Take Climate Action By Transforming Your Lawn With Edible Landscaping
What have you done for me lately?
The one-and-only Janet Jackson once asked that question of a bad boyfriend. But lately, we've been wondering the very same thing about a far less obvious offender—our front lawn. We water it and then water it some more. We give it a trim to keep it looking super fresh, and we do it all over again a week later. When the dog digs up a spot, we patch it right up.
According to a collaborative 2015 study by scientists from NASA, NOAA, Colorado State University and the universities of Colorado and Montana, about 163,812 square kilometers of the American landscape is "cultivated with some form of lawn … an area three times larger than that of any irrigated crop.
Now, imagine the possibilities if we put even some of that wide open space—an area roughly the size of the state of Wisconsin—to better use for the planet. That's right, by simply rethinking your own outdoor space and incorporating a few new landscaping techniques, you can do your part to fight for a healthier future for our fragile planet.
What is an Edible Landscape?
Edible landscapes are just like traditional ornamental landscapes—with one important twist. While they follow many of the same design principles, edible landscapes favor plants like herbs, vegetables and fruit bushes and trees over comparatively "unproductive" decorative plants.
They allow homeowners to enjoy food crops while keeping their space aesthetically pleasing. And much like ornamental landscaping, you can scale up or down to meet your needs.
What are the Benefits of Edible Landscapes?
Environmentally, grass is great–like really great–and of course, the kiddos and the pups need a nice, open place to play. But it's not the only thing you can do with yard space–and here's where edible landscapes come in.
As any gent in crisp white New Balance sneakers will tell you, a large lawn requires frequent tending to remain attractive. Which takes energy.
By converting grassy yard space into an edible landscape, you can dial down the amount of energy (and all that comes with it ... vroom vroom goes the gassed-up mower) needed to keep it looking great.
Edible landscapes don't just prevent carbon going into the atmosphere—they also help take it out. Replacing turf with larger, often perennial plants like trees, bushes, and vines removes more carbon dioxide (CO2)—the primary heat-trapping greenhouse gas driving the climate crisis—from the atmosphere than grass alone, sequestering it in both above- and below-ground biomass.
Even with the addition of vibrantly-colored annuals like red or purple lettuces, Swiss chard, mustard greens and edible flowers, your new edible landscape is still likely to require a lot less fossil fuel-powered maintenance than a traditional lawn.
You'll also be doing your part to save water—most home gardeners use far less water than commercial agricultural production of the same crop. All at a time when the climate crisis is driving major changes to precipitation patterns all over the world, resulting in some cases of drought and crop loss.
Ultimately, if done correctly using sustainable practices, edible landscaping can go a long way toward conserving valuable resources while creating a very effective carbon sink—and just think of all the money you'll save growing even a few of your favorite fruits and veggies right in your own yard.
"Any landscape design begins with choosing the location of the paths, patios, fences, hedges, arbors and garden beds—establishing the 'bones' of your garden," according to Mother Earth News.
So, before you plant a single seed or transplant, you need to ask yourself a few simple questions: How much of my yard do I want to convert into an edible landscape? What exactly do I want this to look like? Are vivid, popping colors my thing, or am I after cooler shades of blue and lavender? Would a path made of wood chips be preferable to one made of gravel? Do I want to go all-in on semi-permanent raised beds?
What you want is, of course, up to you, but be mindful of the upkeep your garden plan will require – and keep in mind that you're unlikely to be the only one who loves your new, climate-friendly edible landscape. Deer, squirrels, birds, groundhogs, and rabbits, as well as a plethora of creepy crawlies, all have a taste for many of the same delicious fruits and veggies we love to gobble down, so consider incorporating fencing and other barriers as part of your design.
And remember to not get overwhelmed. Gardening should be relaxing and fun, and you don't need to completely overhaul your lawn all at once, if you don't want to. Reimagining a landscape can be time-consuming and depending on how you do it, even a little expensive. So if you'd rather approach your project a little bit at a time, replacing a few square feet of lawn here or there with some berry bushes or culinary herbs and salad greens, go that route.
Much like swapping out your old incandescents in favor of energy-efficient lightbulbs, every little bit helps. One or two berry bushes or dwarf fruit trees will sequester far more carbon than a patch of grass. The planet will thank you.
What to Plant?
Selecting plants for your edible landscape is double the fun of a traditional flower bed because you've added a dimension to your decision-making—your plants need to be beautiful and yummy.
