Shades of Green

Shades of Green | A Unique Garden Article by Amy Ridgway

Green.  A word I’ve often heard used to describe Atlanta and the surrounding metro area. Rich with southern pines and magnificent oaks, the climate here is conducive to growing almost anything, really. The greenery many witness can even be seen by travelers from above, flying in and out of one of the world’s busiest airports. Over the years, Atlanta has become as transient as autumn clouds. Popularized by the Summer Olympics in 1996, Atlanta made its way onto the global map as a hip, young, affordable place to live. Having lived here myself for only 11 years, I’ve reached “near-native” status, meeting very few that were born and raised in the metro area.

Many transplants naturally flock to the northern suburbs, primarily because of its proximity to the high-tech hub and the abundance of well paying jobs. However, the area also boasts of newer, larger, more spacious homes and the lush lawns and landscapes that surround them.  Relatively speaking, we are (were) growing with leaps and bounds. Fields that were once harvested for hay to feed an active community of horse farms have now been replaced with schools and parks, and acres that laid home to a thriving industry of chicken farming sold out to developers anxious to build their next ticky-tacky subdivision.

Many of the young families living and thriving in this area are busy working, commuting, and engaging in activities primarily related to their children, leaving little time to “dig in the dirt.” During the economic boom of the early 2000’s the money seen and spent in this area was resounding. Those investing in their homes spent tens of thousands of dollars enhancing their outdoor living areas with pools, flagstone patios, fireplaces and firepits, outdoor kitchens, koi ponds, and the lush gardens surrounding them. “Green” was abound, both literally and figuratively.

When the economy (and housing market) bottomed out in late 2008, there was almost a complete halt to the spending (and planting). Homeowners, fearful of losing their jobs and their homes, took drastic measures to cut costs. Many, who had never attempted to personally care for their gardens since building their new homes, fired their contractors and took to the maintenance themselves.  This newfound spirit of home “ownership,” coupled with the fear that food prices would inflate to all-time highs also spawned cults of backyard farmers.  A rising tide of organic gardening took wave; however, a local drought dried up many ambitions.

One would think that a struggling economy and an area plagued with drought would foster creative ideas in the way we southerners garden – replacing our stately lawns and oversized flowerbeds with hints of xeriscaping and the demand for nurseries to sell more native varieties to foster a sustainable, more energy efficient landscape, but nothing of the sort has occurred. Why? Well, for one, we are a community of transplants living in a busy world of subdivisions dictated by HOA (home owner association) guidelines restricting us from planting out-of the-box. For another, there is little attention brought to this point and a lack of homeowner knowledge and know-how.

So often in our area, we see a blend of trends. Taking the latest eco-friendly ideas influenced from the West (primarily California), coupling them with the year-round, tropical landscape influences of South Florida, and melding it with a region renowned for its already distinctly “southern” garden style.  Hopefully the future will lead to a simple balance, one that inspires us to be good stewards of our environment, while keeping it aesthetically pleasing and fitting to our lifestyles – for all intents, a new shade of green.