Rethinking the design & build industry for great community outcomes

GreenBridge is engaged in an ongoing conversation about how we can raise the bar of our buildings, landscapes and supporting infrastructure. Our aim is to create communities in which people are connected with each other and connected with their environment, and to create buildings and infrastructure that are healthy for people and the planet..… writes Daniel Woolley, director of GreenBridge.


This article summarises a recent conversation that I had with Malcolm Rands - founder and CEO of Ecostore, and also of Fairground Foundation


Fairground’s latest project is to develop a successful model of an urban eco-village in central Auckland, alongside development partner Ockham Residential.  I’m fortunate to be one of the people involved in the conversation of what’s needed to take this idea from vision to reality.


Above: The central green outside the community lounge at Ockham's Bernoulli Apartments - GreenBridge did the landscape design for this project.



In order to achieve people being connected with each other and with the landscape, the architecture needs to be designed in concert with the landscape and the landscape design. It is crucial that the designers have an understanding of the various aspects and principles that contribute to a resilient and connected community….


It is also important that as designers, we critically assess the design processes we use to achieve holistic outcomes. Often the standard processes for landscape and architectural design don’t recognise or deal with some of the inherent limiting paradigms that they came from…


“We cannot solve our problems, with the same thinking we used when we created them” - Albert Einstein



The Bernoulli Apartments by Ockham Residential, which GreenBridge completed the landscape design for, exhibits some of the key requirements needed to create a human-scaled & human-centred community. These include: corralling and reducing car access & parking; building up instead of out; and creating green space and community-supporting bumpspace at key junctions such as play areas, letterbox areas, pocket parks, & bicycle parking areas.


Above: the clustering of medium density housing at Bernoulli Apartments means that there is lots of green space for everyone to enjoy. Here, the fruit trees are in full blossom.



It is clear that a single approach to housing and to the physical & invisible infrastructure that forms a community, will not provide an outcome that fits all people. 


Our solutions need to take into account the varying density, from rural to suburban to urban. There are also cultural and financial demographics that need to be considered. Standard subdivisions, papakainga housing, social housing, retirement villages, medium density housing, and apartments all need to be overhauled with the holistic design lens. 


Several models will need to be developed in order to transform the way we are creating and living in our various communities. These models will need to be scaleable & replicable.



The primary cost of developing housing in New Zealand is generally the purchase price of the land, with this directly affecting the approach taken to design and development.  The second aspect driving house prices is the current speculative feeding frenzy, with over 80% of all house purchases currently made in the Auckland market being made by speculative investors, rather than occupying home owners.  The third major driver of housing prices is the method and process of construction being applied…  In NZ our residential building industry could be described as a cottage industry, with our two largest building companies building less that 100 homes each year.


The building industry looks likely to be the next profession to be transformed by disruptive technology.  Like the telecommunication dinosaurs of a few years back, technology has the potential to completely change how we plan and build homes.  Most homes are currently built onsite, which is slow, expensive, and weather dependant.  The old model of prefabrication has moved to the current model of mass duplication, but the future is a model of mass customisation. This is possible through technology that connects our building planning through to its construction, in the same way that CNC technology changed the way we build cabinetry with design programs that automatically optimise cutting patterns, directly controlling the machinery that selects, cuts and labels the various pieces for construction. 


Paraphrasing architect and critic Tommy Honey from his talk at the Sustainable Housing Summit a couple of years back, the New Zealand building industry could learn a lot from smart phones… Smart phones have only been around for about 8 years, but in that time they have revolutionised the way we communicate, do business and socialize.  The physical structure of smart phones are essentially all the same – a touch screen, with a microphone, camera, a motion sensor, mobile phone capabilities, and computer hardware.  Customisation  is rampant though - not from a reinvention of the hardware, but through easily interchanged apps and a plethora of external covers to match tastes & requirements.


High performance, healthy, and affordable homes could also be based on a standard design and construction that allows for mass duplication to achieve these objectives. And like the smart phone that relies on internal apps and external covers for customization, the new “smart home” could rely on interior fit-out and changes in cladding materials and detailing… to customize the look and feel, to meet different parts of the market and style preferences.


While it might seem that this contradicts my earlier statement that a single approach will not provide an outcome that fits all people, I think there is need for both: a diversity of models; and standardised, modular buildings (with customisation)….. working together.


Above: Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, a cohousing project in Auckland, uses repeated building design which is also customisable.



The final and possibly most critical aspect of creating a successful new model for property and community development, is the invisible structures that support the objectives of the project.  These invisible structures include the legal structures, financial models, and community commitments made. 


The formats and specifics of each of these structures potentially have more impact on the success of the model than all of the physical structures combined.


Some models, ideas, and examples worth considering (or learning from) include pocket neighbourhoods, co-housing, rent-to-buy, community land trusts, long term leases, shared equity, savings pools, Hypatia, Nightingale, Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, body corps, companies etc…


Which trees for your Lifestyle Block or Farm?

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  The second best time is now.”  This most fabulous quote never fails to galvanise me into action and order my priorities…writes Bena Denton.

With winter upon us, its time to plant trees - to both increase the aesthetic appeal of our landscapes and with some clever choices, also increase land value and/or generate income.  If you have a lifestyle block or farm, there are many options: specimen trees for beauty and legacy; treecrops for fruit, nuts, and income; woodlots for firewood; high value forestry; manuka for the honey; riparian strips or wetlands for ecological restoration; and shelterbelts for animal wellbeing and diversity.
But where to start and why?  Lets take a step back and examine the condition of our rural landscapes…we may see reason for concern.  With a mere 11% of forest cover remaining in New Zealand, our landscape is vastly different from what it was 100 years ago and anything less than 15% forest cover, critically affects long term diversity.  This scenario begs us to re-examine our role as guardians of the land.  As a general rule when regenerating land, we should aim for 30% coverage and of this, 30% is ideally pioneer or nitrogen fixing species to speed up the process.

Above: Taranaki's landscape has been largely denuded of tree cover.

Let's start with shelter, as it’s the backbone of a healthy landscape.  I will be brief as earlier blogs have covered this area.  Planting ridges and hilltops soaks water into the ground, high in the landscape, which recharges aquifers and creates higher water resilience in times of drought. Plant the tallest shelter on the south boundary to buffer cold southerlies, and plant lower shelter to the east and west.  Orient internal shelterbelts north-south so as not to block winter sun.  Animal health increases with shade and wind protection, and the same shelter (with clever selection) can also provide additional high mineral fodder, as well as emergency fodder for times of feed deficit.  Mix nitrogen fixing trees into your shelter, such as tagasaste and alder and you are growing fertiliser on site.
Most wetlands in Taranaki have been drained and our water table severely lowered (hence we experience ‘drought’ despite our high rainfall).  Far too many rivers in Taranaki are testing unsuitable for consumption even for livestock.  Rivers and streams require a riparian strip at least twenty metres from any waterway, allowing the water to soak in and re-emerge clean.  Fortunately for both wetland and riparian areas, trees offer multiple solutions. 

Above: Riparian margins must be at least 20m wide to clean up run-off.


High-value forestry may be a good choice for your land block: generating a long-term financial return and (if harvested sensitively) becoming a major contributor to river health.  High-value forestry species worth considering are; Acacia melanoxylon, Alder, Eucalyptus, Black Walnut, Totara, and Californian Redwood - have your site assessed for species suitability.
Woodlots are a relatively new addition to the New Zealand psyche but are actually an ancient and sensible approach to sustainable firewood.  If you have a wood burner and a spare corner, you will require only 40-100sqm meters of land to grow all the firewood you need.  Suitable firewood species in Taranaki include: Poplar, Alder (N), Eucalyptus, Ash, Acacia (N), Chestnut, and Japanese Cedar.  A diversity of firewood species is desirable (an insurance if you will) as is grouping a nitrogen fixer (N) with another species, as the N-fixer aids the growth of the second.   After seven to nine years, trees are selectively coppiced (cut below knee height, which produces continual multi-stems that are harvested for wood products.  Growth from a coppice is faster from the original seedling, because the root system is vigorous and well established.  Harvested at the right size, all you need is a chainsaw, so coppicing is a practical and economical way to produce firewood, right at your doorstep.