Of course, what you can grow depends on the conditions of your yard. And, with our warming world and possible changes to your region's climate in mind, consideration should be given to types of plants that may require less watering and/or are more drought or heat tolerant, as well as those more tolerant to increasing salinization, if you live in a coastal area.
With the design and color scheme you've sketched out, you also want to be sure to plant fruits and veggies that you, as well as your family and friends, actually enjoy eating. Good thing there's plenty to choose from.
"I'd challenge anyone to find a shrub with more visual impact than a blueberry that covers itself with white flowers in spring, dusky purple berries in summer, and radiant red leaves in the fall," the Spruce's Marie Iannotti writes.
Blueberries live their best life in full sun, so if you're after berries, but your yard or garden space is a bit shady, consider raspberry bushes, which do well in medium shade, instead.
A little shade won't stop you from planting veggies either. Luckily, there are plenty of attractive, shade-tolerant varieties you can tuck into the sometimes-shadowy corners of your edible landscape, including beets, cauliflower, and cabbages and leaf lettuces that come in a variety of colors.
If arbors, fencing, or trellises are part of your design, pole beans make for an attractive climber. They feature soft, heart-shaped leaves and speckle themselves with tiny flowers in the springtime. These posies tend to skew white or very pale purple, so if you're looking for a flash of color, pick up scarlet runner beans, which light up with their namesake red instead.
For a more perennial arbor cover, grape vines are hardy plants with a lot of character, offering up tasty fruit in the summertime and vivid red leaves in the fall.
But what should you put in your garden beds? Well, like we said, that depends a lot on you, your climate, and what you find tasty and easy on the eyes, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Tomatoes do particularly well when planted with flowers because isolating them to some extent helps prevent common diseases from spreading easily from one plant to the next.
- Because they are strong, well-defined, and can be planted in clean lines, lettuces make great edging plants, and can be found in more colors than you think, including deep purples.
- Speaking of color, it's your friend—and numerous traditional "greens," including Swiss chard and some cabbages, come in a rainbow of colors, while others like kale, according to Better Homes & Gardens, "have gorgeous fall color and are ideal for tucking into containers and borders for color late in the year."
- On the herb front, rosemary is a particularly pretty and fragrant plant.
- It's also important to remember that plenty of flowers are themselves edible. Nasturtiums and violas are among the best known and easiest to grow, but borage blossoms, calendula, chives and hibiscus also make for attractive offerings ... in both the garden and the right salad.
If you're looking for a fern-like perennial to add a bit of drama to a corner of your evolving new yard, think about asparagus, which comes back again and again for decades and serves up one of the season's first harvestable vegetables. It may take some time to get the desired effect, but left to its own devices, asparagus plants will develop big feathery fronds that catch the breeze.
Other less-common perennials to think about to give your edible landscape a little added character include artichokes, rhubarb, and French sorrel.
As for groundcover, consider strawberries. In the spring, they pop with white flowers that give way in early summer to sweet red fruit. By fall, their leaves take on a rich reddish-orange.
Now, Take the Extra Step to Help Us Protect What Matters
In addition to helping you lessen your carbon footprint, transforming your outdoor space with some edible landscaping could also help protect the health of your soil, which is threatened by climate impacts like erosion, pollution, and losses in organic matter.
Take an in-depth look at climate change's impact on soil health as well as what's at stake and what you can do to support a world where we can provide our booming population with fresh, healthy food grown in a sustainable soil ecosystem in Right Under Your Feet: Soil Health and the Climate Crisis.
Download this free resource now—and make sure you share it with your friends and family.
By Astrid Caldas
As we reach the official end of hurricane season, 2020 will be one for the record books. Looking back at these long, surprising, sometimes downright crazy past six months (seven if you count when the first named storms actually started forming), there are many noteworthy statistics and patterns that drive home the significance of this hurricane season, and the ways climate change may have contributed to it.
