I’m Bringing Driftwood Back

Good design, some say, draws inspiration from the natural environment. The preponderance of pohutukawa blossom prints on tea towels, throw pillows, duvet covers, change purses, shower curtains, fill-in-the-blank, in New Zealand appears to confirm this. However, one thing about design is that once its overdone, it loses some appeal.
As humans, we seem to continually seek the new. But there are only so many new news, so we witness the recycling of design. That is, we see styles come back. For example, when I was in high school in the 1980s, my brother and I raided our father’s closet for his skinny ties from the ‘50s and ‘60s that suited our preferred British ska ‘rude boy’ sense of fashion. Additionally, I found a sweater that had belonged to my grandfather, which became my most treasured item of clothing as a teen.
Along those lines, about a year ago the American rapper, Macklemore, released a song called “Thrift Shop” that briefly experienced deep rotation on some Whanganui radio stations. The song not only praises thrift, but also exalts “grandpa-style.”
I wear your granddad’s clothes
I look incredible
I got this big-as coat
From that thrift shop down the road
Restoring an old villa certainly qualifies as grandpa style, or even great grandpa style, but the villa is not the subject of this week’s column. Rather, I’d like to write about how the natural environment has inspired aspects of my landscape design and some pieces of artwork inside our home.
We moved to Castlecliff to be near the coast, but in a cruel twist of fate, during the first year we lived here I was kept so busy renovating and writing my dissertation that I only got out surfing three times. In the words of singer/songwriter, Alanis Morissette, “Isn’t it ironic.”
But now I have more free time, and I spend a lot of it walking on the beach. If you have ever been to Castlecliff Beach you’ll know that a dominant feature is driftwood. For me, the driftwood represents a connection between almost everything I know about the natural environment of the land of the long white cloud. A beautifully sculpted piece of twisted and polished branch pays homage to the forest on the mountainside from which it came; to the river that carried it; to the sea that tossed it; and to the sand that smoothed its rough edges.
Some of the most striking pieces are among the finest works of art I’ve ever seen. While Aotearoa is the artist, I am hardly the first to discover her talent. When visiting local artist Sue Cooke last week, she told me that there was once a time when all artists who moved to Whanganui went through a “driftwood stage.”
My use of driftwood outdoors serves multiple purposes: practicality and beauty. For example, I’ve used it for a bean trellis; a tomato trellis; arcs to support netting over strawberries; a funky fence to direct foot traffic; edging around our car park; posts to support wind netting; a climbing tower for our daughter; two play houses (whare iti and whare nui); and, most recently, a picnic table. 

Future plans include a swing set, a teeter-totter, and benches for our table. Indoors, we’ve used it in Verti’s nursery as eco-thrifty artwork.

From my perspective, the use of driftwood on our property represents the ultimate in eco-thrifty design. It is local, natural, organically-grown, non-toxic, and (nearly) free. The native timbers I select for ground contact are so dense (tight-grained) that they will last decades in our well-drained sand.
Keen to try it yourself? Check out the upcoming workshops.
1st December, 1-4 pm. Permaculture Design for a Suburban Section. How to design and install a low-maintenance/high-productivity food system by working with nature, not against it. Sliding scale, $25 – $45.
8th December, 1-4 pm. Driftwood Structures for Gardens and Landscaping. View a wide variety of ways we’ve used driftwood as a beautiful, durable, free building element. Learn how to make some of these items. Tools and galvanized nails provided. Sliding scale, $25 – $45.

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