Eco-friendly gardening tips for the Pacific Northwest

by Lorene Edwards Forkner

Seattle and Portland, Ore., are known for their surrounding forests and lush landscapes. Environmentally, we bleed pretty green as well.

We have municipal recycling programs, curbside pickup and a collective respect for the 3 R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. But how "green" does your garden grow?

I spoke with Cameron Scott, owner of Exteriorscapes, a Puget Sound, Wash.-based landscaping firm, about creating environmentally sensitive gardens. Scott is a passionate steward of the earth as well as a creative and resourceful designer. The result — beautiful, sustainable Northwest landscapes crafted from natural materials and renewable resources.

Where should we start to create an environmentally friendly landscape?

Scott is crystal clear: "Build good soil," he says. "That's the best investment you can make in your garden. Everything else you do will be more successful for having started with good, healthy, soil."

Incorporate plenty of compost and slow release organic fertilizers for lasting soil health.

We live in the Northwest; let's talk about rain.

Water is the Northwest's most abundant resource, but our annual dry period coincides with plants' most active growth phase.

"A typical suburban lot requires about 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of supplemental water a year until the landscape is established — around two to three years," he says. "After that, many plants can withstand seasonal drought and do without much additional water."

Good soil, smart watering practices, mulch and choosing the right plants all work together to create a resilient garden.

What one choice makes the biggest positive environmental impact?

"Choose stone over concrete," Scott says. "Concrete involves the quarrying of three different materials as well as their transport, resulting in greater carbon dioxide emissions than the single-quarry process of extracting natural stone."

Using tropical hardwoods for their beauty and durability is another option, especially if using Forest Stewardship Council timber. FSC accreditation ensures that the material has been responsibly produced and harvested. Consumers know their purchase is in compliance with strict environmental standards.

"Durability is an important aspect of sustainability in all our choices," Scott says.

In the end, our best conservation efforts reside in the simple decisions we make every day. Seemingly little steps like making fewer trips and recycling materials take us a long way toward creating an environment that is a thing of beauty and good for our planet.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, freelance writer, food enthusiast and garden designer, revels in the seasonal pleasures and broad scope of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. She's the author of "Growing Your Own Vegetables" and "Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest."

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