Sustainability + Design—Not a Compromise

Dear Expert: How can we incorporate sustainable practices into our landscape that are high design as well?

Answer: There is no need to sacrifice elegant design in order to implement sustainable landscaping practices. Since spring thaw is on everyone’s mind, let’s focus on modern sustainable water practices.

Rain gardens are still a great option: they allow rainwater to collect and naturally soak into the ground before flowing into nearby water sources. This allows the ground to naturally filter the water, which cuts down on pollution in nearby lakes and streams. Rain gardens allow 30 percent more water to soak into the ground than the same size patch of lawn.

The problem is, most rain gardens are all looking the same, and people want their landscape to be an extension of their design aesthetic. A cookie-cutter rain garden isn’t going to cut it. biota is helping clients create customized, contemporary rain gardens by integrating enclosures, varied plantings, and other modern design elements.

When it comes to storm water management, rain barrels are great, but typically a one-inch rainfall will overflow a barrel. Additional methods of storm-water recapture are therefore much more efficient.

We’re seeing an influx of green roofs, and their benefits go far beyond energy efficiency. They absorb and retain as much as 50 percent of rain water, and some buildings with more linear, contemporary architecture that feature flatter roofs can store as much as 70 percent of storm water.

Many landscapes have integrated irrigation, which brings us to one of the most obvious sustainable practices: water only when necessary. In addition, choose plantings that tolerate an influx of water and thrive with a short period of standing water, like Miscanthus.

Cisterns and permeable driveways are two more innovative options. Cisterns are large plastic bladders that collect rain and other gray water. They are hooked up to an irrigation system with a pump. Some expense is involved in installing a cistern underground, but it’s a great way for conscientious homeowners to drastically limit their water use.

Permeable driveway pavers are designed to reduce the volume and rate of storm-water runoff and pollutant concentrations. When installed properly, the system naturally filters contaminants, facilitates water-table replenishment and collects rainwater. They also do great in Midwest winters and even protect your vegetable garden from runoff.

JimElegant design and green practices are no longer mutually exclusive. biota invests in educating our team on global trends in both design and sustainable practices. Visit or contact us at 612-781-4000 or email to learn more.

—Jim Saybolt, Principal, biota