Why Investing Your 'Green' in the Garden is a Wise Idea
Words by Dr Mat Cottam. Photography by Derek Galon.
"Money doesn't grow on trees", or so they say, but with global markets ever-jittery, it is nice to know that one investment is proving increasingly astute: “hedge funds”… of the landscaping variety. In times of financial hardship, thoughts of the environment are typically put on the back burner. Regarding wise stewardship as a luxury, however, is a recipe for a badly-burned environment. Still, in the real world, few of us are currently in a position to ask, “What can I do to help the environment…?” without quickly adding, “… and how much will it cost me?”
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As a result, after the plug is pulled on the hot-tub, the next thing for the chop is usually the landscaping. While most of us will casually bemoan the impact on the aesthetics of our property, weeding out your landscaping can incur cash costs beyond the immediately obvious. Of course, we all know trees are good for the environment: planting trees is, for example, a cost-effective carbon dioxide reduction strategy, helping offset the impacts of climate change… all great for future generations, but what is in it for us right now?
Firstly, few things contribute towards the allure of a property more than the curb-appeal of an attractively landscaped setting. For private residences, trees have been shown to increase property values by 7-15%. Tree-lined roads and sidewalks similarly translate into increases in the realty value of residential neighbourhoods. For commercial properties, consumer research shows that people will travel further, visit more frequently, and pay higher prices for goods and services in retail districts benefitting from the competitive advantage of attractive, leafy landscaping.
Closer to home, shady canopies also bring with them a range of fringe benefits. Shielding houses from the full force of inclement weather and the sun’s rays can contribute to a reduction in heating and cooling costs of 20%, and also ensure the longevity of built structures. Shading sidewalks and roadways similarly contributes directly to a reduction in maintenance costs due to weathering. This, combined with the release of water vapour by urban trees, delivers effective cooling to the built environment. Permeable growing surfaces planted with trees absorb storm-water runoff, reducing reliance on artificial drainage. Trees also provide an effective buffer to the noise pollution of roads, and improved air quality through reducing airborne dust.
Okay, okay, you say. I get it. Trees = good. If, however, you currently maintain a large landscaped area, or even a welltended window box, a glance at your latest water bill may be enough to make you think twice about the benefits of planting more trees, and encourage you instead to immediately pave your patch and pitch-up a basketball hoop.
The good news is that when it comes to landscaping, the most environmentally friendly solutions are also the cheapest.
Many new building plots come with free, established mature vegetation on site. Unfortunately, it is the norm in many countries that immediately upon purchase of a new piece of land, a developer will flatten the area before building, and then leave the purchaser to bear the full cost of replanting. A little care and attention at the planning and design stage means that developing the footprint of your property can often enable significant swaths of mature vegetation to be maintained on site. This simple measure leaves you with a ready-established garden to match your new home, allowing you to augment your instant free landscaping with a few colourful exotic flourishes.
For those of you who have already moved into a property set within a brand new moonscape of rubble, or a landscape of fragile and thirsty landscaping standards… there is still hope. Native tree landscaping offers an increasingly practical alternative to over-used exotic choices.
In the Cayman Islands, a private donation of funds enabled the establishment of a Native Tree Nursery at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in 2006. Stock trees were selected for growth on the basis of attractiveness for landscaping, form, conservation status, endemism and ecological value. Instead of planting yet another hedge of Ixora, Native Tree Nurseries enable gardeners to choose a hedge of a critically endangered species, one of cultural significance, or one that attracts local birds and butterflies. The environmental value and economic prudence of planting with native trees has seen similar projects blossom across the Caribbean. Native trees are being grown in many places, including the Virgin Islands and Anguilla; where dedicated nurseries are targeting species ranging from endemics such as Machaonia woodburyana (commonly called Alfilerillo) and Rondeletia anguillensis (commonly called Anguilla Bush) to locally-grown landscaping staples such as Buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus. These on-island growing initiatives have the added benefit of avoiding any chance of the accidental introduction of invasive species to the islands by avoiding the need to import soil and plant material from other countries.
Being perfectly adapted to local climates, native trees are generally less susceptible to local stresses, and so are less prone to disease than many exotic species. Their innate resilience contributes directly to reduced maintenance and replacement costs. Native trees will typically require a month’s watering to ease them along their transition from pot to plot, thereafter they will fend for themselves, doing their bit for the environment without the need for further watering or expensive irrigation. Many will also bring with them the benefit of attracting native wildlife, such as birds and butterflies, making your landscaping a dynamic and changing environment, full of colour and birdsong. Native trees help sustain the environment and your pocket in equal measure.
So, what’s the catch?
There really isn’t one, other than finding the native trees….
If you do not have access to a dedicated Native Tree Nursery, ask at your local commercial nursery. Many will carry one or two native species, and if they do not, most will respond to market demand. Alternatively, familiarise yourself with the native trees of your own country, and, if a suitable opportunity to collect some seeds presents itself, go for it! Few things beat the feeling of growing a mature tree from seed, and, needless-to-say, the cost-effectiveness of growing your own is hard to beat.
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