The idea of landscaping needs to be looked at from an environmental standpoint as much as from a need for human use and enjoyment. Taking this approach could prove to be even more beneficial for human needs in the long term.

The main idea behind ecological landscaping is creating a sense of place with native plants and natural systems. By learning from nature, we can begin to imitate its beauty. The colors and textures of each season come alive and create a plethora of good feelings that coincide with that season. One of the first components of landscaping that many people notice is looks. There is not much that can rival the vibrant colors of a sugar maple in New England during the fall season. The addition of asters, goldenrods, red maples, black gums and a multitude of other species weave together to create an artistic masterpiece that keep people coming to visit from across the country. There is also a balance that occurs in nature;
by studying and seeking to recreate this balance, a feeling of peace can be evoked.

Another benefit of natural landscapes is the maintenance factor. Traditional landscapes try to control nature and keep it the way it was initially designed. This takes a lot of intervention such as annual mulching and a variety of chemicals, which the landscape then becomes more and more dependent on. Not only does this negatively affect the environment, but it takes away from the enjoyment of the designed landscape. With ecological landscapes, plants and materials are chosen that work together to form communities that benefit each other, while keeping out the undesirables. Many plants are also used that self-seed or spread by rhizomes. Flowers—including Shasta Daisies and Foxgloves—and grasses such as Sea Oats can seed prolifically and create a dramatic statement for multiple seasons. Other plants like bee balm and hay-scented fern can do the same by spreading just under the surface. Using plants in this way has proven to be more effective than mulch in controlling weed growth.

One of the biggest impacts ecological designs have on the landscape is the ability to create movement and life. Many of us, especially children, are drawn to wildlife. Butterflies are like a moving extension to the colorful flowers they are drawn too. Birds of many different species come together in the morning and create a symphony to wake up to. Nighttime is no different. The sights and sounds in a wooded area can make us feel like we’re in a magical world. Lightening bugs flash all around while the sounds of crickets and katydids come from every direction. Then there are the more elusive species like tree frogs and luna moths. Spotting one of these creatures will be sure to excite the onlooker. With the addition of wildlife, every day in the landscape can feel like a new adventure.

Natural landscapes are becoming more and more desirable as we gain more knowledge about nature and how to implement its practical, rhythmic strategies. Some traditional landscaping ideas, on the contrary, are becoming less feasible. Moving forward, we need to combine some of the concepts used in conventional landscape design with the principles of ecology in order to create beautiful, functional and healthy landscapes. There is no reason why we can’t mix in some much loved exotic species like Japanese maples with native plant communities. We need nature just as much as it needs us; it is up to us to manage our landscapes in order to create a healthy environment for our children, our pets, and ourselves.

Rick Bednar is the owner and operator of Ecoscapes, a landscape design and maintenance company that focuses on ecological and sustainable practices. He graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in environmental planning and has been in the landscape industry for over 20 years. Connect at 203-414-4605 or