One of the reasons many of us like to trek out to conservation areas or provincial parks is to be surrounded by nature. Studies show that experiencing the sights, scents and sounds of nature is good for our mental and physical health.
But what if you could experience the calming power of nature without having to travel somewhere?
You can! With naturalized landscape design. Here’s our primer on this approach to landscape design — and why we love it!
What is naturalized landscape design?
Naturalized design is an approach to landscape design that transforms a cultivated existing landscape — such as your lawn and gardens — into a habitat for native plants and wildlife. These habitats mimic naturally occurring landscapes in your geographical area, like forests, wetlands and meadows.
The goal is to design and build a landscape that’s environmentally friendly and low impact. Naturalized landscapes are not only beneficial for the surrounding environment — there are loads of benefits for you too!
What are the benefits of naturalized landscape design?
- They eliminate chemical lawn treatments: Chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides can give you a beautiful lawn, but they also kill all sorts of insects, fungi and other beneficial critters. In fact, 99% of insects in your yard are actually good to have around, because they pollinate flowers, help leaves and other natural material decay, aerate the soil, release nutrients and sustain the natural cycle of life. Not only do chemical treatments kill insects, they also do lasting damage to human health and the environment. A naturalized design lets you rely on alternatives to chemical treatments.
- They reduce the need for lawn care: Less chemicals also means less work for you. By not fertilizing, your lawn will grow more slowly, so you can mow it less. In many cases, a naturalized landscape eliminates an existing chunk of your lawn in order to plant native species. Obviously, this is up to your personal preference — but gardens are generally lower maintenance than big lawns!
- They attract local wildlife: A naturalized landscape can bring beautiful and beneficial wildlife to your yard, from birds to butterflies to amphibians like frogs. You can even tailor your design to attract the wildlife you enjoy.
- They allow natural species to thrive: When you reintroduce native species of plants, they can compete with invasive species that are harmful to our environment. When the native species you plant thrive, so too does the wildlife that’s attracted to them for food and shelter!
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits to naturalized landscape design, but designing and cultivating one can be complex. If you want to go deeper into the process, check out this free PDF from the Government of Ontario.
What are the elements of naturalized landscape design?
The following elements are adapted from this article from the Ecological Landscape Alliance. We’ve tried to write everything as simple as we can, as the ELA article is written in technical terms for landscape designers and architects.
- Minimize the disturbance of existing native growth. — Restoring nature to what it once was is a lot harder than leaving it be. Whatever existing native growth or ecosystem you have in your yard should be kept as it is with minimal disturbance. If you’re not sure what’s in your front or backyard, we can help!
- Decide how closely you want to emulate the natural landscape. — The existing surrounding landscape, your goals for your new landscape, the architectural style of your home, and the size and existing characteristics of your property are all going to play a role in designing a naturalized landscape. When a designer visits your property for a consultation, they’ll keep all of these factors in mind.
- Nature is everchanging and a naturalized landscape should be too! — There is some “randomness” present in all of nature. A mix of open spaces with gardens and transitional areas should reflect this randomness — no straight lines allowed! Every ecosystem is a delicately balanced system of plants, animals, insects, microorganisms and soil. Naturalized landscapes should account for both the existing ecosystem and natural changes we can expect to see over time.
- Preserve rainwater on-site. — Often, landscape designs consider surface water as something to be eliminated. Naturalized landscapes can actually prevent runoff and erosion, and many include rain gardens, ponds, wet basins and porous paving surfaces. These will all preserve water on-site and make manual irrigation less of a burden.
- Reduce and exclude lawns and invasive exotic plants. — Naturalized landscapes are meant to be diverse! While a little bit of lawn is okay, a large sweeping lawn is a monoculture and isn’t true to the philosophy behind naturalized landscapes. Instead, consider native grasses mixed with broadleaf plants and wildflower meadows (great for pollinators like bees!)
Want to bring naturalized landscape design to your backyard?
There’s a lot involved in naturalized design, but hopefully, this post shows you why our team is so passionate about it!