Recently, I had the good fortune to participate in a panel discussion at the monthly meeting of the U.S. Green Building Council — Nevada Chapter. Appropriately, its meetings are in a beautiful green building built with straw bales, one of several LEED-Platinum structures at the Springs Preserve.
The topic was green homes and my talk encompassed a combination of strategies and techniques that yield the most satisfying results. I mentioned insulation, orientation and thermal mass as the foundations of passive solar design. Daylighting and efficiency were covered, along with renewable energy and even electric cars. There was mention of creating microclimates, edible landscaping and using strategic shade trees to help maintain comfort and keep energy bills down.
The main message was that everyone can make a difference and that improving our homes also can help with big issues such as climate change.
Afterward, I spoke with fellow chapter member and landscape architect Anna Peltier about a project she’s been working on at her home. She is an active member of the organization, serving as the chairwoman of the education committee and often volunteering to help at chapter events. Peltier is the owner of Aria Landscape Architecture (www.arialandscape.com) and when it comes to applying green concepts to her craft, she walks her talk.
At home she is implementing several green strategies including an edible landscape. The backyard features what she refers to as “traditional edibles.” There are dwarf fruit trees producing apples, oranges and pomegranates. A pergola supports interwoven vines of Cabernet grapes, shading a cozy outdoor dining area.
I could almost smell lemon-grass, lavender, sage and rosemary as Peltier described what she grows. The list also includes marjoram, onion and garlic chives, oregano, thyme, lemon thyme and several varieties of mint.
Her traditional garden produces random seasonal veggies. She plants three annual growing seasons: spring, fall and winter. Winter crops are protected by a temporary greenhouse made from landscape piping and clear plastic.
To offset the higher water use of her edibles, Peltier’s front yard features native and near-native species from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, all bearing edible delights. Honey mesquite, Indian fig prickly pear, purple prickly pear plus teddy bear and staghorn cholla produce pods, flowers, pads or fruit that have been staples of the area for millennia. Peltier’s knowledge of desert plants and the food they provide is impressive.
Her edible desert plantings also include ocotillo, wolfberry, Indian rice grass, Mormon tea, banana yucca, Mojave yucca and barrel cactus. One non-native exception is a black Turkish fig tree to help shade the house.
Peltier pays attention to others with innovative ideas and practical solutions. One such person is Brad Lancaster, author of “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond,” who led a seminar on the topic in Las Vegas this summer. Peltier was there. Now her home’s roof is being outfitted with gutters to channel occasional but sometimes intense rainfall into cisterns. The water can then be used more effectively, when and precisely where it is needed.
The yard also has been graded into a series of mulch-filled basins, acting as sponges to store excess rainwater while reducing evaporation. Three basins drain sequentially into the next and small berms help keep rainwater from flowing into the street. These simple but incredibly effective methods reduce the need to irrigate with potable water.
Peltier says her goal is the satisfaction of having an efficient yard that also provides supplemental food. She acknowledges that native species can never feed the city, but using native plants makes sense, no matter where you happen to live. It creates a sense of place, a connection with the environment that is often sorely lacking in modern culture.
The more we appreciate the beauty of our rich, local biodiversity and integrate it into our lives, the more sustainable our community will become. Aria Landscape Architecture is singing a song that is music to my ears and it’s all about green living. Bravo!
Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Rypka, visit www.greendream.biz.