Gardens are never Static

A garden is never static

Besides the obvious that elements in the garden are forever changing with the weather and the seasons, the design of a garden is never finished. Although I am a landscape architect and I draw up plans which are a static image of a garden, I have never believed that any garden will match the plan I have drawn. That’s because gardens are created over time and the plants are always at a different stage of their life cycle. They will never all be the size that the plan represents all at once.

Did you know that in a plant nursery, the labels on the plants will state the adult size of the plant but it is not actually the maximum size that plant will grow to? It is simply the average size it might be when it’s growth slows down and it looks the best. i.e. for a tree, the label size will probably state its 10 year old height, a shrub its 5 year old height and a perennial it’s 1 or 2 year old size. That’s the size I draw them on the plan so we give them enough space to grow. It’s a bit like a teenager becoming an adult. You have to allow enough room for them to grow but after about 20 years old, we can continue to be much the same size and then still grow and change more slowly.

Back to the original topic. Gardens are never finished and that’s ok. If I design a spectacular garden for a client, I don’t expect they will go ahead and have it constructed all at once. Half the enjoyment of gardens for some people is working on it. Chipping away at it as energy, weekends  and funds allow. The landscape design is simply a guide to refer back over the years so that at any given stage of a garden’s life, it will still be a coherent place to use and enjoy. You don’t even have to follow the plan exactly. What the designed plan allows you to do is have a vision of what goes where and how it will work. From there it is much easier to make adjustments to suit. For example say a plan has the tool shed, compost heap and council bins drawn in. You might buy a tool shed that’s a bit bigger and decide not to bother with a compost heap. That’s fine, what matters is the service area has enough room to be functional and is positioned in a sensible place with easy access to the roadside and out sight from an entertaining area.

Over time our lifestyle changes. We’re out more often or home during the day. The kids need space to explore and tear up. The dog has puppies and then the teenagers want to have friends over. The mother in law moves in which means keeping her occupied in the vegetable garden. Life changes. Gardens change too. But having a good design to start with will allow those changes to happen easily. Whether you’re an avid gardener or not doesn’t matter, you outdoor space will always be changing and you can modify it in anyway at anytime. Even expert gardeners who’ve lived in the same house since they were born will still be altering bits and pieces until the knees give way and have someone else do it for them.

The definition of a garden is simply a plot of ground that has a border around it; a boundary. So everyone has a garden whether it has plants in it or not. A garden is not necessarily about the plants, it’s about the space you use. Even if you rent the place you live and the landlord pays for the upkeep of the property, you still have a garden to enjoy. No matter what you want to use your garden for, you can always have a plan and work on it over time. It never has to look like the plan so long as you have a plan to guide you, that’s all that matters.

people sketches 001

Ink people

people sketches 001

Landscapes are all about people and how we use them, enjoy them, and perceive them. Unfortunately I’m better at drawing plants than people so every now and then I sit down for some practice. This is today’s 30 min practice while I waited for some big files to down load. I try to make them dynamic and interesting by including all sorts of different types of people. The key is, they have to be quick and easy to do because no one pays me to draw people but they are useful when illustrating the scale and use of a landscaped space.

If you’re trying to draw people, here are a few tips. Always put the approx eye level at the horizon line of your perspective drawing. And the head should be about 1/7th of the body height. Children have a similar size head to adults so the 1/7th rule doesn’t apply. Their bodies are also big but they have short limbs.

Meet the vertical green wall designer Patrick Blanc

green wall garden

Vertical Garden Design Video with Patrick Blanc..

Video found on

The thing I love about Banc’s approach to the design of green walls is he chooses plants that want to be there. Plants that naturally cling to a rock face in the wild. These plants are already accustomed to flowing water rich in nutrients washing off the mineral rocks. They’ve adapted to putting their roots into crevices not soil composted soil. Then Blanc recreates their environment with materials that allow the plants to continue doing what they do best and he washes it all down with nutrient rich water used in hydroponics. Simple and effective. And he hasn’t kept the method a secret. There are no specially designed products. You can make one at home with woolen felt, PVC, a trough, irrigation and a water pump.

