Welcome to nature's paradise. Our homes offer a great opportunity to lower our carbon footprint and impact on Mother Earth. Over the years we've energy-enhanced our home many ways; replaced all the single-pane windows with double-pane; added more insulation, installed a high efficiency furnace/heat pump and purchased a roof top solar system.
In 2014, we eliminated our grass. Our master landscaping design blended principles of permaculture, drought-tolerant, hardscape and edible landscaping with the following goals:
1) mimic nature’s diversity
2) attract and support more birds and pollinators
3) conserve water
4) reduce greenhouse emissions and capture carbon from the air
5) grow organic food with perennials and annuals
6) better integrate our property into our surroundings.
We created a large berm and planted some perennial edibles and a variety of drought tolerant and pollinator perennial plants including Autumn Aster, Russian Sage and Sedum. The berm is one of several hugelkulture berms we created from the compostable materials in our yard. Hugelkulture is a raised garden bed constructed of compostable plant materials and wood biomass. We cut the grass cut below the roots, flipped it upside down, added branches and logs from the yard on top, covered it with cardboard, soaked the cardboard with water, covered it with planting soil, added drip irrigation, planted all our plants and then brought in mulch to cover the soil. The hugelkulture berms retain moisture and reduce the amount of water needed.
Our side yard has flagstone walkway leading to our living grapevine fence and raised bed vegetable garden. Along the walkway, we planted more drought tolerant, pollinator and edible perennials. The flagstone walkway wraps around the to the back yard, where a huge strawberry bed creeps down toward the canal behind our house. You will also find Raspberries, Black Currants, Mint and many other plants.
I am delighted to report that our new yard meets all of our goals and exceeds our expectations. Our yard explodes with a diversity of colors throughout the spring, summer and fall. A myriad of birds and butterflies grace our yard. A beekeeper friend uses our yard for his honey bees.
Our water usage is down 30 to 40 percent. We use drip irrigation and divert water from the downspouts to irrigate plants and trees. This past summer, our water usage was 28,000 gallons per month below our Water Efficiency Target. We have also reduced our greenhouse emissions by retiring our lawn mower. Did you know that using a gasoline lawn mower for one hour is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving 300 miles? Additionally, our trees and plants are helping to reduce the carbon in the air by capturing it in the soil.
Given the varieties of our perennial fruits and annual vegetables, we are picking organic, nutritious and very tasty fruits and vegetables from the beginning of June through October. What we don’t eat immediately or give away, we freeze or preserve to eat during the winter months.
As a result of our new landscaping, our yard is now much more integrated into the entire ecosystem of which we live. It has truly become a sanctuary not only for the birds, pollinators and wildlife, but also for us!
As someone just embarking on transforming a portion of our lawn, I plan to learn from Tom’s experiences and adapt them to our situation. Our family has lived in our Highlands Ranch home for over 30 years, and it's time to reduce the lawn area. We’ve always been conscientious about water usage, but last summer’s drought made the need to reduce the amount of water required to keep a lawn in Colorado green all the more obvious. When our boys were young, they spent many hours playing in the backyard. Now, it's our grandkids when they visit. Unfortunately, the amount of water required to maintain the lawn is out of proportion to the amount of time we spend enjoying it.
Our primary goal in our upcoming project is to save water and increase the plant vegetation. We’ve always had a vegetable/herb garden, and transformed our kids’ sandbox into a xeriscape garden. More recently, we reduced grass along the back side of our backyard, by adding a perennial border, in part to stop weeds from creeping in from the open space. The drought-resistant perennials in our gardens and border are low-maintenance, provide color and interest, as well as attract many pollinators and provide berries for birds. We enjoy sitting on our deck admiring the plants and flowers in bloom and watching the wildlife they attract.
For our current project, we identified the grassy slope along the west side of our home that is not functional, and difficult to maintain, requiring extra water in drought years. Our plan is to replace the grass with a combination of xeric and edible plants. Living on an open space in Highlands Ranch, we need to select plants that are deer resistant, for which I will consult Tom’s list for edible choices. Like Tom, we hope to integrate well with the open space and be inviting to even more birds, bees and butterflies. And, if we’re lucky, they will leave some for us!
Another part of our plan is to plant a tree in our front yard, which will add interest and reduce our carbon footprint. We have hired our longtime, local landscaper to help us with our project. Landscape Connection composts the sod they remove and are excellent at helping with plant selection.
With Colorado’s semi-arid climate becoming even drier, maintaining a healthy lawn requires excessive water. Our plan eliminates 2 water zones, a one-quarter reduction of our watering, and the bonus is that we’ll be able to enjoy the beauty the plants bring.
We believe strongly that we can reduce our carbon footprint, and at the same time increase our enjoyment of our natural, outdoor space.
The old saying goes: Someone’s trash is another person’s treasure. They were probably talking about compost! As old as farming itself, compost is a great tool to improve soil fertility, but it is not well understood. Compost is not fertilizer or soil. It’s more like a sponge. Molecularly, compost attracts and holds fertilizers like phosphorus and potassium, holds water molecules, and keeps water from trickling down through the soil. Adding compost each year reduces the amount of fertilizer and water your plants need.
How is this miraculous money-saving soil amendment made? Compost comes from our waste: food waste, yard waste, and more. In backyards and commercial facilities alike, composters mix wet nitrogen-rich materials with dry carbon-rich materials. For example, kitchen scraps and dry straw. Mixed with the right ratio, the microbiome gets active. Bacteria starts breaking down the waste and turning it into compost. This generates heat, and they need oxygen and moisture to stay alive. Add time, and all the waste turns into beautiful, rich compost.
Have you tried composting at home? Some have luck, but many give up due to delicate balance composting requires. Sometimes it attracts critters we don’t want. This isn’t a reason to abandon composting. We need to stop sending our compostable waste to the landfill, where it turns into methane gas. Alternatively, we can compost all of biodegradable waste with commercial services, like Lone Tree Compost, Colorado Compost, or Wompost: woman-owned composting. Wompost also brings finished compost back to their customers, and delivers compost in bulk around the metro area. They will be coming soon to Highlands Ranch with 64 gallon carts, if there is enough interest. It is easy to dramatically reduce your trash, save water, and turn your trash to treasure through composting. Support local businesses and sign up for a service at lonetreecomposting.com, www.compost-colorado.com or wompostcoop.com
Edible Plants/Trees: Lovage, Black and Red Currants, Rhubarb; Gooseberries, Grape Vines, Strawberries, Raspberries, Nanking Cherry Bushes, Sweet Cherry, Sour Cherry, Peach, Plum and Apple Trees
Pollinator Plants: Veronica, Butterfly Bushes, Milkweed, Coneflowers, Autumn Aster, Russian Sage, Blue Mist Spirea, Autumn Joy Sedum, Purple Salvia, Red Valerian