Retrospective #21: Eco-Thrifty Yard and Garden

Until now this column has focused on the application of our seven design principles to the physical structure of our dwelling. Over the past 20 weeks I have explained how we have applied those principles: solar gain; thermal mass; insulation; draft-proofing; reduce; reuse; and, recycle.
But recently my attention has been drawn out of doors to our nearly complete landscaping efforts. Although the design principles do not fully apply to our yard and gardens, they have still guided us through the process of turning a section full of rubbish and weeds into an abundant foodscape. For example, the principles of solar gain and thermal mass helped us design and build a number of ‘sun traps’ and ‘heat sinks’ where we planted sub-tropicals such as banana, tamarillo, Tahitian lime and pepino. We are also very conscious of seasonal sun angles in relationship to our deciduous fruit trees like apples, peaches, apricots, and our evergreen fruit trees like feijoas, guavas and citrus. But most of all we are conscious of the wind and sea spray.

You may recall my praise of the New Zealand Building Code in previous columns for its high standard of weather-tightness and structural stability. In other words, the first step toward a sustainable building is one that does not leak or fall down. Along the same lines, the most sustainable fruit tree is the one that does not die from exposure or thirst. For those of us who live close to the coast that means wind protection. For those of us who live on sand that means soil and compost.
In our case, that increased the cost of our landscaping because we have to buy wind netting and topsoil. But without those investments, we might as well not even try growing fruit trees in Castlecliff. With those investments, we have planted 100 edible perennial fruit-bearing plants on our standard section. Along with the perennials, we have extensive annual gardens where we can apply the last three of our design principles constantly: reduce, reuse and recycle.


Like any adherent to common sense, we compost (ie, recycle) our food scraps and yard clippings. We reduce the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides by managing a diverse, healthy polyculture of plants. In other words, we let nature do the fertilizing and pest control for us by using nitrogen-fixing legumes and beneficial insects. And we have reused heaps of concrete fence posts and edging to frame in our raised annual gardens.
As with the villa renovation, the eco-thrifty mandate in the yard and garden is low input and high performance. Additionally, in both cases the design is holistic and four-dimensional. Holistic means that we consider the interaction between different elements of the design. Four-dimensional means that we consider time – the fourth dimension – as we interact with our home by opening and closing curtains at different times of day, and interact with our gardens by rotating crops and staggering plantings and harvests.

If you are a keen gardener, interested in eco-design, or simply a fan of this column, you are invited to a garden tour to celebrate the spring equinox. We are offering the same tour both today and tomorrow afternoon. A koha is suggested to support the ongoing writing of this column by this unemployed graduate student with an infant child and wife on maternity leave.
Saturday, 22nd September, 2:30-3:30 pm (This time corresponds with Saturday bus service in Castlecliff).
Sunday, 23rd September, 2:30-3:30 pm. (Sorry, no Sunday bus service.)
10 Arawa Place, Castlecliff.

Peace, Estwing

2 thoughts on “Retrospective #21: Eco-Thrifty Yard and Garden”

  1. I just recently discovered this wonderful blog site and feel your penniless pain! As a pair of penniless horticulture student hippies we are trying to do exactly what you are trying to do in Tasmania Australia. Cheers for sharing your somewhat lateral experience with us as I am gaining lots of hints and tips. We inherited 4 acres on a river from my dad when he died…4 overgrown crazy wild acres that we have been balancing out against our Diploma studies for the last few years. We have been fighting the wilderness and have started learning about permaculture and are using the same principals that you talk about here to work with our situation rather than against it. We are composting, using chooks to help us tame the landscape, using hugelkultur and Biochar to help us with our heavy clay soil and silty river topsoil along with lots of mulch. I want to use green mulch for the thermal mass and simple living water retentive properties that it offers but have been negotiating with the chooks to no avail. We are in the process of building a gravity fed chook run (our property is on a steep slope) and 3 poly tunnels so that we can extend our short harvesting season. Its great to see other penniless students doing what we are trying to do and gives us a degree of hope that one day it will all gel together and will start to work as an integrated unit, cycling endlessly without us having to race about pushing the "cycle" buttons ;). Cheers again for your wonderful posts and from one penniless student to another…your efforts to share are much appreciated!

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