I learned about Patrick Blanc’s work when I was studying Landscape Architecture at Lincoln University. It inspired me so much I attempted to make my own green wall with lettuces in the botany department’s greenhouses. As with all first attempts, it wasn’t perfect. I leaked a fair bit but the lettuces grew well. I’d love to have another go at it sometime. I’ll kept a visual diary for you when I do.

My impression of a glowing tree

Natural Street Lighting

Imagine a street lit up with glowing trees rather than filament bulbs! Not only would it be spectacular and enchanting but also a major public demonstration of how technology can mimic, learn and use nature rather than consume and suppress it. The clever people at are trying to make this a reality. Watch this video from kick starter, a fund sourcing website.

They’re not the only ones who are working on the idea. No-one has actually grown a tree yet. But it doesn’t take much imagination to leap from their small plants to a full size tree in a few years. Yes it is genetic modification but so what? humans are a legitimate part of the ecosystem and we have a profound effect on our surroundings. Nothing is going to change that besides an apocalyptic disaster… even then some humans are likely to survive in a bomb shelter or submarine somewhere.

I’m getting off topic. Apparently they can print DNA sequences! I have no idea how that works but its also a bit disturbing the way they get the glowing gene into the plant. They alter a special bacteria with the glowing gene and then dip the plant into a solution of that bacteria so it can ‘inject’ or ‘infect’ the plant’s cell nuclei.

Technical stuff aside (its all explained in detail on their website), the best part about this project is they’re not keeping the method a secret, they’re giving it away and printing it in books and providing the bacteria DNA in vials so that other clever people around the world can continue the legacy. I think this shows an open minded strategy. Knowledge is no longer power like it was a few decades ago. Therefore knowledge is no longer valuable enough to keep it secret no matter what industry you operate in. So what is the world’s current power paradigm?


Pallet Pavilion Video

The Pallet Pavilion has been a labour of love and it has loved back by providing many performances to a broken city. Christchurch NZ. Watch and Enjoy.

Here are some of my other posts and images about my involvement with designing and building the Pallet Pavilion.

Community Page   Previous Pallet Pavilion Post   Pallety Images

If it has to be deconstructed this winter, I’ll be getting splinters in my cold hands so please pledge generously via Pledgeme and buy a pallet with your name on it right now.  Pledge Me      Buy a Pallet      Have your idea published   Buy a T-shirt

Puddle reflection of buildings and lamp post

Puddle Muddle

Here’s a perplexing thought for you. Puddles disappear. They drain away and evaporate. But how does the water evaporate on an ordinary day? We all know that water has three states. Frozen when below zero degrees Celsius, liquid between zero and 100 degrees and vapour above 100degrees. Surely the puddle doesn’t get to 100 degrees! So how does it evaporate?

Don’t worry, there is an answer to this riddle. I know the answer but I still find it amusing that we carry out our daily lives unaware that we can have two facts in our minds that aren’t consistent with each other i.e. puddles evaporate at normal daytime temperature and water only converts to gas at 100degrees Celsius.

Here’s another one I discovered a few weeks ago. wind and wind are spelt the same way. Windy weather to wind the horses up into a crazed frenzy. In my mind they were completely different words that I had never connected as being a homonym. Who knew!

wet bumble

Sleepy Bumble

Have you ever wondered how creatures live outside? I wonder what it is like to sleep outside every night like most animals do. Can you imagine being a cow for example sleeping on the ground, under a tree, a different day a different paddock. Or a skink, do they sleep under the same rock each night? Everytime I rescue a skink from my house bought in by the cat I try to release it on a warm rock where it can regain some energy and scuttle off to recover. I wonder if that skink will find its way back to its favourite part of the garden or did I completely upset his routine by putting him into a completely new zone where he has to learn his way around and find a new sleeping rock. Did I accidentally cause a feud by putting him in the middle of another skink’s territory? Do skinks have territories?

I also wonder about evicted spiders. Clearly I haven’t returned them to their current web, does that mean they have to quickly build one for the night? or do they just rough it until daylight. We have an amazing orb web spider in our garden that has to rebuild her web almost every day when I accidentally walk through it. I would love to share of photo of this one with you but I really struggle to get my point n shoot camera to focus on the web.

