Design the Environment


From our own backyards to the global community:

~ First, do no harm

~ Every person and creature has the right to a healthy environment.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Typical Sustainable Home Landscape

As we have become more aware of how the landscape industry, landscape design, and the multitude of industries connected to it, are intimately related to the health and welfare of us all, we have changed our design practice to one of sustainable design. It helps protect our health, our pocketbooks, and the health of the environment.

Our designs reflect this by paying attention to how individual site conditions will affect the larger community and what we know about the state of our natural resources. We must make efforts to protect our clean water supply, and to conserve it. We must wean ourselves from chemical fertilizers and insecticides that poison the air, the soil, and our children. And what's more - it's easy to do!

Choosing Plants

We are careful in our choice of plants to fill out the design. They may be native Illinois plants and grasses, or drought resistant in our region. If there are naturally wet or damp areas, the plants chosen will thrive because they love those conditions. The plants will not be prone to as many diseases or insect manifestations because they've been matched to the area conditions. There is a magnificent palette of plants to fill every condition.


In considering water conservation, we may decide to design a rain garden, built with a shallow concave that downspouts drain into. They are planted with flowers and grasses that are happy to have soaking feet for awhile as rain water percolates back into the soil, and just as happy to go for long dry periods. You see large versions of rain gardens along a highway or next to a shopping mall. They are designed to catch rainwater, to drain large areas of concrete or pavement back into the earth instead of sewers.

Another water conservation measure is the use of rain barrels. These barrels connect to downspouts. Instead of water disappearing into the sewers, the barrels catch and hold rainwater until you want to use it on your garden. Money saved, rainwater well used.

Our front yard is turning into a a mix of prairie and woodland. Native Illinois prairie plants are replacing plants in the sunny areas that require extra watering during our hot summers (yes, we will miss them for a couple of years). Once the natives settle in they can handle the hot Chicago summers and we will save money on water. Other parts of our yard are very shady but dry. One area is semi-shady and damp. We have found it exciting to re-think what works best in different areas, and the riot of colors we can play with using Illinois Prairie Smoke, daisy varieties, and Little and Big Bluestem grasses (you can see these plants on this site). In the woodland garden, Trillium, Epimedium, Aronia, Cimicifuga deliver something delicious from spring until frost.

The new driveway, path, and patios will be made of eco-pavers, a system designed to allow rain water to seep back into the ground instead of draining to the sewers, or we may decide on gravel for some areas, or brick or pavers spaced far enough apart to allow for rain drainage into the soil. Learning to compost your food and lawn waste allows you to grow your own soil conditioner. There is now an abundance of strategies to assist us in caring for our land and natural resources right at home.

Will One Yard Make a Difference? A Bird's Eye View

For a moment imagine yourself as a bird flying over your neighborhood. Look down at the thousands of city lots, mostly covered in lawns. Although our individual city or suburban lot looks quite small, every neighborhood, town, and city is made up of these small parcels of land. Consider the impact if even half of the residential lots of one city were landscaped to be sustainable.
~ Air , water, and soil quality would change
~ Plants, shrubs, and trees clean the air
~ The amount of toxins, in the form of insecticides and fertilizers, would be reduced.
~ Water would no longer carry those toxins into the soil and aquifers.
~ Large amounts of water would be restored to our aquifers and watersheds.
~ The use of rain barrels, and permeable materials for driveways, walks, and patios
would allow the free flow of rain water to return to the earth and below.
~ We would use a great deal less water to irrigate our lawns and gardens.
~ A surprising variety of birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects would return.
~ And in Chicago you could finally say and mean - we are a city in a garden.

Going Global

It is true that our individual practices in landscaping alone will not stop global warming or the privatizing of water, the drying up of watersheds, or disappearance of open space. Changing our own practices is important and possible, and necessary for the long haul but it's not all that must be done. As individuals, we do not make the the big decisions that threaten our health and lives.

There is a growing movement in this country and even more advanced in other countries, to hold governments accountable for changing rules and laws that will rein in and alter the polluting practices of big business, multinational corporations, and agribusiness. It's clear that without that political will, global warming will worsen, illness related to polluting the atmosphere and the soil will grow.

Globalization cannot continue as a means for the few to reap more and more profits, use cheap labor, abundant, inexpensive poisons, grab and privatize water and land resources while the middle class everywhere shrinks and poverty overtakes more. However, this continuously growing movement of groups and individuals all over the globe are making creative political and practical contributions, surging down a different path, a path that acknowledges and respects the interconnectedness of us all with each other, and our close and far range future with our environment. This movement is an amalgam of environmental, labor, civil rights, immigration rights, church groups, liberal, left, and conservative groups. It spans the globe. We are a growing number who see how interconnected we all are. And we have grown impatient.

Segments of this movement put growing pressure on elected officials. Others enlighten us as consumers to products that are healthier for us and the planet. Why buy from businesses that are exploiting us? Others specialize in street demonstrations. Some do research and share it with us. Especially in South America, there are elected fledgling governments seeking and instituting new ways to build democracy with sustainable practices that more truly represent the full spectrum of their peoples. In India there is a movement led by women demanding an end to privatizing water and new dams that will flood poor neighborhoods. In Bolivia the people hit the bricks and threw out the government that tried to privatize water. Venezuela argues against ethanol as an alternative to gasoline because it is a worse polluter and encourages the growing of corn for cars instead of people. There is a lot happening out there that our own media is not sharing very well.

Your Land

Your piece of land and how it's handled can play a large role in the health of your neighborhood and the protection of our natural resources and wildlife. Be an example. See if friends and/or neighbors would be interested in growing a community vegetable garden or creating a quiet park or a play area full of garden in a nearby empty lot.

Don't just re-landscape the backyard. Plant the front yard too. Replace the lawn with native grasses and flowers. Plant the parkways too. The tree roots will prefer it to lawn grass. Imagine what a treat it would be to walk down a sidewalk block where nearly all of the front yards and parkways were flowering gardens.

When you take a bird's eye view of your home site and neighborhood you can begin to see how interconnected we are and why we are paying attention to all of this as we work on a design.

Acting Locally and Globally

There is a place for each and every person in this determination to change. It all comes down to balancing choices. When other interests overwhelm sustainable options the consequence is too high for us, not just locally, but globally. We know this now, so we will reclaim the future of our children and grandchildren in small ways and in the global community as well.


"Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them."

Bill Vaughn

Native Illinois Plants