By Mike Jiggens
INCORPORATING naturalized landscapes into a project may not be the norm
for many landscaping companies, but the strategy can produce some
striking landscapes which help reduce maintenance costs and
demonstrates to customers a company’s passion and knowledge of its
Jack Pizzo of Pizzo and Associates Ltd. in Leland, Ill. endorsed the strategy in January at Landscape Ontario Congress in Toronto.
“It is cheaper to manage a sustainable landscape in a natural area than it is to maintain a traditional landscape,” he said. “When you save your clients money, that’s power.”
Not only does the approach help to reduce landscape maintenance costs, but it can differentiate one company from another.
Pizzo said establishing natural areas creates more diversity and more habitat. An area in a park setting, for example, which is mostly lawn that is rarely used can be converted into better-utilized walking paths, allowing adults and children to immerse themselves in nature. It also sets itself up for enhanced photographic opportunities for shutterbugs.
Landscaping is not so much art, but a science, Pizzo said.
“You really have to understand the scientific principles which go into it. Creating something that is absolutely beautiful and artistic is actually good science.”
Pizzo went as far as claiming there is no such thing as art.
“Really, art is science, and we need to restore science to its rightful place.”
Landscapers may be artistic in their ways, but it is chemistry which built the retaining walls used in a landscape and physics which correctly set them in place, he said.
Even the most famous impressionistic painters knew precisely which types of tints to use in their work, which was the result of science, he added.
Pizzo calls himself a “plant geek,” suggesting others in the industry who also fit the bill should take pride in that, “because what people pay for is specialty. They love passion.”
It is important for landscapers to “decommoditize” themselves, he said, suggesting that if all landscapers chose to grow Norway maples for their customers, supply would increase and the price of that commodity would decrease.
“If you are a knowledgeable nurseryman that grows local plant material and you’ve decommoditized yourself, you get to show people you have local knowledge because that’s what people want.”
He said customers want to feel good about the work landscapers do for them, not only for today but for the future. “That’s why we take care of our children. We don’t send them off to be raised by wolves.”
Creating naturalized landscapes will address such nuisance issues as geese control. Canada geese aren’t fond of naturalized areas and will be less inclined to make such areas their home.
Man has never been in control of his environment, nor will he ever be, Pizzo said. Instead, he reacts to the environment.
“With landscaping, you try to impose control, and Mother Nature just doesn’t like that. She’ll bang at you 24/7, and that costs a lot of time and money.”
With natural landscaping, one is trying to impose control, but it’s akin to herding cats, he said.
“Native plants move around, and they will move around. Holding them in a garden-style setting is a little bit of work, but it doesn’t require as much because they’ve evolved here.”
One who decides to create or restore a natural area is following the clues of Mother Nature, but it will still cost money. Such settings aren’t “no-maintenance” areas, but rather “low-maintenance” areas.
Ecological restoration includes such elements as culture, politics and society in addition to the environment.
“We are an animal in this ecosystem and you’re restoring them altogether. Stewardship is active dynamic management.”
That means reacting to changes in weather or the slope of a landscape, Pizzo said.
Landscaping implies sterility, he said, adding it’s important to acknowledge that native plants will reproduce. Biodiversity is not only the diversity of a species, but the genetic diversity within a species.
“You can bounce back because you have diversity in the number of species as well as the genetic diversity within them.”
Following the Ice Age, plants and animals returned to areas of North America that had previously been heavily encrusted in ice. Man, however, was “brutal” to the land upon his return.
“We manipulate the environment to our benefit, like all species do,” Pizzo said.
Some plants will produce a chemical from their roots to prevent other plants from growing around them. “That’s manipulation.”
Areas of the planet which remained the most unglaciated during the Ice Age are those most prone to lightning strikes. Man has emulated the effect of fire caused by lightning in rejuvenating growing mediums through prescribed burns.
Pizzo said Florida is at the centre of the continent’s most frequent lightning strikes, and its ecosystems consequently convert twice each year. One species of grass in the area is capable of growing two inches soon after a fire.
“That’s how fire-tolerant and fire-dependent these ecosystems are.”
Reintroducing native species into a project will have a positive impact. If someone wishes songbirds to return to his property or landscape, planting oak will help. Native insects won’t eat foliage beyond what is considered the tree’s damage threshold, yet they are food for songbirds.
Plants such as cattails can cause diversity to crash if introduced into a wetland project. “They take over.”
Similarly, purple loosestrife is a plant which shouldn’t be present in North American landscapes.
“Purple loosestrife is a beautiful plant, but it doesn’t belong here. It belongs in Europe.”
Pizzo told his audience their goal shouldn’t be to get people to understand ecology the way landscapers do, “I’m trying to get you to understand it in some way you can value it.”
He promoted “green” infrastructure over “grey” infrastructure. Using stormwater management pipes is an example of grey infrastructure. A greener alternative is swales which carry the water.
“You want to protect anything that’s existing, any chunk of Mother Nature. Anytime stormwater hits, it should be managed naturally.”
He warned, however, not to ignore management because natural and ecologically-restored areas are not no-maintenance areas.
If a natural area is not properly stewarded, it is likely to become overgrown with invasive and weedy species, producing an unsightly landscape.
If grading is involved in a project, Pizzo said it’s much easier to vegetate lower slopes which will also save money on erosion control. Bioswales should be considered in such projects.
Pizzo founded his company in 1988 and focused his attention toward ecological restoration.