Here are a few ideas to get you started if you're looking to make your outdoor space more sustainable

Fall has definitely settled in. While we’d normally pack up our patio sets and shut down our fancy-pants al fresco lifestyle until spring, the pandemic means that even in the city, we’re going to spend winter socializing like it’s an urban après-ski: outside, in cozy layers, on heated decks.

It also means we should try to keep fit, or otherwise occupied, outside whenever possible. That’s why now is a perfect time to start planning and prepping major garden projects.

If you have a lawn, you might not be aware that it’s an environmental disaster surrounding your home. Grass is a monoculture. It takes up swaths of land where biodiversity could bloom. It requires lots of gas-powered maintenance. You need to de-thatch and aerate it, weed and feed it. And in the summer it will die and/or thirst for water under the most straining circumstances. So why not bid the lawn adieu and give your outdoor space a new attitude for this new world.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started...


1. Leave it to the bees

beesPhoto by Seen on UnsplashPerhaps the simplest option: stop mowing your lawn and leave it for the bees. You can buy grass and wildflower seed mixtures that are designed just for this purpose. We all know how important these pollinators are. If you’re especially ambitious, a bee hive could follow in the spring (check with local authorities—and your next door neighbours—before you splurge on that fancy beekeeper suit).


2. Get growing

gardenPhoto by Jonathan Hanna on UnsplashHave you considered a vegetable patch? Even if you can’t get growing until spring, you can start planning and sprouting seeds indoors soon. I grew up in East Vancouver’s inner city, and my parents were Italian immigrants. I thought everybody enjoyed fresh radicchio lettuce at dinner, and mom still grows lettuce about 10 months a year. Some of her neighbours grow beans in their front yard. We ate ratatouille with homegrown vegetables before the movie made it trendy (we knew it as ciambotta). And our fig tree still bursts with enough fruit every August to can and jam our way through the year. What harvest could await from your outdoor space?


3. Go low

cloversPhoto by Irene Dávila on UnsplashIf you want to stick with the look of grass, and won’t be trampling it much, there are low-maintenance alternatives that can help retain the look of your lawn, without the mower, at an affordable price (no, we don’t mean plastic turf). Consider clover, creeping thyme, or even moss in shadier spots.


4. Xeriscape it

xeriscapePhoto by pepe nero on UnsplashPronounced zeeriscaping, this approach to landscape design celebrates drought-like conditions where most plants would beg for mercy. It was born in Denver to counter the glut of water being consumed in the American Southwest: up to 80 percent of a home’s use was just for landscape irrigation! People were obsessed with keeping green lawns and lush gardens where a precious resource was already scarce. Instead, xersicaping uses large rocks, gravel and drought-resistant plants. You could even install a Zen garden to rake out your frustrations. It takes a little effort upfront, but along with being low-maintenance and better for the environment, xeriscaping can look downright expensive.


5. Build an Italian courtyard garden

Italian courtyardCourtyards may sound formal, but they’re great for informal gatherings. Instead of a wide open field, think walkways and dining areas floored with gravel or paving stones. They drain well, endure high traffic and withstand the four seasons. Throw in a couple of statues to spark conversation, and a water feature to bring the birds around. Finally, the most prominent element of an Italian courtyard: evergreen shrubs like juniper, cypress and boxwood. Symmetrical, formal and carved into clear borders and scintillating shapes. An Italian courtyard is a major undertaking upfront, but would require minimal annual maintenance once it is built.