Designing with an Ecological Eye
Walter Cudnohufsky Associates, Inc.
Isn’t all landscape design green? Not necessarily.
Although the profession works with plants as one
major element, special attention must be given to
protecting habitat, water quality, plant diversity,
soil health, energy conservation, and more.
Underpinning all of the projects WCA
undertakes—whether a small residential design
or a campus master plan—is a commitment to
designing in harmony with nature. This is
achieved through a number of careful steps.
• Know your site
Take careful inventory of what exists on the
site: plant communities, drainage patterns,
wildlife habitat, unique outcrops or species.
Understand what the soils are like: acidic or
alkaline, dry or moist, deep or shallow.
Identify historic markers, such as stone walls,
cellar holes, or other indications of past land
use. Is there a sugar bush on site? Deer
yards? Can you identify corridors taken by
wildlife or paths that connect to neighboring
properties? In what watershed does the
property lie? Look at your site in the larger
• Protect unique resources.
If there is an area that particularly stands
out—a place that draws you to it—that may
not be the place to build. While contrary to
first instincts that lead a client to claim the
most unique portion of the site for their home,
it may be more prudent to keep a respectful
distance from that resource. Identify any
wetlands or streams and establish a protective
buffer; a low depression may be a vernal pool.
• Locate structures carefully.
Selecting the building site is the most
important challenge. WCA counsels clients to
take advantage of southeast exposure, and
buffer prevailing winter winds. Working with
an architect, WCA finds ways to create
positive spaces between buildings with
suitable microclimates to enjoy outdoor use
year-round. By clustering buildings, the
footprint of disturbed area is minimized, as is
• Build with climate in mind.
Think about prevailing summer breezes to
capture, winter winds to buffer. Roof
overhangs and shade trees can reduce summer
cooling bills, just as a good windbreak can
keep your home warmer in winter. Plan
where snow will be plowed.
• Select materials accordingly.
Using local materials, such as stone and
lumber, will tend to create a better “fit” with
the site, as well as reduce the energy cost of
transporting materials from afar. Consider the
life span of materials when making choices;
the more expensive material may in fact save
you money over the long run. Use recycled
and recyclable materials. Work with native
plant communities rather than exotics that will
require more care and chemicals. Limit the
amount of grass to be mowed.
• Manage construction carefully.
The process of building and renovating can be
very damaging to a site. Clearly mark where
construction vehicles may park, where
materials can be stored; keep them well away
from tree roots. Keep construction away from
streams and wet areas with bright snow
fencing. Inspect siltation fences regularly to
ensure wetlands aren’t being impacted.
Recycle waste as much as possible – paper,
metal, wood scraps.
• Anticipate future uses.
Before construction vehicles enter the site,
determine the best layout for the driveway
and make sure they use that. Additions,
expansions, and future structures should be
part of the plan, even if they are not going to
be built immediately.
• Manage water on the site.
Limit the amount of impervious surface, and
infiltrate runoff on the site. Use porous
pavement. Plant steeper slopes to slow
surface runoff. Think about capturing roof
runoff in a cistern or rain garden and use that
for irrigation. Or build a green roof: they last
longer, slow runoff, absorb carbon, reduce
“heat island” effects, and look great!
WCA takes great pleasure in finding the right
solution for each unique property – one that is
beautiful as well as sustainable.