Australia is the smallest continent in the world. It’s also the driest, aside from Antarctica, which means it’s even drier than Africa!
You would think that conserving water would be on the top of our list when it comes to creating gardens and parklands. Instead, there has been an emphasis on ‘controlling’ the land rather than working in harmony with our soil.
In our attempt to make our lives easier, faster and more convenient, we have covered land with roads, paving, buildings and car parks, particularly in our major cities.
Fortunately, some of our forebears saw the wisdom of making parklands available to the people. This gave us places where people could create a wonderful connection with nature that is so vital to our wellbeing.
Choose indigenous species
When drawing up a plan for your own garden, there are a number of water-saving features you can include in your design.
Australia’s landscape is covered with indigenous plants and grasses that conserve water to survive times when rainfall is low and days are long and hot. They provide an excellent example of how we can better use our limited water supply to grow lush, green areas.
Generally speaking, these Australian natives are a better choice than their exotic counterparts, given they are indigenous, have finer leaves, less surface area, and include certain species that can extract water from the surface below.
By way of contrast, exotics – and in particular English plants – are conditioned to summers that are not as hot, have higher rainfall and wetter grounds, and therefore rely on more water application.
Indigenous plants were used for this rural property in Woodend, Victoria and include Lomandra seascape, Dianella revoluta, Poa labillardieri and Leucophyta brownii; all of which have narrow leaves.
The reduced surface area of the foliage further reduces their need to suck up a lot of water, and means the foliage has less contact with the sun.
Brachyscome multifida, Scleranthus biflorus and Myoporum parvifolium ground-covers; these assist in keeping the soil beneath them cooler and damper, as less evaporation occurs due to increased coverage.
These plants also tend to capture the rainfall/water for better ingress, rather than skipping and running off the surface.
Tip: Water conservation is just as important in metropolitan areas of Australia, particularly as suburbs spread further across the land. Once again, selecting indigenous plants can assist in creating a garden that is lovely to look at and easy to maintain.
Employ other ways to conserve water
According to advisory body Archicentre Australia, water conservation indoors and outdoors is an important component of sustainable living.
“As with all sustainability measures, water conservation is enhanced by considering a site’s natural attributes, including soil type, climate and compatibility with the dwelling,” says Archicentre Australia director Peter Georgiev.
He recommends, where appropriate grey water systems, rainwater tanks, suitable guttering and downpipes as well as water-efficient gardens, possibly even feature ponds.
Further, “Operationally, mulch should be used to help retain moisture, low-maintenance and less thirsty plants can help, and paving or decks should be considered as an alternative to large lawns, which require a lot of water.”
Choose recycled or upcycled materials
Materials naturally found on a property can be reused to create areas for human passage. This may include large branches from the bases of trees, stones and rocks, natural mulches, and discarded wood pieces. By utilising organic materials in this way, you are not introducing materials that may need to be replaced and replenished. You can create interesting designs and features that look at home in the environment.
Tip: Use timber that is naturally discarded by surrounding trees, which can be used to create bridges, path edges and interesting organic structures. This saves time and money importing materials from suppliers. With a little creativity, organic materials become features that add to the ambiance of the area, providing features that please the eye.
The importance of permeable surfaces
Permeable surfaces include indigenous grasses, pathways constructed of permeable substances such as rocks, recycled timbers, and specially designed permeable paving. These add a decorative feature to the garden or parkland while allowing water to flow back into the soil.
Instead of designing a garden that requires constant maintenance and watering, you can create zones that are used for different purposes. This enables water collection and distribution systems to be localised to where they are most needed.
Careful design and thoughtful planning enables you to maintain your garden area, gain the greatest benefit from the space that you have, and use water wisely without causing pollution or wastage.