A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA's 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. NOAA
The updated 2020 Atlantic hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms. NOAA
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dana Drugmand
An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
‘Protect Our Future’<p>Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) are <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/09/03/youth-climate-lawsuit-portugal-33-european-countries" target="_blank">bringing the case</a> with nonprofit law firm Global Legal Action Network (<span style="background-color: initial;">GLAN</span>), arguing that none of the countries have sufficiently ambitious targets to cut their emissions.</p><p>Portugal recently sweltered through its <a href="https://www.ipma.pt/pt/media/noticias/news.detail.jsp?f=/pt/media/noticias/textos/resumo-clima-julho-20.html" target="_blank">hottest July in 90 years</a> and has seen a rise in devastating heatwaves and wildfires over recent years due to rising temperatures. Four of the applicants live in Leiria, one of the regions worst-hit by the forest fires that killed more than 120 people in 2017. </p><p>Responding to the development, André Oliveira, 12, said: "It gives me lots of hope to know that the judges in the European Court of Human Rights recognise the urgency of our case." </p><p>"But what I'd like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future. Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever."</p>
‘Highly Significant'<p>The decision represents a "highly significant" step, <a href="https://www.glanlaw.org/about-us" target="_blank">GLAN</a> Director Dr. Gearóid Ó Cuinn said in a <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/" target="_blank">press release</a>.</p><p>"This is an appropriate response from the Court given the scale and imminence of the threat these young people face from the climate emergency," he added. </p><p>By suing the 33 countries all together, the youths aim to compel these national governments to act more aggressively on climate through a single court order, which would potentially be more effective than pursuing separate lawsuits or lobbying policymakers in each country.</p><p>If successful, the defendant countries would be legally bound not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change including those of their multinational enterprises.</p>
‘Major Hurdle’<p>The <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/the-case/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries targeted</a> include all of the European Union member states as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, none of which are currently aligned with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/paris-agreement">Paris agreement</a> target to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).<a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a></p><p><a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Action Tracker rates</a> most of Europe as "insufficient" in terms of its emissions reduction policies based on the Paris target, while Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are assessed as "critically insufficient" – meaning they are on track for a warming of 4 degrees C or higher.</p><p>The European Union has pledged to slash its emissions by <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/eu-climate-action/2030_ctp_en" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least 55 percent by 2030</a>. But the Portuguese youth plaintiffs are calling for cuts of at least 65 percent by 2030, a level that <a href="http://www.caneurope.org/energy/climate-energy-targets" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">European climate campaigners say</a> is necessary to meet the 1.5 degrees warming limit.</p><p> The 33 countries must each respond to the youths' complaint by the end of February, before lawyers representing the plaintiffs will respond to the points of defense. </p><p>"Nothing less than a 65 percent reduction by 2030 will be enough for the EU member states to comply with their obligations to the youth-applicants and indeed countless others," Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN, said in a press release.</p><p>"These brave young people have cleared a major hurdle in their pursuit of a judgment which compels European governments to accelerate their climate mitigation efforts."</p><p><span></span><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/11/29/court-advances-landmark-youth-climate-lawsuit-against-33-european-nations" target="_blank">DeSmog</a>. </em></p>
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By Liz Kimbrough
Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the "Green Nobel Prize," this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continents.
Kristal Ambrose, the Bahamas<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzI3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDM5NTk5MX0.fdMrrUqf0HvWq0Uh0Ii3mXxJczHPyN1jcnSsQoXoerE/img.jpg?width=980" id="b9e66" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b8b8777f7964bb7100672b3be0abf3fe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Kristal Ambrose. Goldman Environmental Prize
Chibeze Ezekiel, Ghana<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTgzOTE3OX0.KoEZr3oMPKbeG2uT8q-ZsGPOGtIZ3l6V6NXEK5U90FU/img.jpg?width=980" id="65224" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ec640a8ba56a4db22b57e4f8734a7a4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Chibeze Ezekiel. Goldman Environmental Prize
Nemonte Nenquimo, Ecuador<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzYxODYwM30.cys5ZsFGd75UcjybADGBPFt20jrzgrsFujoj_qMTK4E/img.jpg?width=980" id="96b5a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0778ab7334e3297e0ead52d5fd1499e5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Nemonte Nenquimo. Goldman Environmental Prize
Leydy Pech, Mexico<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkzOTYzOH0.uHlN2FQoJJ_KFJWTn4oL__lDyjA0-HDnxewBhwgQRVg/img.jpg?width=980" id="9ab07" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc347126d4ce9ddbb3b9c1b4673391b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Leydy Pech. Goldman Environmental Prize
Lucie Pinson, France<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NzE0NTU1NX0.OutmX3sfl4pMaoYssTQ4zk7Y14_hans7-Z-0B0xsjfM/img.jpg?width=980" id="4bcd7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4bff14750dc0a70fc79e9484ea2bdbd4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Lucie Pinson. Goldman Environmental Prize
Paul Sein Twa, Myanmar<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDAyNjU0MH0.DHrKykngmcJyJ5rn4r91ANH7FmQ7Us6ZMEOis8yAzGY/img.jpg?width=980" id="8fa36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e703d62288df00931cd678c861c6e0b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Paul Sein Twa. Goldman Environmental Prize
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