Above: A recently coppiced tree, which will re-grow.

Let’s end with specimen trees, as I find these often capture people's imagination and give the "wow factor" to any large block of land.  The first consideration is the site itself.  If your land is like most in Taranaki it’s probably bare pasture, and herein lies the problem: what speciman trees will thrive in wind?  Obvious natives include; Pohutakawa, Cabbage Tree, Karaka or Kowhai.  With spacing 3-10m apart, these trees are a sure bet and look great framing a driveway.  Exotic species that are more likely to do well in exposed conditions include; Alder, Elm, Poplar, Willow, and Japanese Cedar.  Why not try something edible like Chestnut or Walnut?  Most deciduous trees that offer desirable autumn colour are also tender wee things but you could try Maple Acer freemanii ‘jeffers red’ or Oak ‘Quercus rubra’ where it is more sheltered.

Above: Magnificent autumn colour.

For those spots that are fully sheltered and you are looking for something special, my favourites are Gleditsia, Ginkgo, Maple, Silver Birch, and for its flowers Chinese Dogwood.  The key in selecting a specimen tree is its suitability to site conditions. And go for scale: with a large bit of land you have the luxury of planting big.

Bena Denton is an Ecological Landscape Designer and is part of the GreenBridge team.  She lives with her family in Omata and is enjoying regenerating their 10acre property.

Planting Tips for Super Big & Super Juicy Garlic

by ecological designer Bena Denton....

I’m not into peeling puny garlic cloves.  I am after big juicy bulbs that are quick to use in the kitchen.  Garlic is wonderful for its infused food flavour and I take the approach that garlic is medicine in my garden.  A daily dose of garlic certainly limits colds!  


I find most gardeners have ‘their thing’, for my collegue Kama it's carrots (and my carrots have certainly improved with her advice), for me it's garlic – so I’m going to share my secrets with you, for the best garlic ever! 

Above: Bena and her daughter plaiting the garlic harvest.


It doesn’t take much room to grow a year's supply, about 2.5 sqm and at the price you pay in the supermarket (for inferior quality) you certainly get bang for your buck.  Garlic is really easy as to grow and pretty foolproof ....if you follow these tips…

  • For our family to have a year-round supply of garlic, I aim for 100 bulbs ie approx 2 juicy bulbs in our cooking per week (you may eat more or less so adjust quantities accordingly).
  • You can plant garlic anytime from May to August in Taranaki.
  • Prepare your soil with as much organic matter as you can get your hands on: compost, blood & bone, lime, ash, vermacast, rotten manure – whatever, as garlic is a hungry feeder.  Dig into the top 10cm.  Water if the soil needs it.  
  • Get yourself the best and biggest garlic bulbs you can find. Try local supplier Dee Turner, also Koanga Institute, Kahikatea Farm, Setha’s Seeds, and Love Plant Life. Don’t buy supermarket seed that is bleached and often infertile anyway.  Local shop Down To Earth also sells "real garlic".
  • Break up the garlic bulb into cloves.  Secret #1: plant only the fattest outside cloves (eat the rest).
  • Soak the cloves overnight first to activate, and ideally add some cow poo to innoculate all the good soil bacteria directly around your plants.
  • Poke into the soil at 10cm spacing (I go for total cover and sometimes plant even closer) in a triangular configuration (like the shape of no.5 on the dice) with the tip up and level with the soil surface.
  • Now here’s secret # 2: cover with 10cm of seaweed.  Seaweed has 11 of the 12 minerals we need in our diet and acts as a slow release fertilizer, feeding the garlic plant over the 5-8 months it's in the ground.
  • Secret # 3 for sucessful garlic is mulch!  Add another 10cm of carbon ie "the brown stuff" such rotten hay (ideal), leaves, straw etc.  The key is to heap it on.  Don’t worry, garlic is a bulb and will push its way up, no worries.  Garlic abhors weed competition and I put on such a thick layer that I simply tuck these babies into bed with their blanket of mulch on and don’t touch until harvest time.  How easy is that?


Above: Bena's garlic bed after planting and mulching with seaweed, with the hay mulch still being put on top.


Garlic is ready to harvest when the tops are yellowing (anywhere from late spring to mid-summer, depending on when you planted and the variety). Half the leaves should have died off.  Remember store dry and keep the biggest bulbs for your next year's seed.

Happy and healthy eating!

Sustainable Housing Summit 2016

GreenBridge director Daniel Woolley recently attended the  Sustainable Housing Summit in Auckland, which he said was well worth the time and cost of attending. He shares his experience & highlights.....


Having attended the last summit two years ago, I was once again impressed with the quality of the speakers, which started with a surprisingly impassioned and well informed talk from Phil Twyford - Labour’s spokesperson for housing, building & construction.  There was only one aspect of Mr Twyford’s talk that didn’t appear to meet with general approval in the room, which was his suggestion to loosen the current zoning restrictions in Auckland, to allow development of housing areas further out, while simultaneously developing effective public transport to these areas.


Comments from the other speakers were that although it would provide a short term lowering of the current house price frenzy, in the long term developing further out always brings increased costs to infrastructure and exacerbates traffic conditions.  Which suggests we would be better off to follow the harder path of learning how to have our cities “grow up” and have good centralised medium and high density housing, rather than extend outward in an inefficient sprawl.

Above: schematic of the ZEB house in Norway.


The second speaker was Kristian Edwards, from Snohetta Architects in Norway who joined us to talk about the ZEB house (zero emission building). Some of the more interesting features of the house were:

-optimised solar control including a 50% reduction in solar gain to avoid overheating;

-zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds) used in construction and finishes;

-60% daylight autonomy to reduce the need for artificial lighting;

-geothermal heating used for radiant underfloor heating;

-greywater heat recovery; and

-sufficient power generation from solar PV to meet not only all of the house's running needs, but also to offset the construction's carbon footprint and power an electric vehicle for the inhabitants.  


Although designed in collaboration with number of research bodies and therefore having a significant research/demonstration function, the building was designed as an example of a family home.  The following three principles were followed throughout its design, planning and construction: AIM - Social Prosperity, MEANS - Sustainable Economy, PRE-REQUISITE - Ecological Balance.


The third speaker of the day was Andrea Reimer - a councillor of the City of Vancouver, which has been given the title of ‘The Greenest City on Earth'.  Ms Reimer gave an inspirational talk about how through applied leadership, planning, significant action, and accountability, a city can greatly alter its environmental performance over a relatively short period of time.  Her talk provided us with a key understanding of how to engage a community to effect change (which is particularly relevant to GreenBridge’s current project with NPDC to design Taranaki’s first Resource Recovery Centre).  


Above: Vancouver, the greenest city on earth.


Ms Reimer explained that concerted action and communication (increasing Eco-literacy) are the key ingredients to engaging a community. Action shows citizens that changes are happening, which engages both supporters and opposition to the proposed actions/changes.  Check out some of the great initiatives and achievements Vancouver has accomplished on the Vancouver City Website.


Richard Palmer from WSP in Sydney outlined the importance and benefits of precinct infrastructure development (localised power, water, waste, etc) to being able to achieve sustainable urban transformation.  With a background in sustainable building design, Mr Palmer has broadened his focus to infrastructure design, as he said he quickly recognised that it is infrastructure that has the largest impact on environmental and sustainable performance of large scale urban development.  


