Three Ways to Create Sustainable Outdoor Spaces

Landscape designer Breanna Robles provides insight on creating eco-friendly outdoor areas
Photo by Vera Kuttelvaserova
Photo Provided by MHDA

“No more lawns,” Breanna Robles answers enthusiastically, when asked the number-one thing homeowners can do to make their landscapes more sustainable. A landscape designer with Studio Zewde based in Harlem, and a 2021 judge for the inaugural Midwest Home Design Awards, Robles specializes in sustainability, public spaces, and community-led design.

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, a sustainable landscape is one “responsive to the environment, re-generative, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value through significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.”

So, we asked Robles (whose master’s thesis won a Certificate of Honor by the New Jersey Chapter of ASLA): What three initiatives can people take this summer to “green” up the areas around their homes, to make them healthier and more hospitable to pollinators and other wildlife?

Photo by Elenathewise
Photo by Lowell

First: Get rid of your lawn. “If everyone replaced their lawns with native grasses or native-plant gardens, the whole landscape would be more welcoming to wildlife,” Robles explains. Moreover, because lush green lawns require so many chemicals and so much water, and water and rainfall wash those chemicals into our storm-water systems and pollute our waterways. Eliminating lawns is a win-win for a healthy ecosystem.

Second: “When replacing your lawn, be sure to plant for pollinators,” Robles says. “If something is eating your flowers, you have a healthy yard. You’re giving back to your environment and the living creatures around you.” The University of Minnesota Extension Service is a great place to start, with instructions on planting “a bee lawn” and lists of recommended trees and shrubs that are pollinator-friendly.

Third: Pervious or permeable paving. “Instead of using concrete or asphalt paving on walkways and driveways, select pavers that are water-permeable,” Robles says. These types of pavers are also important for stormwater control. Pervious or permeable pavers limit runoff at the source as rainwater enters the pavers and aggregate between them and sinks into the ground. The pavers also reduce downstream erosion and improve water quality as pollutants in the rainwater are filtered by layers in the ground’s substrata layers.

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