How green is your garden?

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 19 March 2019

Five ways to make your garden eco-friendly.

When designing show pieces for Australia’s biggest garden show, most creatives pull out all the stops and use the biggest, brightest, most impressive infrastructure and plants they can conjure up on the day. 

But in designing their first-ever display for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS), the two-man team behind AKAS Landscape Architecture have chosen to go down a different garden path. 

artist illustration of a man sitting in an eco-friendly garden

An image of AKAS Landscape Architecture’s ‘Anthropogenic Future Garden’, which uses second-hand and reusable materials, and discarded plastics as ’a comment on how much plastic we’re pouring into the earth’.

Alistair Kirkpatrick and Anthony Sharples met as landscape students and found they shared a commitment to sustainable design and practice, so this has become a central theme of their five-year-old business, and it will be literally front and centre of their five-square-metre MIFGS boutique garden.

“The boutique gardens [at MIFGS] by definition are an artifice, being show gardens and temporary pop-ups, so we’re trying to reduce the impact by using reusable materials,” Alistair says. “The front face of the garden features Perspex boxes cut open to reveal layers of plastics underneath; we want to show how plastic has become an integral part of our lives.”

The plastic, sourced from local waterways, will be layered in the soil to look like the stratification you’d see in a road cutaway. “It’s a comment on how much plastic we’re pouring into the earth,” says Anthony, who has a background in fine art, “but we still want it to look attractive.”

AKAS has tried to source sustainable materials for the stand – the steel, concrete and timber is second-hand – and they will list all the new components, mostly small items such as screws and nails. 

The darker side is the fashion element and the energy we put into gardens in the form of materials and chemicals and water use.

“The aesthetic will be different because people have become used to highly manicured gardens with new timber and cut bluestone, but we’re putting together a garden that will still look good.”

The plants for the Anthropogenic Future Garden, as it is being called, are all on loan and were chosen for their hardiness. “The plants are designed to create a xeriscape – a dry landscape – to cope with Melbourne’s climate,” Alistair says. 

The list includes carnivorous plants, succulents, grasses and flowers, plus some aquatic plants in a pond. “We’ve gone with a palette of soft blues, greens and muted colours with pops of yellow,” Anthony says. “About 50 per cent is native but we have based our choice more on plants that will thrive. We might use stuff from South Africa or Iran if that’s more appropriate.” 

The garden will also include mounds and other topography to show what can grow on a west-facing slope or east-facing slope: “We’re creating microclimates.”

garden with reused concrete pillars

Broken concrete from a driveway is repurposed as a sculptural element in this garden.

hardy garden with concrete pathway leading up to house

Hardy plants bring beauty and texture to a suburban front yard.

If gardeners make considered choices, the AKAS team believes, gardens offer an incredible opportunity to embrace sustainability. “Gardens are harbouring life and sequestering carbon and growing food,” Alistair says. “But the darker side is the fashion element and the energy we put into gardens in the form of materials and chemicals and water use, which can have a large carbon footprint. 

“We want to get people to see beyond the artifice of a garden to make a positive impact.”

How green is your garden?

Five ways to make your garden eco-friendly – and five ways to tell if it’s not.

 Green lights:

  1. Use what you already have – if planning changes, look at materials already in your garden that could be reused. If buying, look at online sites offering free rocks, soil or plants that people are trying to share.
  2. Be aware of the aspect of your garden – which way it faces – if you select the right plant for the right spot it will need less water and pampering, be happier and look more beautiful.
  3. Avoid plants that are extremely water hungry. We might not be in drought now but plan for the future and what’s going to survive.
  4. Allow plants to self-seed a little – they are usually stronger if they choose their own spot. 
  5. Consider a pond, which can be really good for biodiversity, bringing in birds, native bees and other pollinators. There are lots of ways you can make them safe, such as mesh just under the water or filling it with large rocks so children can’t fall in. 

Signs of excess:

  1. You landscape your garden every few years, bringing in new paving, structures and plants every time.
  2. You have a shed full of chemicals and use them regularly. (Hint: Try using a hand-held oven steam-cleaner to kill weeds instead.)
  3. Most of your plants are ordered from interstate and need extra care – or even their own structure – to keep them alive.
  4. The large lawn demands frequent fertiliser and watering to keep it lush, and regular mowing to keep it neat.
  5. You had some fancy raised vegie beds built and in moments of enthusiasm fill them with freshly bought manure and seedlings, but then forget to water them or harvest the zucchini, so it all ends up in the green bin as waste.   

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