Mr Palmer went on to point out that:

-onsite zero carbon is not a particularly useful concept;

-a minimum number of dwellings to warrant localised infrastructure is around 800 dwellings;

-the sustainable outcomes we are chasing in cities require increased density, infrastructure and public amenity (high quality public spaces, such as parks, shopping etc integrated); and

-it is through looking at how resources can be shared across a community that the real environmental and cost benefits are found.


And after a delicious lunch and mingle, Damian Otto from Prefab NZ talked us through prefabrication as an essential strategy for certainty in sustainable housing outcomes.  Mr Otto asserted that to achieve this, we should know 80% of a building from day one, and that although the current prefab model is based around mass duplication, that disruptive technology and processes will lead to future prefab processes that allows for mass customisation.  He went onto say that we need to develop productive processes that are scale-able.  Mr Otto also spoke about the benefits of using timber structures in tall (multi level buildings) and asserted that “Design is Key” and that to achieve a positive outcome it is imperative that you know your team from design to implement.  


With a large increase in Homestar house ratings, New Zealand Green Building Council CEO Alex Cutler asked  the question “are finally getting to the tipping point of green design in NZ”? - I’ll leave you to ponder the answer…


Steve Evans - the Chief Executive of Fletcher Buildings Land & Development spoke about Christchurch’s East Frame and after yet another snack and mingle, the audience had the opportunity to pose questions to a panel in an open mic situation, which bought about some rich discussion.

Above: Nightingale multi-residential housing in Melbourne.


James Legge from Six Degrees Architecture in Melbourne then took us through a case study of The Nightingale Model, which looks at development partnerships and processes applied to disrupt speculation within multi-residential housing development.  A very enlightening talk that is relevant to the co-housing groups both here in New Plymouth and around the country (or in fact any developer looking for ways to reduce the cost of housing to their clients).  Mr Legge asserted that a key ingredient to making medium and high density projects in cities successful at a social level, is to give the ground floor over to the public domain. Check out for insights.


Adam Beck from the Centre for Urban Innovation is Brisbane was the last speaker of the day, in which he spoke about his work in North America and IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum and “Collaborative Governance” as a key tool for moving from consulting through to empowering partners of a project - regardless of scale or who is running it.


Mihingarangi Forbes who had been our MC for the day (and did a great job of it) then sent us out to enjoy yet more food and a glass of wine to loosen us up for further discussion.  Needless to say, I left with both a full head and stomach, without the need for dinner when my plane arrived back in New Plymouth later in the evening.

Tips for a Resilient, Diverse Landscape

We talk about resilience today, the way we talked about sustainability yesterday.  The ability to anticipate risk, navigate change, and bounce back is a key component of resilience.  How do you design resilience into your landscape to ensure your edible garden or lifestyle block is able to weather a drought, cope with a changing climate, and consistently provide fodder for animals, bees, and your table?   Well, we can start with diversity.   …writes Bena Denton

Diversity is that special kind of abundance, where a garden or landscape is oozing with energy and vitality.  As a newbie gardener, I recall visiting a friend’s garden and feeling its “aliveness” and how it “hummed”.  Ever since, I have striven to replicate this feeling.

What made that particular garden sing?  I have felt the same feeling in the depth of our native bush and I believe this “hum” is the complex web of a healthy ecosystem.  Here are some of the strategies we use to build diversity, which is part of building resilience…

1.    When viewing your bit of paradise… the first question to ask is “what is the highest potential of this landscape?”  An ecological response to the land is often one of diversity - it is rare that mono-anything is the best response.  Usually in a garden there are sunny spots, shady areas, windy, wet, & dry places. Responding to these cues tells us to what to plant, and is called “matching plants to habitats”.  There are many benefits to this approach: because we are working with nature not imposing our will upon it, patterns in the landscape consequently emerge which are often beautiful and feel right; there is a more diverse range of land uses (which increases resilience); and what we do grow is more abundant, because it is planted in the right spot, where its needs are being met.

2.    Grow & eat a wider range of foods. We are reliant on a surprisingly small number of cultivated foods.  By growing (and eating) a more diverse range of foods, we are not putting all our eggs in one basket, as well as improving our diet. Try growing water chestnuts, taro, casana fruit, and flour corn for tortillas…

Above: an ecological garden design that is big on diversity & resilience.

3.    A shift to perennial crops.  As climate change and erratic weather patterns increase, it makes sense to utilise perennial plants more for our food.  Perennials are those plants that we establish and then keep cropping for us: such as nut trees, jeruselum artichokes, and sea kale.  Perennials (unlike annuals that have to be replanted each year) need less ongoing work and maintenance.  Also, perennials have root zones that tend to go deeper, allowing them to tolerate drought better.  As the soil is not tilled and the soil is always covered in plants or mulch, a healthy soil web establishes which increases the health & resilience of landscapes.

4.    Each function is served by many elements.  This is a permaculture principle that we integrate into all our garden and lifestyle block designs.  Essentially this means that any basic need should be served in two (preferable three or more) ways.  For example, installing a water tank in your suburban site increases the diversity of your water supply and therefore your resilience instantly.

Above: a diverse hedgerow.

5.    Support species are essential for a resilient, low to no-input system (if low maintenance and maximum output is your thing).  Instead of adding chemical nitrogen how about growing it?  Nitrogen-fixing plants make nitrogen available to other plants via either leaf fall or the symbiotic fungi that form in association with plant roots (those little nodules you see on clover or kowhai roots for example).  Dynamic accumulators are also ideal, such as comfrey, yarrow, and dandelion. They concentrate certain minerals in their leaves, often from down deep, making them accessible to nearby plants.

6.    No system is complete without animals. All natural eco-systems have animals in them and if you truly desire to see your backyard flourish, animals are a must.  I recommend beginning with chickens as they are an easy, well domesticated bird that provides so many yields.  It is always next to the chook coop, pig hutch, or cow shed that the highest diversity of soil life is visible.

Above: bees are a great indicator that your garden is healthy & diverse.

7.    The ultimate diverse, resilient system is wilderness… where a little corner of  your garden is left to its own devices.  Twelve years ago I planted my first food forest (a complex multi-species orchard), threw some chooks in and waited… So much popped up: self-seeded celery, chamomile, silverbeet, pumpkin, and of course eggs.  I began to eat more from this wee space than my actual vege garden.  A huge amount of insects, bees, and butterflies also took up residence.  We are culturally conditioned to control everything and perhaps we forget that mother nature is abundant and does it best – go a little wild!



Bena Denton is an Ecological Garden Designer and is part of the GreenBridge team.  She lives with her family in Omata and is enjoying regenerating their 10acre property.


Shelterbelts... so much more than just shelter from the wind.

Single row, single species, trimmed shelterbelts have their place. But by thinking outside the square, we can achieve great shelter while gaining lots of other benefits too…. writes Kama Burwell.


The opportunities with shelterbelts are exciting. We can design shelterbelts so they also provide bee fodder, bird & insect habitat, rongoa/medicine, fruit, nuts, stakes, fibre for weaving, fruit tree pollination, firewood, chook food, nitrogen & phosphate fixing, animal fodder, mulch, and more.

Above: The windy side of a 5 year old multi-functional, multi-layered, shelterbelt. On exposed sites, wind netting will speed up early growth of the shelterbelt.


Before we explore those exciting possibilities, let’s make sure we cover the basics of an effective shelterbelt...


A dense hedge causes the wind to bounce off it and dump over the top, causing damage to those plants we are trying to protect.


Instead, a multi-row, porous shelterbelt - shaped a bit like an aeroplane wing - will filter, absorb, and slow some of the wind, while lifting the rest harmlessly over the top of your precious fruit trees. A minimum of 3 rows is best: the shortest species on the windy side, then the tallest (mainframe) shelter tree, and then a shorter shrub on the sheltered side.


