Denise Graybill-Donohoe knows a thing or two about combining landscaping aesthetics and native plants to achieve sustainable results. As the owner of Dancing Grass Designs, LLC, a landscape design firm in Poolesville, Md., she often educates her clients on the virtues of using at least 70 percent native plants that will require less irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides.
In fact, most of Graybill-Donohoe’s actions seem to be guided by a Chinese proverb that she posted on her firm’s website: If you are thinking one year ahead, sow seed. If you are thinking 10 years ahead, plant trees. If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate the people.
Not surprisingly, Denise (pictured) practices at home what she preaches. During a recent visit to her nine-acre residence, she showed me a wildlife corridor consisting of a variety of oak trees, evergreens, and an understory that she created to link the woods on opposing sides of her yard and enable easy passage by small mammals. Next to the corridor was an alternative to standard grass, known as eco-lawn, that consisted of a combination of fine fescues that require mowing only once per year. She had also integrated an ideal ecosystem of layered plants in her garden beds that naturally fixed nitrogen, attracted beneficial insects, produced mulch, and helped provide a National Wildlife Federation-certified habitat.
Graybill-Donohoe, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional who received a master’s degree in landscape design and a graduate certificate in sustainable landscapes from The George Washington University, often stresses to clients the importance of choosing plant materials carefully when designing a property’s perimeter in order to slow rainwater runoff.
In addition to her professional pursuits, Graybill-Donohoe, recently put her LEED skills to use when she undertook the renovation of a 30-year-old cottage in South Carolina. Stripping the cottage down to the studs provided her with an opportunity to install proper insulation, energy-efficient windows, a tank-less water heater, low-flow, dual-flush toilets, and low-flow faucets and showerheads. A strong commitment to the tenets of sustainability was evidenced by her exhaustive search for – and acquisition of – modern LED light fixtures that are both warm in color and dimmable to 10 percent. In addition, she will receive a water-use reduction credit for adding a drought-tolerant garden designed with more than 90 percent natives.