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Wanted: Beautiful, sustainable gardens with eye on future

Pacific Horticulture's 'Design Futurist Award' to honor gardens and designers that make a difference

The new idea of garden beauty: Landscapes that are sustainable and wildlife-friendly.

The new idea of garden beauty: Landscapes that are sustainable and wildlife-friendly. Photo courtesy Pacific Horticulture

Have you ditched your thirsty lawn in favor of more sustainable, wildlife-friendly landscaping? If so, you’re right on trend – and may be doing your part to save the planet.

Pacific Horticulture, the Berkeley-based non-profit foundation dedicated to West Coast gardening, is looking for gardens and garden designers – both professional and do-it-yourselfers – for a new competition: the Design Futurist Award.

Open for entries through July 26, this award celebrates beautiful, sustainable garden design that helps assure a bright future for all of us.

“This new idea of garden beauty weighs the health of ecosystems, people and climate resilience with traditional ideas about colorful plants and stylish design,” say the organizers.

The judges seek “garden designs that are easily replicable, are modest in size, or have been designed for neighborhood community use.”

The prize: Publicity and well-earned praise. The winners will be spotlighted in Pacific Horticulture’s prize-winning magazine.

“We want to focus on celebrating garden designers and landscape architects who work at a more human scale — it’s about making a difference,” says Sarah Beck, Pacific Horticulture executive director. “These garden ideas that are good for people and the planet can be spread old-school social network style, neighbor influencing neighbor.”

Garden submissions should reflect one or more of five themes: Growing for Biodiversity; Nature is Good for You; Drought and Fire Resilience; Sustainable Gardening; and Garden Futurist.

Among the committee members who came up with these ideas is UC Davis’ own Haven Kiers, an assistant professor of landscape architecture.

Kiers shared how these themes are reflected in her own design work.

“The theme that resonates most with me is Nature is Good for You, because my designs try to obfuscate precisely that fact!” she wrote. “I want people to love spending time in their gardens because they’re chic and sexy, or full of interesting stories they can share with their friends, not because they’ve been sustainably designed or labeled as ‘good for them.’ While my gardens promote biodiversity and utilize primarily native drought-tolerant plants, they are not didactic.

“Instead, I try to focus on creating aesthetically captivating and engaging spaces that just happen to be good for the people that inhabit them.”

To support native wildlife, Kiers mixes native plants with other landscaping choices.

“I like to integrate native plant palettes into traditional garden typologies—for example, how can you design a minimalist Japanese-style garden or a modern and angular front yard using only California native plants?” Kiers wrote. “Then I’ll add large, bold plants – I’m obsessed with agaves lately – into my designs for contrast.”

Kiers also offered some advice on choosing a garden designer:

“I get frustrated with designers who subscribe to the theory that native = messy, or who have a list of their top 10 plants and use them over and over again in every garden,” she wrote. “The designers I admire spend the time to first analyze an existing landscape, and then make design decisions based on that site. They aren’t afraid to experiment with plants or designs, and are willing to fix things if their experiments don’t pan out.

“Most importantly, they stick around—not just through the design and construction of a project, but over time,” Kiers added. “They prioritize designing for maintenance and they maintain long-term relationships with their clients. They do not subscribe to the ‘photographed and forgotten’ theory of landscape design.”

When asked what gardens inspired them, the committee gave a shout-out to one of our local favorites: Patricia Carpenter’s native garden in Davis.

“Patricia’s garden is a personal garden, begun in 2005, and now features over 400 exclusively native species and cultivars,” said Field Collective’s Nicki Copley, another member of the awards committee. “She holds several open gardens throughout the year, facilitated by the California Native Plant Society. Her garden is a valuable inclusion here for its commitment to experimentation, evolution, and management.

"Visiting private gardens like this, and public native gardens such as Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden (in Berkeley Hills), have been vital to my ongoing education on how to design with native plants in a garden context.”

This contest goes hand-in-hand with increasing interest in sustainable gardening, particularly in California.

“While I think people everywhere are passionate about climate change pressure and biodiversity loss, those of us who live in the Pacific region are experiencing front-line changes,” says Beck, Pacific Horticulture executive director. “Our unique microclimates challenge gardeners to deeply explore their sense of place, and I think this drives innovative approaches.

“In the West, it is easy to see connections between our wilder spaces and the habitat in our own gardens, or the relationship between extreme weather or drought and adaptive plant selection,” she notes. “I am seeing a growing interest in sustainable gardening, and I think this is also a natural extension of careful resource stewardship that is also being more widely embraced in the West.”

While this contest is primarily of interest to design pros, amateurs can enter, too.

“Anyone who has designed an existing garden in the Pacific region that aligns with our award themes is encouraged to submit to the Design Futurist Award,” Beck says. “We want to elevate the work of professional designers as well as the many allied professionals and gardeners who create amazing gardens that support ecosystems, climate resilience, and human health.”

For more details and links to enter:


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For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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