Looking from above, aim to have a U-shaped shelterbelt, open to the north for the sun. The southern part of the U will usually be thicker and have taller species, to provide extra shelter from cold southerlies. Westerlies are a key challenge in Taranaki, so the western part of the U is often thicker and taller too. Towards the northern ends of your U, taper the height of species down, to allow more winter sun in.


Choose species to suit your conditions. Some species such as pohutukawa are better suited to coastal sites, while others like cryptomeria love inland, colder sites. Others, like the ever-present harakeke and pittosporums, do well almost everywhere. Salt burn on some exposed coastal sites in South Taranaki can be a major issue and greatly reduce what can be grown. Consider how wet your ground is too – some very useful shelterbelt species like tagasaste (tree lucerne) will not tolerate a high water table.


Work out how tall you need your shelterbelt to be. Shelterbelts provide shelter for a distance that is  6-8 times the height of the shelter. So if your site is 50m wide from east to west, then your western shelterbelt needs to be about 8m tall. Choose species that only grow as tall as you need them – no point paying for hedge-trimming contractors every few years.

Above: A typical shelterbelt design that will work in many parts of Taranaki. Note the low-high-low shape, which is important for lifting wind while reducing dumping on the inside of the shelterbelt. Don’t use ngaio if stock can get to it!


Consider some super-fast-growing pioneer species in your shelterbelt such as tagasaste. This tree grows metres each year, giving very quick shelter, while speeding up the growth of the main shelterbelt species. Tagasaste is short-lived, and will start to die out at 5-10 years, but by then the permanent shelter species will be up and away. Tagasaste is nitrogen fixing, provides excellent winter bee fodder, the flowers are beloved by kereru, chooks love eating its seeds, and it also makes good firewood. It really is a super tree.


On our lifestyle block in Kaimata, we designed our shelterbelts to be multi-purpose: tagasaste as above; harakeke (flax) for the tuis and to provide weaving materials; makomako (wineberry) for the bees, birds, and edible fruit; banksias for the birds; taupata (coprosma repens) for bird and chook food, willows for rooting hormone, pollinator plums (Heard & Pearnell) for the orchard, hazels for nuts and stakes, and more! The possibilities are endless…


I’ve seen shelterbelts with high value timber incorporated for a lump sum at retirement time … shelterbelts that provide an annual income from hazelnuts…. And shelterbelts providing an ongoing source of coppiced poplar logs to grow mushrooms on, plus a sheltered humid place to grow them.


If you are providing shelter for stock, there are lots of intelligent things you can do. Make your shelterbelt a fodderbelt too, with fodder trees along the edges of paddocks: stock love to nibble at taupata and karamu; harakeke is a super de-worming tonic; poplar prevents facial eczema; and tagasaste is universally loved. Stock can nibble over or through the fence at these, and you can also cut and throw branches into the paddock. During summer drought or winter feed shortages, these fodderbelts can save your bacon, not to mention your bank account.

Above: Shelterbelts that are also fodderbelts improve paddock productivity and animal health. Instead of tanalised fenceposts, you can use living poplar and willow posts - a great strategy pioneered by Taranaki farmer John Earney at Avonstour Rarebreed Farm.


Include deciduous alders for their nitrogen-fixing talents and the tonnes of free fertiliser their autumn leaves provide, or evergreen casuarinas which are also nitrogen-fixing. Both these varieties are also used as emergency stock fodder, and casuarina provides particularly excellent firewood.


In fact, shelterbelts in a pastoral farming situation can be doing heaps of beneficial things and even a normal boring shelterbelt that is thinking inside the square is shown to improve the profitability of farms.


So don’t be shy, think outside the square for your own (exciting) shelterbelts.


Kama Burwell is an ecological engineer and landscape designer, and is part of the GreenBridge team. She “lifestyled” for 9 years on a corner of the family farm near Inglewood, before moving to a suburban garden in New Plymouth.

Game-changing project in Auckland with Ockham

We are very excited to be working on a large, 115 apartment development with Ockham Residential at Hobsonville Point in Auckland.  Now you might be wondering - why are GreenBridge, a company that holds ‘Keep it Local’ as one of their key values, excited about a project in Auckland? 


Well the answer is simple… GreenBridge’s primary purpose is to work on projects that can shape the way things are being done for the better.  And Ockham Residential’s work definitely falls into that category! 


As the first company in NZ to build an apartment to a 9 star HomeStar rating, the self proclaimed ‘Urban Regenerators’ at Ockham Residential are focused on creating human-centered environments that enhance community living and respect the natural landscape they are built within.  And, in 2009 they founded “The Ockham Foundation”, which is a registered Charity created to encourage educational initiatives that encourage critical thought, independent thinking, and foster a sense of social justice…


GreenBridge is designing the spaces between the buildings - to enhance the community in a way that connects the residents to each other and to the natural landscape.


We became involved in the project after receiving an invitation from Malcolm Rand (CEO of Ecostore), who is partnering with Ockham Residential for his next planned project through Fairground Foundation: developing an open-source urban eco-village.  Malcolm and I have been talking about this idea since meeting a couple of years ago while both speaking at an event in Wellington.


The project with Ockham has been a whirlwind. We are currently in the developed design phase, following an intense concept design phase that culminated in presenting our concept designs to the Auckland Council’s design panel in a packed room - just three weeks after first visiting the site.




Daniel Woolley is founding director of GreenBridge.

Animals are great in the garden

Animals and nutrient go hand in hand and there is no better way to fertilize your garden than integrating some small animals, writes Bena Denton.


I’m often surprised at people's initial hesitation to integrate small animals into their garden.  There are many ways that animals can benefit you and your backyard to help turn it into a super abundant garden bursting with an active soil life and fresh produce. Today we look at three small animals…


Above: Bena's european wild boar.



Chooks are my favourite working bird and its no wonder they are called the ‘gateway animal’.  Just look at the lifestyle mags to see how popular they are.  I’m going to focus on their nutrient contribution as opposed to care or breed.  Nutrient value?  No, I don’t mean eating them (although you can do that), rather I’m referring to their manure, rich in nitrogen and potassium, two essential ingredients for plant growth and often in short supply in the garden.  Mix chook manure with lots of carbon material, such as woodchip, straw or autumn leaves, to increase your garden's organic matter content. 


Homemade Fertilizer

My lazy method is to shovel out chook bedding directly onto the garden paths (don’t put fresh manure on your food gardens as pathogens could be present).  This layer suppresses weeds, acts as a passive water sink, and slowly rots down to bring in masses of worms.  When I’m low on mulch, I simply scoop directly from the path to the garden bed.  This little trick has saved me heaps of time, while boosting my garden's productivity. 


Breaking Pest Cycles

Chickens are also great at helping to break pest cycles, such as plum slug or codling moth.  Place chooks beneath your apple/pear/plum trees in winter and spring to scratch up and eat overwintering larvae.   Bored children?  Chicks are easy to raise and offer a wonderful little micro-business for industrious children. 


Above: Bena's daughter Olive, who raised and sold seven pullets this summer.



If you enjoy a good laugh then pigs might be for you.  Pigs are clever, reported to have the intelligence of a three year old and just as boisterous.  They need little space (about 15sqm each to roam) and although I have raised them in a smaller pen and moved the pen each day, this is not recommended and I only did so out of desperation as we had European Wild Boars. This heritage breed is great eating, however they will burst through all but bullet-proof fence barriers.


