similar plant massing to create strong visual impact. The massing and spacing reduce maintenance requirements including weeding and mulching. The deciduous ornamental trees provide afternoon shading to help cool the house from the hot summer sun. When the leaves are gone in the winter, they allow some passive solar insulation to help warm the house. The paver walk provides a strong visual element that doubles as an edge to separate the lawn and beds as it carefully reveals the front door entry.

When following their sustainability principles in their designs, Sears Design Group tries not to specify exotic plants from afar that have to be transported hundreds of miles and require “high maintenance.” Along the same lines, they don’t specify hardscape materials and products that are manufactured far away. They prefer to find the building blocks of the design within our region, supporting the regional economy.

Sears Residential Landscape Presented by North Carolina Design OnlineImage Courtesy of Sears Design Group

Sustainable designs should work in harmony with nature.
Example of limited lawn area and using a massing of adaptive colorful plantings to provide food and shelter for birds and wildlife. The plantings create a strong impact and interest to this area which surrounds a small garden house creating a beneficial aesthetic microclimate to the home.

“We always start with the principle, ‘do no harm with your design,’” says Price. “We are also precautionary with design decisions. We examine the full range of alternatives and work to design with nature using a hierarchy of preservation, conservation, and regeneration. It is always in our mid to provide future generations with a sustainable environment. That means continuously re-evaluating assumptions and values, and adapting our design principles to the latest findings.

The award winning and often-published firm of Sears Design Group, P.A., Landscape Architects, is a Research Triangle Park Area based design firm with offices in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.

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