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Apr 272009

By Harriet Blake

Michael Abbate embraces two worlds. As a co-founder of a landscape architectural firm and an urban planner, he’s a dedicated environmentalist. As a spiritual man, he’s a committed to creation care. In his new book, Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your life and Our World, (WaterBrook Press, 2009) he combines both.

“I saw a need for this book,” which addresses the environment for those faith-based individuals he describes as the “eco-curious.”

Abbate, who is LEED and ASLA (Architectural Society of Landscape Architects) certified, was inspired to become more ecology minded when he became a father, realizing that today’s generation has an obligation to protect the planet for its grandchildren and beyond. (His daughters are now 23 and 20.)

“Before the woman, the snake, the apple or the Ten Commandments, God created a garden, placed man in it, and told him to work it and care for it,” Abbate says.

His book is intended for people of all faith backgrounds. “In Christianity and Judaism, there is a spiritual mandate to protect the planet,” he says.

Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east…The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. Genesis 2:8

“There’s a false dichotomy between spiritual faith and the environment,” he explains. As a landscape and urban architect, he receives two questions from his “eco-curious” friends: Who should we trust when it comes to the environment? And, what should we do about it?

“The faith-based community doesn’t know where to turn,” he says. “The first half of my book addresses the faith connection to the environment. In the second half, I look at what we can do.”

“When I speak to groups, who might be skeptical about global warming, I tell them I’m not a climatologist. But I think we can all agree on certain things, such as air pollution is not a good thing.” And, as he points out in the book, “People are dying because of poor air quality, and humans have the ability to prevent these deaths. But do we have the will?”

Abbate says the majority of Americans believe in a faith and also believe in protecting the environment. He cites a 2008 Pew Survey that says 83 percent of Americans affiliate themselves with a religious tradition or group and a 2005 Harris Poll, that states 74 percent of Americans agree that protecting the environment is so important that environmental improvements must be made regardless of cost. So many Americans appear to be on the same philosophical page.

“The issue,” he says, “is fundamentally a spiritual one: in order to change behavior, you have to think differently. People need to re-evaluate their lifestyle and motivations.”

The second half of his book includes 50 ways to live healthier with the environment. The tips include eating local, growing your own food, adjusting the water heater, unplugging chargers, walking, biking, public transit, recycle, compost — much of the advice that is a given in a green-savvy society.

As much as Americans love their lawns, Abbate says, maintaining the perfect lawn is not easy or natural because most people tend to use too much water and pesticides. Having a lawn in areas where you need a walkable outdoor surface to play on is all most people need.

He suggests using automatic sprinkler systems since you can control the application. He especially likes drip systems instead of spray irrigation and having a rain sensor is key.

Abbate recommends more environmentally friendly alternatives when it comes to vegetation, such as native plants, drought-tolerant plants and plants that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other wildlife – these are attractive and have ecological benefits.

And, instead of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, use nontoxic options such as ladybugs for aphid control, soaps for insect control and organic fertilizers.

“Bird feeders, birdbaths and hummingbird feeders are other strategies that can work with landscaping to turn your yard into Eden,” Abbate says.

By putting the planet first – recycling, composting, re-using – people are being good stewards of the earth.  Environmentalism, he suggests, “is an act of worship.”

“The earth isn’t a trust fund, it’s a limited checking account,” the author says. “And we’ve got to make investments in the natural world to keep it healthy and thriving.”

Abbate, an evangelical Christian, currently works as the Urban Design and Planning Director for Gresham, Ore., and lives with his wife outside of Portland. For more information about Abbate and his works, visit

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