While pigs can provide you with bacon and crackling (they grow rapidly & require little space and management) and their manure is useful (though less nutrient rich than most animal manures), I have used them primarily as a biologcal control ie utilised their natural behaviour to root up and excavate ground.  If you have a problem with kikuyu or convolvulus, then pigs may be your salvation.  Place a run in the problem area and watch them snuffle it up, but be sure to follow after them and roll up the ‘weeds’ like a carpet.  The ground after them is amazingly fertile and even though I planted potatoes in the fallowed ground, I watched amazed, as every species of edible plant I had fed the pigs, sprung up and became my forage food garden for the next few months. 



Honey bees are good for so many reasons; honey, propolis, pollinating fruit trees and vegetables, and also manure!  Did you know each hive will provide 100-250kg of bio-active fertilizer to your site each year?  To retain that nutrient close to you its important to plant plenty of nectar-rich flower sources during the winter and spring months when bees are often short for food.  Some common native plants that are great for winter bee feed are manuka, makomako, rengarenga, akeake, hoheria, mahoe, and tarata.


Above: Franziska's teenage son with the bees.


Franziska von Hunerbein, who runs the wonderful Crop-Swap organisation, is a ‘beginner’ home bee keeper.  Below she shares her top tips for keeping bees in a suburban garden:

1. Join your local bee club, as an amazing place to learn from each other, with the experienced guys being super generous with their knowledge. Third Monday of each month 7pm at West Baptist Church, 144 South Road, New Plymouth.

2. One great thing about bees is that they don’t need to be yours.  Contact your local bee keeper and compare what they have to offer in placing hives on your land.  Alternatively you can put your name on a swarm list as a cost effective way to start your own hive.

3. Bees like a sheltered, sunny spot with close proximity to water.  Bee keepers like a place that is easily accessible, preferably with a wheel barrow, as the hives can get really heavy.

4. Autumn is an awesome time to start your bee journey.  If you are looking for a book try ‘The Practical Beekeeper in New Zealand’ as a great place to start.


Integrating small animals into your edible garden is a step toward a more regenerative system, as all natural ecosystems include animals as part of their nutrient cycling, The wonderful thing is they can be fitted into most suburban sections.  Other small animals to consider are: ducks, geese, guinea fowl, guinea pig, quail and rabbits.  I hope you are a small animal convert today!


Bena Denton is an Ecological Garden Designer and is part of the GreenBridge team.  She lives with her family in Omata and is enjoying regenerating their 10acre property.  Ask for GreenBridge at Big Jims, as part of their Landscaping Design Service.


Where Do I Plant That Fruit Tree?

Identifying your site’s “habitats” is the most important factor in matching the right fruit or nut tree to the right spot.  By ensuring the plant has as many of the favourable conditions it evolved with as possible, it’s more likely to flourish and furnish you with a crop of fruit, nuts, or berries…writes Bena Denton.


We are lucky in Taranaki because we are able to nurture a delicious range of fruit & nuts, due to our unique topography from mountain to sea, and our lush volcanic loam. 


Above: Wai-iti Peach, a local variety that was first discovered growing at (you guessed it) Wai-iti. This resilient peach is fruiting now behind the cricket pitch in Rimu’s garden in Fitzroy…


If you are on the coast, then with a bit of planning you can be happily overwhelmed with year-round fresh fruit within a few years.  This was bought home to me recently when I presented a talk on food forests in Kapiti and suddenly the location meant only temperate fruit and hardy citrus were relevant.  Here in coastal Taranaki we can grow subtropicals (yes we can), citrus, feijoa, guava, mediterranean fruit & nuts, and our favourite temperate fruits like apples, pears, cherries, and plums.


Above: Grapes ripening up in Bena’s garden. These are growing on a pergola to provide the deck with cool summer shade…


A habitat (sometimes called a microclimate) is characterised by its amount of sun or shade, exposure to wind, its soil & subsoil, exposure to frost, and the amount of moisture in the ground - especially at critical times such as the height of the dry season and the midst of the wet season.  Here are some broad habitats we have in Taranaki:


  • Subtropical Habitat:

Think humid, filtered light, frost-free, still air (little to no wind), moist to wet soil, with a deep litter of mulch to feed the shallow root systems of subtropicals.  When Taranaki was forested most of our coast was subtropical and many valleys in urban New Plymouth can easily support these species.  A north to north-west facing spot with lots of overhead foilage to buffer strong summer sun and protect from light frosts is ideal.  While there is a variation in water requirements for subtropicals, such as a banana’s need for plenty and an avocado’s need for it to be drier, both can grow here, as can macadamia, pawpaw, cherimoya, tamarillo, casana, passionfruit, taro, pepino, and more!


  • Temperate Habitat:

Think cooler winters (some chill is required for many temperate fruit and nuts) and moist to very moist soils. Habitats with a  higher water table are suited to pears, persimmons, and medlars, while chestnuts prefer a less wet spot, and apples are pretty easy. Temperate fruit and nut trees are generally sited in the lowest, coolest, moistest parts of your site. Being deciduous, they must receive good summer sun, but winter shade is fine for most.  Other temperate edibles include plum, kiwifruit, apricot, cherries (try Stella and Tangshe in coastal Taranaki), hazels, gooseberries, and raspberries. 


  • Mediterranean Habitat:

This is really a sub-group of the temperate habitat but these mediterranean varieties prefer or tolerate drier, bonier soils, with high summer heat needed for ripening. Mediterranean edibles include peach (on peach rootstock), walnut, grape, pinenut, and olive.  Olives need a really “mean” soil to do well in Taranaki, think of those Italian coastal sites with olives clinging to the crags.


  • Citrus Habitat:

Think all year sun, sheltered (but with good airflow), and moist (but not wet), with plenty of mulch/compost over the shallow roots.  Citrus will sit happily on the northern edge of a subtropical planting.  In inland Taranaki, position citrus to the north of a building or wall where they can receive the stored heat in winter, which makes all the difference to sensitive citrus like limes.  


Above: This happy citrus is growing in a client’s Fitzroy garden. Did you know citrus blossom is edible?


Rootstock can be a vital component of matching the right tree to the right spot and while we don’t have time to go in depth here, note that by specifying the correct root stock you can often “push” the boundaries of what can grow, where.  Talk to your local nursery or invite one of the GreenBridge designers to assess your site.


Nurseries that specialise in fruit and nuts will put out their catalogues shortly, so now is a good time to identify what you can grow, plan the layout of your fruit, nuts, and berries, and order for a late autumn plant.  Did you know that the ideal time to plant fruit trees is “in the fall”?  Planting in late autumn allows the fruit tree to get a wee bit established before going dormant in winter, and then it will burst forth in spring with a strong foundation.


Above: A habitat map done for a client, often a key part of the design process.


Habitats and what you can grow in them is a complex interplay between soil moisture, solar access, wind effects, chilling, thermal mass effects, and length of season.  Talk to your neighbours and see what they are growing successfully – and share some of your excess lemons with them at the same time!



Bena Denton is an Ecological Garden Designer and is part of the GreenBridge team.  She lives with her family in Omata and is enjoying regenerating their 10acre property.

One Year Later ... Before and After the Basic Eco-Garden Service

David and Suzane are rocketing ahead with the install of their edible garden in Moturoa – they are self motivated, action focused, ‘newbie’  gardeners who are now growing much of their own food. 


Last year, GreenBridge launched its Basic Eco-Garden Service, to meet the needs of clients who wanted to DIY-it, with the reassurance of expertise in correct infrastructure placement and plant selection.  David and Suzane were the first ones to say let's do it!

Above: Part of the site assessment drawing.

Above: Part of the Basic Concept Design.


One year later, lets see what they have achieved…


The orchard is in! Of utmost importance to Susan and David was an orchard. We located this on the low lying plateau (with high water table) next to the boundary stream.  We looked at what fruit they like to eat (plums, apples, pears) as a starting point, and I made suggestions on appropriate root stocks for that site, spacing for maturity, and suitable pollinators. Susan then did her research and headed to Te Kahuri Nursery to purchase heritage varieties. 

