Sustainable Natural Landscapes

The beautiful thing about emerging natural landscapes is they just get better and better as plants mature, moss grows, animal and insect life move in, more mobile birdlife appears and the natural rhythms of growth and decay harmonises. That's what we are creating!

Our work with natural landscapes started some 20 years ago when we were introduced to Permaculture, Biodynamic Agriculture and Waterharvesting. I was always interested in nature and these areas of interest grew out of a natural love of nature.

What is it all about?

We are taking compressed soil areas, with no water retention and little ability to support plant life and converting them into a lush oasis that utilises water harvested from the roofs of adjacent buildings. The water is then stored and distributed throughout the landscaped area.

We remove the compressed soil, terrace the landscape to capture rainwater, reverse the water runoff and allow the water to seep into the ground. The waterharvesting channels are placed like arteries of a body through the ground, which feeds moisture to all the roots of our new environment.

Dry laid rocks are used to form the terrace and provide a natural haven for animal life, such as geckos, lizards and beetles. They provide a place for creeping plants, succulents and ground covers to take root and benefit from the coolth in summer and the moisture emerging from the waterharvesting trenches.

Then we condition the removed soil from excavation by adding soil improver and natural biological solutions that are found in normal healthy soil. once improved, the soil is placed back into the terraced structure, that is now fed with and retains water.

Trees are planted around 1 every 10m2 and grow to become a canopy that provides an understorey in summer for the next layer of plant and animal activity to be created. In Canberra, we are mostly using deciduous trees to shade the dry summer months and open the understorey to light and sun in winter. a bit like a solar passive house in nature.

We have environments that were created over 20 years ago by the original developer of waterharvesting Paul Totterdell and supported by Tim Edmondson, who worked extensively at the Rudolf Steiner School, that have now reached maturity.

These environments create havens for small bird populations that can struggle to find protection in an urban environment, where trees may be placed as a feature but not as part of a forest. Natural turns up when the right conditions are in place.

The wonderful thing about these landscapes that mimic nature, is that they seem to improve over time. The soil is kept moist as long as there is periodic rain, as the waterharvesting channels hold the water and allow moisture to spread out in the soil. After a few years, the tree root system finds its way to the channels and starts to mimic the shape of the trenches and forms a natural root channel where the water is taken up directly from the channel and feeds the trees and plants.

If the summer is a dry spell, the residual moisture in these environments lasts much longer than normal. Its only after a sustained dry spell that the smaller plants may need watering via the waterharvesting channels, thereby allowing the take up from the channel, rather than the surface. Even on a clear night, we see water enter the system from dew forming on the roofs.

We have been pooling talent and skills with Waterharvesting, Horticulture and Landscapes Consultants and have just created the first of many stages of Sustainable Natural Landscapes at the Aranda Primary School in Canberra.

We started with a barren area of concrete, asphalt and dirt with about a 4 degree slope. There had been trees in this area, but they had died over successive years of hot summers, due to the lack of water absorption and high run off due to compacted soil. It was a hot area in the centre of the school and surrounded by roofs. It is a perfect setting for the Sustainable Natural Landscape approach.

This area is about 20mx50m in size and was recently completed.

The natural environment that we created now has about 60 lineal metres of waterharvesting channels, 150 tonne of rock, 32 trees, over 100 plants, 2 x sand pits, 1 x bark play area and over 200 lineal metres of rock terracing seating. Eventually, this area will be mostly shaded in summer and a haven for ground covers, plants and small ground animals that can be studied and enjoyed by the school students.

Aranda Primary School has started running Art Classes in the landscape and we are currently preparing to present the design strategy behind the Nature Landscape to teachers and school children, so that they may study its evolution over time.

We are bringing nature and life to the areas that were barren. It's like a magical transformation. Everyone enjoys the emergence of so many trees, rocks and life.

Stage 3 has just begun at the school and we are currently planning to save their ovals with the same design system, but which will nourish their play areas and extend the life of grass areas.