My oldest son’s elementary school undertook a garden restoration project about 10 years ago. The design focused on seating areas under a grove of maple trees. Now the garden is a wonderful oasis on a hot day. The tall maples keep the ground under it significantly cooler than the hot sun-exposed asphalt parking lot located right beside it. In fact, it feels like you’ve gone into an air-conditioned space when you step from full sun to the densely treed garden; the air is cooler and moister under the heavily treed canopy. When my son went there, on hot days in May and June, teachers often brought the students to this garden because it was so much cooler than their classrooms.

In the centuries before the invention of electricity and air conditioning, societies used trees, plants and building techniques to help keep their dwellings cool in summer and protect them from the harsh elements in winter. The power of trees to ward off the heat of mid-summer’s day is one of the main issues that Sue Reed addresses in her new book Energy-Wise Landscape Design. Sue, a registered landscape architect, has her own landscape design firm and taught at the Conway School of Landscape Design in Western Massachusetts for 13 years. Sue not only understands effective landscaping she knows how to explain it so that novices like me will understand it.

The book is divided into seven sections ranging from how to design your landscape to cool your house in summer and warm your house in winter, right up to generating your own electricity and energy efficient lighting.

This is a very detailed book but it’s not a difficult read. In fact while it is an excellent guide for the lay-person interested in achieving some basic energy efficient landscaping techniques, it’s also good for a landscaping professional interested in maximizing cooling and warming potential a landscape can offer.

Engergy-Wise Landscape Design is not a book filled with pretty garden photos and bucolic settings. Rather it is a reference guide to help you understand and achieve effective landscaping while minimizing your carbon footprint — both in respect to where and what types of plants to use, as well as how to lower your carbon footprint during construction of your home and/or garden.

In order to have a successful energy-wise landscape it’s important to consider the land in conjunction with home design. If you’re building a new home, careful orientation of your home can help maximize solar absorption in the winter and minimize it in the summer.

Highlights of this book include:

  • Explanations of  plant/tree placement to maximize shade in summer, solar absorption in winter.
  • Wind barriers for winter and cool breezes for summer.
  • Developing your own small ecosystem on your land.
  • If building a new home, both placement on land (if the property is large enough to have this option), orientation, and window/door placement.
  • There is even an overview of different kinds of renewable energy including geothermal and small-scale hydro.

As mentioned, trees can provide an effective shade canopy to make your air-conditioning work better in summer — if needed at all. The problem is, they need to be planted in the right spot if they’re going to do their job. That means you need to take into account not just your home’s orientation, but where in the world you’re located and the sun’s path. Sue addresses this situation and tells you how you can track the sun’s path at your own location.

This is a practical book with lots of clear sketches and diagrams to demonstrate Sue’s suggestions. If you want to maximize your landscaping dollars, consider using your plants and exterior structures to help reduce your home’s heating and cooling costs while providing a functional, low-maintenance outdoor living space at the same time.

BEC Green

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