Book Review: Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies

Owen Dell is my new landscaping hero. Not only does he have a funny, off-the-cuff writing style, but his landscaping experience goes back to 1971 when he first began his own landscape business.

He’s a licensed landscape architect and contractor, and his actual hands-on experience in the field means that his techniques actually function, and aren’t born of the “I-read-it-in-a-book-so-it-must-be-true” echo chamber. But even though he’s been in the business for years, he’s kept up to date on the most recent scientific advancements in the field, so he’s got a perfect blend of real-world experience and the scientific knowledge to back it up.

So, you’d think that a book entitled Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies would cover just the basics, and just the tenets of landscaping that we think of as sustainable, like low water use and rain barrels, native and appropriate planting, composting, and using organics effectively. But this book covers so much more than that. I’d almost prefer it to be titled, “Everything You Wish You’d Known About Landscaping Before You Started”, because that’s really what this book is about.

Dell takes us through every step of the design, construction, and maintenance process, making complex topics simple and bringing up all the little points that you don’t think about until years later when you have a problem. I think at any stage of your gardening journey, just one of the tips Dell suggests could easily save you the cover price of the book in preventing lost time and money.

And the book is from a very sustainable angle, yes, but Dell never falls into the trap of suggesting something that is sustainable but ineffective. In fact, he does what few sustainable gurus pull off – he makes it clear the many ways in which the sustainable processes he outlines actually make life easier for you, make the process less costly and time-consuming, and are not only more sustainable for the environment but for your own life as well.

The best thing? Owen’s book doesn’t read like a textbook. One part encourages us to “Pull Up Sissy Plants” and another section’s called “Fancy-Pants Composting Technology and the Tools You Really Need”.

I simply adored this book. If you’re wanting to encourage wildlife, have a much lower-maintenance garden, save money on plants and products, and get practical how-to instruction on sustainable landscaping techniques, then I’d highly recommend it.

If you want to get a feel for Owen’s fun writing style, check out some of these recent blog posts:

Do Rain Barrels Really Work?

Adversarial Horticulture

The Attack of the Designosaurs

Or, read reviews on Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies on


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