Above left: The orchard site "before". 

Above right: The orchard 1 year later. The black plastic is suppressing any regrowth of convulvulous without the need for further spraying. Once the convulvulous has been banished, then the black plastic will be removed and support species / herbal ley will be established.


Establishment of an orchard (or food forest) can be the most difficult and work-intensive stage.  Before planting these fruit trees, the client had to overcome a challenging invader – convolvulous.  Also called bind-weed, convolvulous is a pernitious climber and strangles plants. 


Now I’m a permaculturalist and dislike chemical sprays intently, however I’m also a realist and have ‘battled’ convolvulous for five years on a previous property until one day a friend and colleague (well known gardener whom I won't mention) said "spray it and get over it!"   And she was right, as a short term measure to rid this dominant ‘weed’ and allow the fruit trees to get away, this worked for me and it worked for David and Suzane also. 


If we had more time, I would have advocated a longer term approach of either black plastic for 18 months, or intensively grazing pigs or chooks – in fact both animals will be integrated as a long term measure to keep the weed at bay from re-invasion over the neighbour's fence.  In permaculture this is called making use of  â€˜biological resouces’ (animals) to do the work for you – working smarter not harder.  It is also important to actively regenerate the soil post-spray, to create healthy biological soil.

Above: David has built a hugelkulture inspired enclosure for four cross-pollinating avocadoes within a restricted 4sqm space – fantastic.


Other key garden features include a new fence designed by David to espalier fruit trees and wine grapes (which David is keen to experiment with), even propagating some from a friend's vineyard.  A new chook system is in the process of being built and will seep nutrients downhill to a mini-subtropical orchard of avocado, guava, and tamarillo. 















Above left: The vege bed site "before".

Above right: Raised vege beds have gone in, based on a four bed crop rotation, converting a nondescript front lawn into an abundance of veges and herbs.


On the horizon for David and Suzane is increasing their vegetable growing knowledge, expanding the vege beds to use all the front lawn, hooking into the local gardener networks such as Seedsavers, and doing an organic growing course (such as Dee Turner’s course at WITT). 


Pergolas and decks are also planned to extend the living spaces into this intense urban food production…sitting back and enjoying the view with a glass of homemade vino!


This article was written by Bena Denton, an ecological and edible garden designer, and Director of GreenBridge.

Selling your property: creating a vision for bare land

We started down the path of property reports when a local woman contacted us about her beautiful 5.7 acres of bare land on the Kaitake Ranges, that she had been trying to sell for over a year, with no luck.


She asked if we could create a report that outlined the positive and sustainable aspects of her property,  and give potential buyers a vision of how the site could be developed.


We were happy to oblige...

Above: This photo + sketch for the Kaitake Ranges site, gave potential buyers a real feel for how the site could look. The photo was taken at 4.30pm in mid winter, showing the house site receives good winter sunshine.


Above: The report rated various aspects of her property, including solar access, water, shelter, privacy, beauty, energy resources, erosion, etc.



Above: This concept design showed how the Kaitake Ranges site could be developed.

About a month after receiving the report and making it available, our client found herself in a multi-buyer situation, and sold the property at above her asking price! This is when the team at GreenBridge sat up and realised that we were onto something.


We have gone on to complete a number of different reports for both sellers and buyers of property:

  • Helping clients clarify what they are looking for in a property.
  • Pre-purchase property reports, to help buyers decide if a property is the right fit for them.
  • Property reports that help people sell their property.
If you are looking to buy or sell, contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation to see if we can help you out.

Smart Planning for an Edible Garden

Get the relationships right between elements in your garden to maximise efficiency and abundance, writes Bena Denton…


I love gardening. Even more, I enjoy the satisfaction of surveying a lush, productive landscape… maybe even more than eating the produce! … Until my fresh basil goes onto our pizza, or I look down at my plate and see that this evening everything is from our garden - that’s the ultimate!

Bena Denton (pictured) designed this abundant edible garden for clients Emma and William, in Oakura. Photo courtesy of Taranaki Daily News.


So where do you start on your journey to a rewarding, edible garden that’s going to succeed?  So many gardens are set up to (gulp) fail.  Most likely the planning and design stage has been missed and that’s unfortunate because it’s the fun part (for me).  It’s much easier to rub out a pencil tree than dig up an actual tree and move it (three times).


Let’s assume you have a clean slate, or your existing garden needs an overhaul.  What are all the “infrastructure elements” your garden will need?  Infrastructure is just a fancy way of saying things like compost bins, hothouses and chook coops…it tends to be the “hard stuff” but can also be permanent “soft stuff” like shelter or access ways… things that need to be considered right at the start. 


This infrastructure has requirements unique to you and your site.  For example, you may like to feed the chooks as you head off to work, so the coop may be best placed near the car parking area – logical.  What we are talking about is maximising the functional relationships between infrastructure elements, with a synergistic result. 

The soldierfly larvae barrel (to feed the chooks) and the liquid feed barrel are placed right in the garden to maximise ease of use. Photo courtesy of Taranaki Daily News.


Here are some things you can do to get started…

  • First, list all the infrastructure elements you would like to fit into your garden.
  • Draw a wee sketch of your garden, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Try an easy scale like every 1cm on paper = 1m in real life.  On another piece of paper, draw up the elements to the same scale.  Cut them out.  These can be moved around your sketch to explore positions without having to re-draw. 
  • Shelter is a permanent element.  Where are your prevailing winds coming from?  In Taranaki it’s often the westerly, but the south-easter can be a shocker too, so position shelter to filter these winds.  In an urban environment this may only be as tall as flaxes and hebes, which make great wind breaks.
  • For a family of four, allow for 20-40sqm to grow all your own veges, or even just begin with a 1x1m herb garden.  One handful of herbs in your dinner supplies the bulk of your daily vitamin and mineral needs.   Plants require 6hrs of winter sun to photosynthesize, so the vege patch gets the sunniest, prime position.  If possible, place it close to the back door or off the deck (convert that lawn!).  My experience is, if you see it you will maintain it and eat it.
  • Orchards and food forests can be a little further away from the house as you may only visit once a week. Fruit trees require 6hrs of summer sun, and evergreen trees will also need 6hrs of winter sun, so choose spots carefully.
  • Chooks are well worth considering.  All productive gardens need nutrients, and chooks are the ultimate recyclers of garden waste. They are valuable just for the nitrogen in their poop!  Place the chook coop where you can easily feed and collect eggs daily, ideally uphill of your vege patch to allow nutrients to percolate downhill and fertilise your patch.  Consider a straw yard so the chooks make your compost.
  • Position a compost heap close to where you may bring in resources like seaweed, cardboard boxes, or woodchip for carbon.  Again, uphill of the vege patch or orchard is ideal for nutrients to seep, and for easy shovelling into the garden itself. 
  • If you are investing in a rainwater tank, position it high in the landscape so you can gravity feed, even when there is a power cut.  If you are on town supply, water meters are not far away so future proof now.
  • Looped paths (as opposed to dead ends) increase efficiency, as you can undertake a number of tasks in one walk, such as feeding the chooks, bringing in the washing, and picking herbs for dinner.
  • Remember to include elements like a washing line, woodshed, cold frames, seedling beds and garden shed. 

You could locate a sandpit in the edible garden to introduce children to the delights of growing. Photo courtesy of Taranaki Daily News.


Gardens are for enjoying … so do include those elements that make you feel good, whether it’s a swing for the children or a beautiful maple to sit under. Feed the soul as well as the tummy!



Bena Denton is an ecological garden designer and director of GreenBridge. She lives with her family in Omata and is enjoying developing their 10acre property.

