How to Turn Your Yard Into an Ecosystem
By Maya Reddy, Yardzen Sustainability Intern
The benefits of curating an inviting yard, a space where people can safely and conveniently access the outdoors and experience their natural surroundings, are innumerable. From growing fresh vegetables to bonding with loved ones in a cozy and relaxing setting, personalized landscaping provides opportunities for people to interact with nature in meaningful ways. However, our yards have potential far beyond what they directly offer us as their owners. By strategically and sustainably landscaping our yards to better serve the ecosystems and communities we depend on, our yards can aid in reducing instances of drought, climate change, food deserts, and colony collapse.
Realizing these goals seems much more attainable when we look to nature, as the brilliant design, inclusive interdependence, and unwavering resilience characteristic of natural environments hold all the answers to the issues plaguing our communities today. From developing safe water cycling systems to producing nutritious food, turning to our ecosystems for blueprints is paramount. This concept of looking to nature to engineer solutions to existing problems is called “biomimicry”, and it is the philosophy behind the remodeling of the Japanese bullet train, which was designed to emulate the aerodynamic shape of a kingfisher’s beak. Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry (1997) and co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, describes biomimicry as “the conscious emulation of life’s genius”.
This begs the question, how can our yards better emulate and honor the genius of nature by recreating the services our hardworking ecosystems bestow upon us everyday? Here are some simple ways you can model your yard after ecological processes while escalating what your yard can do for you and the planet!
Constructing a sustainable landscape requires thoughtfulness and intention, as well as location-specific guidance. The key is to select native plant species to adorn your yard. By opting to surround your home with native plants you not only ensure that your garden is more resilient, but you also support local wildlife and potentially endangered species. Alongside native plant species, climate-adapted plants also provide the benefit of resiliency and are a great choice for yard owners with sustainability in mind. Luckily, Yardzen is committed to including native and climate adapted plants in all designs, as demonstrated in our detailing of our American Rewilding Project.
Additionally, thoughtful landscaping and placement of trees can provide a number of amazing benefits including natural insulation of the property. According to the US Department of Energy, a strategically planned landscaping design can reduce an unshaded home’s air conditioning costs by up to 50%, and tree-shaded neighborhoods enjoy significantly cooler daytime temperatures than their unshaded, treeless counterparts in the summer months!
Food Growth and Composting
Balanced ecosystems seamlessly cycle food, waste and nutrients, naturally embodying the ideal we refer to as “zero-waste”. Yards provide us with the incredible ability to grow our own food and practice ecological methods of food waste management. Cultivating a personal garden doesn’t have to be especially complicated; in fact many cost-effective and simple gardening accessories exist to help beginner gardeners get started. For smaller yards, vertical farming accessories are a compact and effective option to grow crops at home. Lettuce Grow’s Farmstand is capable of growing up to 36 crops at a time and can be used both outdoors and indoors which is especially functional for those living in areas that experience harsh winters. Subpod’s in-garden composting system is another noteworthy garden accessory that simplifies the composting process making it even easier for gardeners to repurpose their food waste into valuable fertilizer.
Rainwater Redirection and Reuse
Just as forests naturally collect, filter and manage rainwater, with the right planning your yard can also purify, redirect and recycle rainwater for use. Practices such as rainwater capture and redirection can reduce occurrences of flooding, soil erosion, and runoff pollution while conserving clean water and reducing your water bill. By choosing permeable surfaces during the landscaping process you can ensure that rainwater returns to the ground and enriches the soil, eventually replenishing groundwater resources. Rain barrels, downspouts, and even rain chains can help facilitate this process in your yard. Additionally, landscaping choices, like planting rain gardens, can aid productive rainwater redirection on your property.
Energy and Carbon Capture
Moreover, yards provide us with opportunities to mirror the extensive energy and carbon capture processes that take place in any given ecological system. A simple way to emulate energy capture is to choose renewable energy-driven products for accessories and fixtures that you choose to install in your yard, such as simple solar powered string lights or lampposts. Carbon sequestration is another process your yard can contribute to on a small scale. While installing man-made “Supertrees” that sequester carbon dioxide, like the stunning structures in Singapore’s national park Gardens by the Bay, is not exactly a practical option for your yard, increasing the volume of vegetation, preserving existing trees on your property, and planting native or climate adapted tree species in your yard are all great ways to contribute to carbon capture and combat climate change.