The worst part about sleeping outside must be the rain and snow. I took this photo of the bumble bee very early in the morning after a night of rain. There was several bumble bees on this Maungapiko shrub completely saturated and moving very slowly. They must have been keen for the sun to dry them out so they could get on with their day of busyness. Some insects get to live inside like honey bees and ants. Owls live in hollow trees of course so they’re ok. If I was a bird perched in a tree overnight, I think the best strategy would be to get their first and let other birds perch beside me.

Even though I like camping, I love my cosy man-made bed infinitely more. We humans are so very lucky to live and sleep in comfort inside, in the same place with the safety of walls, windows and doors. Just imagine our ancestors that travelled to NZ by ship slept on little more than some wool and horse hair bound together with string and heavy cotton to make a mattress for the three month journey. Or the people who live on our city streets on a piece of cardboard. Its rough.

Landscape with enough ugliness already

Oil Companies

I could write quite a long rant about this topic… actually I did but I was afraid you wouldn’t read it. So here are the main points that wind me up. I hope you agree.

The topic: Oil companies sniffing around our little country and coastline in New Zealand.

The way those big conglomerates are snooping around trying to find the best spot to dig a well for oil in rural countryside and near our coastline is sly and devious. It is understandable they don’t want anyone to notice and cause an uproar against them. They want to keep things as quiet and uneventful as possible. They calm the angry voices by saying things like “don’t worry yet, we’re just looking.” To me, that sounds like a three year old in a shop being told not to touch the precious pretty things as he defiantly whines “I’m just looking!” We all know full well that “just looking” quickly turns into “too late”.

The kiwi culture is wide open to being taken advantage of.  There are always individual exceptions but overall our kiwi culture is a set of values that wants to believe the best in people. We’re not suspicious people. We haven’t been ripped off or hard-done-by from other countries. We are honest people that expects honesty from our authorities. We’ve had it easy and I think that might have made us complacent. We think small scale, local and short term.

The global oil companies wouldn’t come all this way across the world to go home empty handed. They would have already invested time and money into prior research in order to send people over here with gear to test. They’ve probably also sent their best negotiators and public relations people to win over the local authorities and get those resource consents without public consultation. They’ve got them by the way. Did you know?

The consequences for the environment are permanent and far reaching. It’s not just a few kilometre radius that is exposed to risk. There will be damage. Not just a risk of accidental damage. Permanent change to the environment.  More trucks on our roads, more roads to carry the trucks, more grubby ships washing themselves in our clean(ish) ports. Smelly exhaust assimilating with our long white cloud. That’s all before they start piercing the earth’s crust to extract the oil they’ve come for.

The argument about job creation and money. “Our country needs it”. “The economy needs it”. “The people need it”. “The small towns need it”. Well maybe, but this isn’t the answer. Not like this. People are temporary. Jobs are temporary. Money is temporary. Even the infrastructure built with the tax money collected, is ultimately, temporary. People are adaptable, they find ways to survive, invent jobs for themselves, invent value for themselves and learn to live with fewer flat screen TV’s.

We need to think long term… really long term, like more than 10 years. Try 50 years or 100 years. That’s hard to imagine into the future so try looking backwards to see what 100 years looks like. 1913 through to 2013. Then ask, what is our legacy? Is it opening our land and seas up to extract oil for a whole lot of money. Think Texas, they might be rich, but they still have poverty and conflict and unemployment. Is richness what we need?

This blog is my reaction to a story about Dannevirke, New Zealand on Campbell Live TV3 April 24th. But there are plenty more events quietly going on like this across our country from the tunnel being dug through a natural native forest in fiordland to the government making it illegal to protest in the ocean. I thought local authorities acted on behalf of the community they represent but it seems that local councils and government are not just turning a blind eye, they’re encouraging it with dollar signs gleaning in their eyes.  I’m saddened that money speaks louder than integrity and people.  New Zealanders are loosing their say on the use of our own land, especially state owned land.

What are we going to do about these big bully corporations buying what they want with their fat money? What will our legacy be?

(By the way, the image with this post is obviously not anything to do with oil but I like to use my own photographs rather than someone else’s. We don’t have any oil rigs near where I live but just a two minute walk from my house is this view of the ugliness we impose on our landscape for our power and cellphone coverage convenience.)