Our Landscape and Landscape Design Services

How Do Ecological Landscapes "Work" for us:

They are grounded in a healthy soil food web.

The soil is home not only to the rock particles that we generally think of as "soil" but also the vast array of living organisms referred to as the soil food web. There can be billions of bacteria alone in a teaspoon of healthy garden soil. The soil food web is very complex but in the simplest terms we can think of it as a multi–level nutrient delivery system and the digestive ecosystem of plants. Beyond this, it has enormous influence on how water moves or is available in the soil and has an important role in disease suppression. The fuel and the habitat (or the "home") of the soil food web is organic matter or plant remains. When we allow plant residues to naturally accumulate in place (such as leaves that fall, chopped up spent stalks and blooms) or when we spread composted garden remains on the soil surface we are supporting the soil food web in the best possible way. The latter is also the least labour intensive and most cost effective practise. There is more information on this subject at the Society for Organic Urban Land Care (SOUL).The materials that make up good mulch range from whole leaves, stems, and seed heads on the very top down to much smaller bits of leaves and plants that have broken down on the soil surface. The diversity of materials and their uneven ages provides a rich habitat and fuel source for the soil food web.

Soil disturbance is minimized.

Where do we often see weeds? In open soil where the mulch layer has been removed or plants pulled. When we disturb nature with activities such as tilling, pulling plant such as annuals, compacting soil with equipment, removing natural debris or invasive pruning we are causing stresses that nature has to put energy into repairing. It also means a lot of work for humans and quite possibly more resources used and more waste created. Remember that an undisturbed mulch layer keeps the soil temperature moderated, stops compaction from rain, prevents erosion and disease spread and is home to many animals, insects and microbes.

The soil is covered with layers of plants that offer food and shelter to people and other living organisms.

When we have layers of plants from trees down to shrubs, perennials and ground covers we not only create more visual dimension to our gardens but we also create habitats or homes that attract life. One dimension landscapes such as lawns appear very simple but consider that they take a lot of work to keep them in their static state (weed-free, continuously green but low in height) and do we see much life in a lawn? The forest model is more resilient, diverse and stable. You may also find it more liveable and visually appealing.

The environmental conditions of a garden are our cluesto the choosing the right plants for the site. Changing site conditions to suit plant requirements is much more costly and more work. Being mindful of varying conditions on a property gives us the opportunity to create habitat. Consider too that even small niches in a garden such as a rock in a sunny area or a low, moist area will attract the wildlife that needs those conditions to survive.

Bee on flowers in garden The symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationships between people, plants, insects and other animals is acknowledged and supported. Nature provides many ecosystem "services" that we generally don't recognize or we take for granted. Trees provide shade. Plants generally attract water. Many organisms disperse seeds or pollinate flowers. Organic matter and trees sequester carbon dioxide. We can invite nature in and harness it to help us out if we are mindful of these connections. Trees are great mulch producers, birds and insects that are attracted to the flowers we plant keep predatory insects in check or they pollinate our fruit. Cover crops such as red clover or buckwheat planted beneath our berries do all of the above and suppress weeds. Generally, diversity of life is a means to balance in any ecosystem as no one organism dominates. Health is created in an "eat or be eaten" abundance. Nature can provide its own mulch and nutrients and take care of pest control too. Just one more job we don't have to do.

Stone gurgler in garden Use water wisely for plants, soil microbes and other life and keep rainwater in sight and on the site as much as possible. Plants, soil microbes and other living organisms in the garden all need sufficient water. However, with careful site analysis we can choose plants that are adapted to our climate and will require minimal supplemental irrigation. This is particularly so if we build healthy soil and have the right mulch. Irrigation systems vary widely in efficient delivery. There is huge potential in the future to harvest rainwater for our garden use and to create beautiful gardens that incorporate rainwater features. The ephemeral nature of rainwater features, here today but not tomorrow, highlights the magic and unpredictable nature of rain. It is a fact that no new water is being created: all water is being recycled.

Allow change a chance. First, this means honoring the evolution of living spaces, what ecologists refer to as succession. This is the move from simple grass to complex forest. Plants grow. If we have chosen plants wisely for the space then they won't outgrow their space but the feel of the space may change. Consider giving the new space a chance before altering the size or appearance of a tree or shrub with radical pruning that not only changes its natural form but its health. Consider that maturing landscapes attract new life with their increased diversity. There are more perches and more favourable nesting sites for birds. Aging and death of plants is a natural occurrence and dead wood is just another home or food source. Fallen leaves on the soil are food or habitat not a "mess". Fallen logs meter out moisture to nearby plants.

Second, the work of building an ecosystem does not happen overnight. But like our own children growing from babies to adults it is a process worth our attention and our patience. New landscapes will take work. By year 3 or 4 an ecologically designed, installed and stewarded landscape will require much less work and resources. Our reward for patience will be beauty and abundance through the seasons&helli; for the long term.

We hope that the foregoing information explains our thoughts about "low maintenance" landscaping. What we really subscribe to is "know management" as our business is not engaged in "maintaining" static or unchanging gardens. We are happy to mindfully manage or steward the development of ecological gardens.

Our Landscape Design:

"Design is the first sign of intention" McDonough and Braungart (2002)

Garden design completed While we have a strong commitment to building garden ecosystems our landscape designs are people centered

Our Design Ground Rules:

We strive to create outdoor spaces that have strong, defined lines that relate both to the land and the architecture, where the use of basic design principles balance unity, interest and visual flow. Winter bones in gardens are critical.

We want each garden to have a strong sense of place or being at home and harmonious with both our region and the individual property. We choose living, natural and the simplest materials first. We want to honor and incorporate the sensibilities and tastes of each client to create a garden that is unique to them. We acknowledge that relating the outside of homes to the inside is important.

We can work to a variety of garden styles or themes. Some of our favorite garden specialties include:
Tree frog in garden

  • Edible Landscapes
  • Kitchen Gardens
  • Wildlife Havens
  • Native Plant Gardens
  • Water Wise or Water Efficient Gardens
  • Cutting Flower Gardens
  • Meadows and Wild Lawns
  • Rain Gardens
  • Garden Editing, Renovating or Simplifying

Situated in Comox, we provide services of CAD enhanced landscape design and garden coaching to the Comox Valley, especially Comox, Courtenay, Cumberland, Merville, as well as central and north Vancouver Island.

Contact us for more information and to book an appointment with Karen Cummins
By phone: 250-941-1312
By email: Karen at EcoLandscaping.ca