At the start of 2020, I wrote about my 20/20 vision for gardens around South Australia. It’s interesting to read it again and look back on it, as I think it is still really important. In the light of what actually happened in 2020, one of the long-term consequences of COVID is that people are speculating there will be a swing away from high density apartment living to people moving out into the suburbs where they can have a backyard and a garden. They now realize they can work from home, at least some of the time, and they will have a better quality of life if they have a garden and can get outdoors into their own space.
My 2020 Vision revisited…
For the first column of the year I usually write something about new year gardening resolutions. As I pondered how to make it different to what I have written in previous years, I realized the significance of this particular year – it’s 2020. We often say that perfect sight is 20/20 vision and it hit me. I can write about what I would like to see for the households of Adelaide and South Australia in a utopian world – my 2020 vision for all of us and our gardens. So, this column is all about what I think is important and what we need to strive and fight for in our outdoor spaces. Before we include any of these factors in our gardens, we need to accept their importance and value them. I know I may have ranted on about these factors in previous columns but let’s put them all together in one column as a wish list and then make it an action plan!
Why are gardens around houses and in our neighborhoods so important? Whatever size of garden space you have around your home, whether it’s an old-fashioned quarter acre block, or a tiny 3m x 3m courtyard, all green space makes a difference. Just in terms of our physical and mental health and wellbeing, gardens and there are numerous studies which demonstrate that green spaces and interacting with Nature make us feel happier and healthier. Then there are the important environmental benefits of planting anything, as all plants store carbon, helping to slow global warming and save the planet. If you grow some of your own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs, not only does it give you optimal nutrition, it turns food miles into food metres. And, plants are obviously cooler than hard surfaces like paving and tin fences, so they help counteract the urban heat island effect.
I love trees and believe that there is an appropriate tree for any space, even if it’s more of a tall shrub!? Trees have so many benefits but let’s look at the basic act of providing shade. Shade from trees makes a garden water wise, by making it cooler and reducing evaporation. Breezes that pass through shaded areas are cooled, acting as natural air conditioning to cool your home and surrounds. The cooling effect of trees on a house can reduce energy bills by as much as 15-35%. Deciduous trees provide shade in summer while still allowing the precious winter sun to shine through – this can be used to create passive solar heating and cooling in your home. Many studies have shown that trees enhance property values as they establish and mature, and overseas they have shown that mature trees add between 10 to 20% to the value of your property. Think about the suburbs which have the highest property values in Adelaide, and usually they have beautiful street trees and trees in their gardens.
Trees are one way of creating shade, but we can also use climbing plants over pergolas, patios, and archways to create shade. While many houses have pergolas and patios covered with colorbond or galvanized iron (or see-through poly carb sheets), these materials create physical shade, but they are not cool. Nothing beats the real cooling effect created by living plants in a process called evapotranspiration. You can grow deciduous vines like glory vine or wisteria to enjoy summer shade and yet still have the benefit of our precious suns warming rays. Another option is to grow vertical vegies which are planted in spring, grow up and create shade by mid-summer and feed us at the same time.
Lawns went out of favor during water restrictions as they were perceived as being wasteful of water. Yet, if we choose waterwise varieties of turf like couch, kikuyu, and buffalo, they can be waterwise and survive with a moderate to low amount of water, whilst having amazing effects on cooling temperatures. Having a lawn near your house and entertaining area means that you need less air conditioning to cool your home. Now a dead or dry lawn doesn’t have this cooling effect, and can in fact be as hot as bitumen, while I have measured fake lawns which are 10-12 degrees hotter than bitumen.
Value the rain that falls.
We live in the driest state in the driest continent in the world. Typically, our climate is one where we get rain for up to six months of the year which helps our gardens cope for the six months of the year when we don’t get significant rain. In a good year the season breaks and the autumn rains start in mid to late April and we can get periods of rain till mid to late October. With these stark constraints of wet and rainy and hot and dry we should be valu9ingh every drop of rain that falls and trying to capture it, to use on our gardens or at least let it soak back into the ground. Instead, our cities are getting covered with hard impervious surfaces which don’t allow for the rain to recharge the soil. Gardens and lawns allow the rain to soak back into the ground and we can add rain gardens and permeable paving to allow further rain to recharge the soil.
One of the biggest threats to urban wildlife is a lack of habitat and as urban infill replaces one house on a decent sized block with denser living and four or five courtyard homes pop up, this is going to get worse. every yard can become biodiversity hot spots, encouraging birds, bees, butterflies, and other creatures. Gardens can also become biodiversity hotspots which is vital as urban habitat is under threat.
As yards get smaller, we need to look around us and utilize all available space in our suburbs. Nature strips present an opportunity to add more greenery and habitat, and it’s great to see many councils developing official verge policies which encourage planting local native plants instead of having just scorched earth, or heaven forbid, fake turf.
Value community gardens.
‘More grows in a garden than a gardener sows’ and that is definitely the case with community gardens. They are about so much more than just growing food, they are a hub for sharing of knowledge, produce and friendship and building strong, vibrant, connected, resilient communities.
So, with our 2020 vision for 2021, let’s visualise Adelaide, towns around South Australia, and cities and towns all around Australia, with green growing everywhere. With green neighbourhoods, we have higher property values and less crime, and best of all we are all healthier and happier. It’s one thing to visualise it, now let’s make it happen.