Start with a healthy landscape

When you are planning your lifestyle block, look for the patterns in the landscape ... and then the site will almost design itself, writes Kama Burwell.


When designing a lifestyle block or farm, I always start with the basics: creating a healthy landscape where lots of water is stored in the ground, springs are restored, and waterways are clean, productive, and not suffering erosion. A healthy landscape is both droughtproof and less flood-prone, and is very productive and resilient. Sadly, little of the NZ landscape is any of these ... so some of the ideas here may be new and surprising.


Get yourself several copies of an aerial photo of your site with contour lines (talk to your local council), and start drawing with a broad brush...

Above: This site had three good house sites, and the clients chose the most dramatic one. The earthworks and terracing makes the site functional, helps soak water into the landscape, and reduces erosion.


Start with siting your forests. Ideally, all the hilltops, ridges, and steep slopes need to be forested. Think of it as ecological infrastructure. Forests on these parts of the landscape do heaps of good things, including soaking lots of rain into the ground high up on your site, recharging groundwater, and seeping down to benefit the rest of the landscape. It doesn’t really matter what sort of forest: native, exotic, treecrops, firewood coppice, orchard, or food forest are all fine, although avoid large-scale plantings of eucalypt, kauri, or native beeches, as these tend to reduce the productivity of landscapes.


Consider foresting most of your lifestyle block... A 10 acre block is a biigg area, and putting most of it into regenerating forest, or into high-value multi-species forestry is a really good idea that can reap financial rewards as well as restoring the health and beauty of the landscape.


The best spots for houses are high in the landscape (but not at the top of the hill), get all day winter sun, and are sheltered from prevailing winds. Here, wastewater from your house can be soaked into the ground as high as possible, to support productive plantings and benefit the wider landscape by recharging groundwater.


Consider sharing your block with other households using a cross lease or unit title arrangement. This can massively reduce the cost and time burden of developing a lifestyle block, whilst adding fun! Design your decision-making and getting-out structures from the start, to make it workable.


Work along the contour as much as possible. Driveways, fences, tree rows, and footpaths all work better and support healthy landscape processes when laid along the contour. If driveways can’t go along the contour, then along ridgelines also works well. Sometimes neither is feasible, and designing for your stormwater runoff becomes very important.


Embrace wet landscapes and plug up any drains.  A high water table doesn’t mean the land is useless for anything except native plants. In fact, the wetter the landscape, the more productive it can be. Outside the western/anglo cultures, wetlands are prized as places that grow the most food: think rice paddies with fish, mussels, frogs, and edible snails (very gourmet). Whilst creating a rice paddy is probably a bit daunting to most kiwis, the wetter areas of your site are great places for ponds, ducks, koura, taro, edible ginger, bananas, and arrowroot. If you are lucky, perch will colonise your pond, providing a delicious eating fish.


Don’t convert any existing vegetated wetlands into food production. Instead, it is likely your site has a paddock that is actually a drained wetland (it is usually easy to tell, just look for the drain), that you can un-drain and put to good use. Regardless, filling in any drains on your site will help restore groundwater levels, which are essential to a resilient and productive landscape.


Have a good hard think about whether you really need grazing animals such as cows, horses, goats, and sheep. These hard hoofed animals reduce the resilience and productivity of landscapes, mostly by compacting soils and damaging the living bio-seals that should line springs, wetlands, and waterways. And, they are a very inefficient way to grow meat – consider rabbits, guinea pigs, penned pigs, chooks, ducks, and guinea fowl instead...


If you love horses, or you must have your beefies, or a house cow for milk, then don’t despair...  there are ways to do pastoral farming that aren’t so bad... (more on that in a future article). For now, the basics are to reduce their numbers, locate their pastures high in the landscape on flatter ground, provide housing for wet weather, move them very frequently, and keep them at least 20m from any spring, wetland, or waterway.

After earthworks are complete, planting the forests and shelterbelts are top priority. This wheelbarrow is carrying tagasaste (tree lucerne) seedlings, which are a great pioneer shelterbelt species for Taranaki.


Good shelterbelts are critical if you want to grow food. In Taranaki, grow a wide, multi-species shelterbelt of at least 3 rows along the western, southern, and eastern boundaries of your site, with extra shelterbelts protecting house sites, tree crops, and other areas as needed.


Once you’ve applied all these basic patterns to the aerial photo of your block, you’ll have a strong spatial framework to work within. Now you can site your treecrops, orchards, food forests, gardens, and integrate your chooks and ducks to support them.


Kama Burwell is an ecological engineer and landscape designer, and is part of the GreenBridge team. She “lifestyled” for 9 years on a corner of the family farm near Inglewood, before moving to a suburban garden in New Plymouth.

How to know if a site is right

The adventure of finding the perfect lifestyle property continues, writes Kama Burwell.

So, you’ve written down your wish list, you’re being realistic about how much money and time you have to buy and develop your dream block, and you’ve gotten a feel for the property market. It sounds like you are ready to look seriously at some properties!


How do you really assess whether a particular site is the right one for you? What if there are pitfalls with a certain site that you haven’t considered?


The first time you go to a site, you are really establishing whether you “like” it…. the location, how it makes you feel, and the potential you see. The feel-good stuff, which is really important!


If you like a site from your initial visit, then it is time to do some proper research… ask to see all the documentation available for the site: the certificate of title, existing plans, existing geotech reports, and the LIM.

The new NPDC online maps have aerial photos with contour lines overlaid.

In Taranaki, check out the free maps and land use information online at and at The new NPDC online maps have aerial photos with contour lines overlaid – super useful.  If you can’t get this information online, go into your local council office and ask for it in person, you may be charged but it is worth it.


I also highly recommend asking for natural hazard information….. there is a map of Taranaki showing the volcanic eruption risk zones, and it is a very good idea to avoid buying land in the high risk areas along some rivers and streams, where lahars will sweep down.


Carefully check the certificate of title for any covenants on the site… some sites have very restrictive covenants, and you need to be comfortable with them.


Call your local council and ask for the boundary setbacks for the site. This critical information tells you how close to the boundary sheds/garages and houses can be built. On your aerial plan, measure and draw in the boundary setbacks.


Lastly, check out what farming operations, industry, and oil & gas sites are near the site. One of our clients bought a beautiful site, spent years and large sums of money developing their dream home and garden, and then a nearby mothballed industrial site started up again. They were unable to sleep and abandoned the site... In Taranaki, the regional council can provide a list of sites that have received or applied for consent for oil & gas drilling – it is well worth asking for this!


Armed with this pile of information, go back to the site with your aerial plan, a pencil, a camera, tape measure, and maybe a spade.


This time, cast a more critical eye over the site:

  • Do the existing or potential house sites get enough winter sun? Remember that in mid-winter the sun rises in the northeast, is low in the sky, and sets in the northwest. A south-facing site may mean cold and miserable winters. Ideally, for low heating bills, a sunny aspect, and a productive garden all year round, a north-sloping site is best, although flat, east, or west sloping sites are good too.
  • Consider the wind… especially in Taranaki! When I first moved to our lifestyle block with an existing bungalow built on the top of a hill with virtually no shelterbelts in place, the wind almost drove me mad. It was always about 5 degrees colder at our place, the veges got demolished, and the lemon tree couldn’t hack it. It takes 3-8 years to grow good shelter, depending on the site and what species will grow there.
  • Driveways and power supplies can be very costly. If cost is a major consideration, is there a good house site close to the road?
  • Water … the perfect site would have a spring high up in the landscape, so you could gravity-feed the pure spring water to the whole site. If you find a site like that you are lucky indeed! In Taranaki there is plenty of rain falling from the sky. Although if you plan on having stock, you really need a more reliable water supply: a bore, well, or a suitable waterway.
  • What sort of landscape is your site? Another of our clients bought a site in summer, and discovered in winter that it was actually a wetland!


