First published on garden.org on July 20, 2006, by Suzanne DeJohn
I've been watching the progress of the new development going in next door to us, and as is so often the case, the first thing the developer did was cut down the trees and strip the area of all plant life. Now, the first two houses are in, and I'm struck by how stark they look, and also by how the summer sun beats down on them unrelentingly. A few well-placed shade trees would do so much to not only improve the look of the properties, but also cut down on cooling bills. Sadly, I don't see evidence of any plantings other than struggling lawns.
Contrast this with our 90-year-old house. Someone had the sense to plant the right trees in exactly the right spots -- or perhaps leave certain existing trees in place. Maples provide shade in the heat of summer; evergreens act as winter windbreaks. Both are a boon to the aesthetics and the energy efficiency of the house.
Landscaping to Conserve Energy
What happened to this commonsense approach to landscaping? Perhaps it's simply expediency -- it's easier to strip the land rather than maneuver heavy equipment around existing trees. Perhaps it has to do with our legacy of cheap electricity and fuel. When electricity was inexpensive and heating oil was fifty cents a gallon, conserving them wasn't a high priority. It can be hard to convince people of the importance of conserving natural resources until their pocketbooks and wallets are affected. So, that brings us back to the trees.
Using Trees and Shrubs Effectively
On the northwest -- and windiest -- side of the house there are evergreens. Two huge hemlocks and several 15-foot-tall yews situated about 20 feet from the house break the wind and offer a visual barrier between us and the houses next door. Rhododendrons near the house further insulate us from the cold, and grace us with a beautiful show of flowers, too.
What a contrast, both aesthetically and practically, to the new, treeless development!
How Much Can You Save?
The Other End of the Spectrum
There has to be some middle ground, between stripping all the trees and prohibiting the removal of any of them. Although, if I had to choose, I'd choose the latter.
*See "Tree Planting Program in Los Angeles" on http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/greenhouse/greenhouse14/short.html
**See "How Much Energy Can Shade Trees Save?" on http://www.epa.gov/heatisland/strategies/vegetation.html
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