Improvements to your yard can be eco-friendly
Ecologists and lovers of the "Great Outdoors" can transform their backyards into their own little parklands. Even when they can't take regular trips to forest preserves and other areas where nature abounds, they can regularly enjoy their love for the environment while at home.
Growing things are important in any natural environment, so if ecology is important to you, be sure to choose plants and trees that are meant to grow in our climate.
Find out what plants are native to the Chicago area and use those to landscape your yard. These plants will use less water, make your yard easier to maintain and create a space that naturally invites native birds and wildlife to visit.
Exotic plants can often upset the balance of wild plants and animals in your region. Native plants attract pollinators and wildlife that not only help your yard thrive, but the surrounding areas, too.
And be sure to consider composting to help your plants grow and to prevent burdening the waste-collection system with grass clippings and other natural materials. Compost bins are widely available at local retailers or online.
Replacing asphalt or poured concrete patios, walkways or driveways with permeable pavers is another good move that improves the environment, said Dean Strom, owner of Land Escapes Inc. in Barrington. These pavers are eco-friendly by supporting the natural water cycle and reducing stormwater runoff. When rainwater permeates such paving stones, it seeps into the gravel base underneath before entering the soil, rather than flowing directly to storm sewers.
Permeable pavers are installed with layers of varying-sized stone, called aggregate, underneath that filter and direct stormwater to underground aquifers. With permeable concrete pavers, most rain that falls on your patio or driveway seeps back into the ground, reducing the burden on storm drains. A permeable paver system can even be designed to harvest and recycle rainwater, Strom said.
These pavers are a system of interlocking plastic grids that are laid over a prepared subsurface. The gaps are then filled with materials such as washed rock, limestone, crushed glass, sod or a combination of soil and grass seed to create a strong and durable surface that allows water to naturally drain through to the soil below, Strom explained.
Compared to asphalt and concrete, porous pavers are much better for the environment because they promote natural water absorption, reduce flooding, help filter pollutants, are made from recycled materials, help control erosion and help minimize material transportation costs. In addition to being environmentally friendly, porous pavers are easy to install, economical, durable and simple to maintain, Strom said. They can also eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can breed and algae or mold can grow.
When it comes to furnishing your deck or patio, consider purchasing eco-friendly rattan or recycled plastic garden furniture, said Dan Mayer, owner of Northwest Metalcraft in Arlington Heights.
Natural rattan is extracted from palm trees and is often used as a replacement for wicker, which is made from wood. So its use helps prevent deforestation. Palm trees, on the other hand, grow quickly and are often planted in floodplains, making use of soil that would otherwise go unused.
Bamboo, recycled wood and metal, as well as natural stone, are also sustainable and good choices for outdoor furniture and decor.
Gas fire features with lava rocks are the choice for those who want fire features that do not pollute in the way that wood- and coal-burning pits do, said Tom Partipilo, home and garden coordinator at Lurvey Garden Center in Des Plaines.
Made from a durable glass-fiber reinforced concrete and equipped with an efficient, high-output, 60,000 BTU all-brass burner, Jensen fire pits can be ordered with either a natural gas or a propane hookup. A protective cover and black volcanic rock to cover the burners are included with the purchase and they are available in round, square and rectangular shapes, with both flint and carbon color options. They range in price from $2,400 to $3,150.
Most have about a 4-inch lip around the edge of the table so that beverages and small plates may be perched there, he said.
Lurvey's also carries Audubon bird feeders, made of recycled plastic, and bug houses that help the pollinators every yard needs.
The garden center also sells a line of wall hangings handmade in Haiti from recycled oil drums. The artists hand-carve the old oil drums and cut them into shapes like suns and hearts, adding touches of colorful paints for a finished look, which can be hung on the outside wall of a house, adjacent to the patio or deck.
A finishing touch for an outdoor gathering is melamine, a material used to make light, unbreakable dishes you can use at your next cookout. They replace the paper or light plastic plates that end up in the garbage and landfills after the hot dogs and hamburgers are eaten. Environmentalists rejoice because melamine plates are casual and cute like a paper plate, but they can also be run through your dishwasher and used over and over again in an environmentally conscious move.
With some conservation and creativity, you may never want to leave your personal backyard paradise again.