Eco, Thrifty…and Beautiful!

Though we often emphasize designs and decisions that are ecologically-minded and inexpensive, an important part of any design is aesthetics. Permaculture is no different. While striving to make the best use of cheap, abundant and local resources, we also look for ways to make our surroundings attractive, whether they be garden beds, recycled-wood fences, or the latest second-hand purchase from the auction. No one wants to feel like they’re living among a bunch of cast-off junk, and we want to stress that this isn’t what being eco-thrifty means. Careful consideration goes into each project to ensure that it is eco, thrifty, and beautiful.

A recent ongoing project that illustrates all three considerations was the installation of a brick patio at the back of the house. The patio has replaced an old, dilapidated deck, which you might remember from our previous post on reuse. It is situated on the north side of the house, where the bricks absorb direct sunlight as well as heat that is re-radiated from the house’s dark-colored exterior. Due to these advantageous heat-retaining qualities, the patio will be a warm spot to enjoy the outdoors during the winter, as well as a suitable site for subtropical plants.

The project actually began when we removed the old deck, which left behind a rubble-and-trash-filled cavity. We salvaged some recyclables and a couple half-buried tarps, then filled in the area with rubble and sand until it was level. Using these materials as fill was an eco-thrifty choice: the rubble was readily available, needed to be disposed of anyway, and provided a clean, bulky fill. The beach sand we used was also a local, plentiful resource, and most of it was diverted from a municipal parking lot cleaning effort. It was going to be taken to the farthest part of town, Aramoho, to be dumped, but we prevented this extra transport and put the sand to good use.

Amidst the sand, we also installed a couple wells for plants, using old concrete edging from TradeMe and some homemade compost. Our banana plant is loving the sunny location.

The finished patio, complete with our happy banana.

On top of our eco-thrifty base, we laid the final covering of bricks. These were also purchased from TradeMe, allowing us to check “EcoThrifty” off our list yet again. Although these bricks were salvaged, they were still in great condition and only required a bit of scraping to remove some residual mortar. When we laid the patio, we chose a pattern that would interlock for good structure, maneuver attractively around the plant wells, and provide an unusual and pleasing pattern for all to admire. We think the end result is pretty striking, and gives the backyard an inviting and finished quality.

The patio joins the ranks of the pizza oven, that community-building sentinel of eco-thriftiness which I daresay is also quite attractive, and the new but weathered fence. Take a look at the pictures below for more examples of ‘eco-thrifty-beautiful’ that are riddled throughout the house.

Our secondhand hutch, filled with repurposed jars,
provides a surprisingly beautiful way to store dry goods.

An old, unusable deck means a nice weathered fence.

Symmetry, convenience, and rustic beauty.


– A. Lamb Down Under