Ruud Kleinpaste’s Guide to Garden Design

By simply looking at how nature works, we can find quite a few dos and don’ts when it comes to designing a garden or exploiting such a space.

Here are my top tips, some of which also reflect my personal loves and hates:

Go with the Flow – curved lines in landscapes! In nature, there are very few straight lines (if any!). The ancient French and Dutch gardens (17th century, etc.) are spectacular, but remember they were designed to show the wealth of landowners, especially those who boosted the economy … economists have never been able to work with nature.

Minimize the amount of hard surfaces on the floor. Water that falls from the sky generally tends to seep into the soil where it benefits invertebrates, fungi, plants, trees and shrubs, as well as algae, bacteria, and soil creatures. By the time you create hard surfaces, you will create flooding somewhere … that’s why I think we need to seal our roads in the suburbs where we can.

Create areas of wildflowers. I never understood the use of lawns. Monocultural deserts of green nothingness and with very little biodiversity. Gasoline lawn mowers are loud and time consuming. In a meadow of wildflowers, all you may need to do every now and then is cut “paths” between the meadow full of flowers. Besides, wouldn’t it be cool for the All Blacks to play their games in a field of wild flowers?

Practice pest control with biological technology. Life-friendly chemistry is much healthier for the applicator, the garden, and the planet. Let predators, parasites and pathogens do the balancing work for you! You’ll never take out a problematic creature or fungus – nature often operates on a system of control, through which balances are restored naturally.

Be kind to your birds, insects and fungi. Not all bugs you find are automatically pests. In fact, most of them are really very useful. Biodiversity isn’t just a few species that linger in your garden – it’s a huge number of organisms that make up a complex ecosystem. This system grows your plants, it cleans the air and water, nourishes the soil, and feeds you the vegetables you grow.

Take care of your soil. This is what makes everything grow! Use compost to add organic matter – don’t use PEAT! This will make the clay much more friable and better draining. It also allows sandy soils to retain water more effectively. This black organic matter also gives plants a place to sit, so they can be released slowly.

Avoid plastic if you can… pots, labels, plant clips and the tray. Plastic has gradually become the material that will never move away from our natural spaces. As it erodes it gets smaller and smaller, and these particles eventually become molecular in size – invisible, but still present.

There are stories of molecular plastic in the oceans, eaten by fish – and eaten by us. Molecular plastic often contains positive and negative ions which bind to viruses and other pathogens – imagine: plastics are the vectors of our pathogens!


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