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Desertification of the Domestic Landscape

What would you choose if you were offered two designs for your garden for free.

First design reflects modern lines of pavers, stones and a few short plants of the same type in pots to provide vertical elements.


Second design creates a garden with plants and lawn, soft flowing edges and range of plant shapes, height and types.


Which one would you like to sit in during winter? What about summer?


There is concern Australia wide that many modern landscape styles that eliminate plants and maximise paved areas and covered outdoor rooms, may in fact be causing more harm than good.


The essence of the concern relates to water… a resource which is limited and heavily debated.


A typical landscape with lawns, trees, shrubs, and a few pot plants will have rainfall that penetrates into the soil, percolates down through the subsoil and into the subterranean aquifers and reserves. Excess runoff will flow into dams, rivers, lakes, or will be redirected into storm water drains.


A ‘natural’ landscape works with the earth systems of recycle and return of water, with minimal supplementary irrigation required.


However in most trendy minimalist designs plants and trees are usually restricted to the confines of garden beds amidst of sea of concrete and pavers. Although an irrigation system will be installed to efficiently meet the needs of the plant life, it rarely compensates for the loss of rainfall (and percolation) in surrounding zones covered in concrete.


All good landscapes that use paving over large areas will include rainwater catchment areas (drains) to deal with excess problematic rainfall. Unfortunately this results in rainwater entering the sewerage system rather then entering the natural soil environment.


This unnatural alteration to soil moisture may have the following consequences:

*roots of trees will need to travel further to source water… possible cause of damage to structures further away

*small garden beds may not provide sufficient area for water penetration to satisfy existing garden plants


One important element overlooked is lifestyle.

The subtropics is renowned for have the most conducive climate for living. Plants are known to reduce temperatures in summer and maintain a more pleasant temperature in winter. By removing plants from a landscape whether it is a private garden or public space, it may in effect become uncomfortable in summer and winter.


Desertification refers to making something more like a desert… dry, lack of shade and low rainfall. The desertification of suburbia is the responsibility of planners, designers, landscapers and gardeners. A balance is needed between natural ground and covered, satisfying both nature and human comfort. As most community based city precincts are heavily concreted, then it is even more important that domestic gardens and residential estates compensate with more plants, trees and unpaved areas. 

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