Cultivating conservation

Jeff vonKaenel

One summer afternoon when I was 11 years old and growing up in Ohio, my parents proposed we drive into Cleveland for a visit to the art museum. At the time, this prospect seemed to me about as exciting as a visit to the dentist during a Novocain shortage. But we went anyway.

The visit was just as boring as I had predicted … that is, until I ran into the work of the artist otherwise known as Rembrandt. I was young, but I remember his portraits vividly standing out in my mind, with their colors and vibrancy. I knew they were masterpieces.

It sounds like an overstatement, but I had this same feeling when I stayed up late one recent night reading “River-Friendly Landscape Guidelines: Sustainable Practices for the Landscape Professional,” compiled by the county’s Sacramento Stormwater Quality Partnership.

Frankly, when the good people at the Stormwater Quality Partnership—Jeanette Watson, Dave Tamayo and Kerry Schmitz—first handed over the 64-page manual, my “yabba dabba do” quotient was far from spilling over.

But as it turns out, it’s an amazing document. This guide uses information from the Bay Area, adapting it to Sacramento. It outlines a brilliant, comprehensive plan to take Sacramento from an ongoing environmental disaster to a realistic, achievable landscaping revision.

If implemented throughout the region, the guidelines set forth here would decrease the amount of landscaping debris that goes into landfills by 200,000 tons per year, as well as the amount of urban water use by approximately 30 to 40 percent. And if that’s not enough, this plan could also significantly lessen the amount of pesticides, nitrates and herbicides that are draining into the rivers and destroying the Delta; reduce the amount of energy needed for air conditioning; and produce landscaping that is easier to maintain and much more aesthetically pleasing.

The guide doesn’t just outline the plan—it details how to get there: which grasses and native plants to use, how to mulch, what type of trees work best and how to properly apply pesticides. Follow these simple guidelines, and it’s almost like creating a paint-by-numbers masterpiece.

Since I know absolutely nothing about landscaping and gardening, as my wife will readily testify, I decided to call someone who does—Chuck Armstrong, the longtime owner of Capital Nursery. I met with Chuck and his able staff and asked if this document was for real. Chuck said yes. And, he explained, it outlines things they’ve been trying to do for years.

It seems to me that we have a choice. We can either: (a) implement this plan, or (b) destroy our water system and the Delta, build more energy plants, spend more money on landscaping and basically fail to fulfill our responsibilities as decent citizens, leaving our planet in a sorrier state for our grandchildren.

We know which option to choose.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.