We believe it is important that our lives and work have as little adverse impact on the environment as possible. We don’t claim to be completely sustainable in everything we do, but is a goal we aim for and colours all our decision making.
All electricity in our house and office is generated from our solar panels. We are not connected to the grid, instead we have batteries to store energy during the day for us to use at night.
This means we have to be conscious of how much electricity we are using but we have all the usual electrical appliances and have been living this way for over six years.
Our household water is all rainwater collected and stored on site. Water is pumped to a header tank about once a week and then gravity fed to the house. Water use is minimised by using a front-loading washing machine, low-flow shower head and a dry composting toilet. Our grey water is treated on-site in a reed bed.
Water for the vegie garden, food forest (we grow as much of our food as we can) and the animals is also rainwater stored in a dam on our property. The decorative gardens have no artificial irrigation once established.
Our home and office are primarily heated by the sun. We have lots of north facing windows (double glazed), excellent insulation and plenty of thermal mass in the concrete slab and internal mud brick walls. For the few periods in winter when we have several cloudy days in a row, we do have a small wood-fired oven to heat the central room of our house. We chose a wood heater with a built in oven and cooktop so that on evenings when the fire is alight we can use it for cooking and not use the gas stove.
For transport we are still reliant on petrol powered cars but we choose small, efficient four cylinder engines. Chris occasionally uses his electric powered recumbent bike (and always has good intentions of using it more often!).
Our landscape designs are, of course, done to meet the needs and desires of our clients, but we always encourage clients to keep sustainability in mind. Usually this is not hard because it often saves money as well.
We have some basic principles that we always try to use in our landscape designs at all scales. Sometimes there are good reasons for not adopting some of them but they are an important starting point. These principles include:
- protect existing undisturbed soils – soil is not something than should be just bulldozed into a heap and then spread around afterwards, it is a living part of our ecosystem and key to our future.
- work with existing land forms – some earthworks may be necessary to create flat areas, we try to avoid major changes to the natural contours of the land.
- manage water on-site and treat the problems close to the source – there are many ways to divert water away from drains using landscape techniques. This benefits the landscape and our rivers and streams and reduces some of the harmful effects caused by cities.
- reuse existing materials – often existing paving, bricks and rocks can be reused in the new design. This reduces the amount of new material brought onto the site and often provides interesting character to the new design. Where there are not materials from the site, second hand materials from other sites can be used. After that, we look for locally sourced materials with recycled components.
- rehabilitate disturbed soils – new soil should be brought onto the site only if it is not possible to improve existing soil, for example where contamination is present. We would much prefer to bring in compost and mulch.
- retain existing trees – trees take a long time to grow and add character and shade. Wherever possible, our preference is to keep existing trees and other vegetation as part of the new design.
- select plants to suit the climate and soils – plants that have evolved in similar conditions to the new landscape will be healthier and require less care, attention and water than plants from other climates. Microclimates can be created for special plants but there is often a cost in materials or energy in doing this.
- work consultatively – take the time at the beginning to find out what really matters and explore the knowledge already in the room, a design doesn’t always need to be flash to be a good one.
- apply knowledge from other systems – don’t be afraid to mix ideas from natural systems management with pasture management, city living with agriculture, civil engineering with permaculture, traditional land management with urban design.
We also actively engage in our community, both using our skills to support awesome community endeavours and participating in social and special interest activities.
We strive for a balance between work and the rest of our lives. We love the work we do but we love doing other things too. Having our office and our home at the same place means that we can duck out of the office to weed the vegies or cuddle the alpacas when we need to.