While you are there, knock on some doors to talk to neighbours about the site – they’ll provide invaluable information about prevailing winds, traffic, flooding, and the local community.


Now, sit down with your wish list again (with its “importance ratings” for each item), and decide whether this property is for you. If your answer is yes, then your adventure is only just starting!



Kama Burwell is an ecological engineer and landscape designer, and is part of the GreenBridge team. She “lifestyled” for 9 years on a corner of the family farm near Inglewood, before moving to a suburban garden in New Plymouth.

Choosing Your Dream Property

Finding the perfect lifestyle block to buy can be an adventure, writes Kama Burwell.

Are you hankering for a lifestyle of rural bliss? A flock of ducks, some chickens of course, maybe a milking cow? Enough space to grow all the fruit and nuts you can eat?


It is a very enticing vision… and one that doesn’t always turn out …. as suggested by the turnover of lifestyle blocks. People stay on their block for an average of 7 years, and leave just when the fruit trees are starting to produce well! However, some good planning and realistic expectations are a solid foundation for achieving the lifestyle you dream of.


Finding the right lifestyle block for you is a good start. The first step is to be brutally honest with yourself….

How much time do you really have each week to develop the property, grow veges, make sauerkraut, prune fruit trees, scythe the orchard grass, milk the cow, and find the ducks’ eggs in the hedge? Being realistic now will point you in the right direction when looking at properties to buy, and save you exhaustion and disappointment later on.

Kama Burwell and her son Lochie. The idea of raising a family on a lifestyle block is an enticing vision.


The classic 10 acre block is a huge area, requiring a lot of work. Of course if your perfect site turns out to be a large block, there are some approaches you can take to reduce the weekly work involved, such as retiring several acres into bush or high value forestry, or sharing the block with another family… (more on those in future articles).


If you are looking at bare blocks, how much money does it really cost to develop so that you have a roof over your head, water to drink, reliable winter driveway access, electricity, and a toilet that your kids and your grandmother are happy to use? You might be surprised…driveway access and connecting to the electricity are two areas that are very site dependent and can easily blow budgets. Do some research and get some advice from professionals such as GreenBridge.


You can do some of the property development yourself, and we applaud those amazing people who build their own homes, but be realistic about the lost earnings, and the extra time & expense due to “learning on the job”.


Once you’ve been honest with yourself about time and money, then it is time to sit down and write your wish list! Now this is the fun part ……. Make sure you include:

  • preferred locations/districts;
  • how far you are willing to walk/bike/drive to schools, work, and to see your friends;
  • what you want to grow & do on your block;
  • whether the wind drives you crazy;
  • your privacy and community requirements; and
  • your budget.


Once you’ve written your dream wish list… refer back to your “brutal honesty phase” and prepare to edit your wish list!

There is plenty of room for play among the corn.


Now get out there and get a feel for the property market, what is available, and what the prices are… go see lots of properties that are for sale and talk to lots of real estate agents. Try very hard not to buy until you have a feel for the market…


Once you start being serious about buying, it is a really good idea to add an “importance rating” to each item on your wish list, ie 1=not very important, 5=absolutely essential. This will help you objectively rate properties and compare them to each other.


Despite all this sensible planning, you may fall madly in love with a property …. hopefully your wish list & ratings will temper your overwhelming feelings of longing: there is misery ahead for the keen vege gardener who buys a gorgeous south-facing bushclad site with magnificent views of the mountain…


Kama Burwell is an ecological engineer and landscape designer, and is part of the GreenBridge team. She “lifestyled” for 9 years on a corner of the family farm near Inglewood, before moving to a suburban garden in New Plymouth.

What is the Koanga Institute?

For years we have been buying Koanga seeds and fruit trees but I have never really known what is at the heart of Koanga and this is what motivated me to make the 8hr drive from Taranaki to investigate…


The Koanag Institute, is nestled close to Lake Waikaremoana and I arrived in the dark, over the winding road between Napier and Wairoa to find a remote, quiet farmhouse with everyone in bed at 9.30pm.  Rain pelted down, the first after the drought - so exhausted I parked the car, put down the seats and slept!


In the morning I found my way to the kitchen and things were buzzing as the gardener’s and kitchen staff discussed the days work ahead.   My stay was to include two professional development courses; a two-day Forest Garden workshop run by Shaked and a Small Farm Design run by Bob Corker.  The latter was unfortunately cancelled due to low numbers and although this was disappointing Bob spent a morning with me talking through what Koanga is doing in this area and I was fully reimbursed the course cost.


Being an edible landscape designer, the Forest Garden course didn’t hold a huge amount of new material for me, however I did like the Koanga approach - which is to design Forest Gardens to support from the outset small animals (usually poultry for eggs and meat).  This differs hugely from most Forest Garden approaches (Hart, Crawford and Lawton) who are vegan and vegetarian – so that the highest expression of the Forest Garden’s are fruit and nuts – awesome yields but lacking in many essential vitamin’s which are much easier to get from meat.  So I will certainly be designing in a strong small animal component to my Forest Gardens (where practical) in the future.


Down time was spent nosing around site to get my head around what is the ‘Koanga Institute?’  First off, it is worth noting that the Institute at this Wairoa site is less than three years old and while much progress has been made setting up the infrastructure, council red tape and lack of funds have inhibited development.  Kay, Bob and team are touring New Zealand in May to raise awareness and funds for securing this site for growing New Zealand’s largest collection of heritage fruit tree and vegetable seed stock. 


Bob Corker’s design depicts a village of small footprint houses (currently caravans until building consents are approved), clustered inside the surrounding pastoral paddocks that Taimai (Bob and Kay’s son) is developing to graze a mixture of dairy cows, pigs, sheep and goats.  In turn these dwellings encircle the site and are separated by a fan of forest gardens under-grazed by weed eater geese. 


Shaked managers the nursery (where we buy our heritage fruit trees) and is an avid experimenter of seed.  The nursery is lush and delightful.  Next are the inturn and apprentice gardens (each apprentice is assigned a garden to look after), as well as seed gardens.  Other isolated gardens are dotted over the 60+ acres, some free standing in the middle of paddocks (you wouldn’t get away with  that in windy Taranaki!).   Right at the centre of the site is the farmhouse, which holds the hub of the Institute; kitchen, offices and workshop room.   After seeing the caravan living, I think it takes lots of discipline not to move into this house as the winter damp creeps in!


Intern Gardens

All food is strictly prepared to Western Price principles at Koanga, which was delicious – though I missed my one coffee a day and glass of wine with dinner.  I didn’t however miss the chocolate – as I had it hidden in my bag!  I bought my plunger too and tried bringing it out, but felt like a lepper.   Something that tickled me pink and was an advantage of staying a number of days was shower night; the rocket showers (heated by a biochar rocket stove) are piping hot and lit once every three days – this is quite a night with everyone, babies, mums, gardener’s and visitors all taking turns!


A highlight for me was sussing out the demonstration ‘Suburban Food Garden’ – just 200sqm providing nutrient dense food, with all the vital nutrients required in our diet – including meat (everything produced is measured and weighed).  The bunnies hanging in cages maybe a challenge for some - they look fluffy, white and cute.  Rabbit meat is a highly nutritious food source however, served at many renowned restaurants, but we tend to think of this meat as hunted out in the wild, not farmed in hanging cages next to the house.  In this high-density situation, rabbit are a multi nutrient source; droppings provide the raw material for the worm farm, sited conveniently below the cages and high quality meat, including livers that yield Vitamin A – a very hard yield to get elsewhere.  The rabbits looked happy and healthy, though none had eaten yet.

Frier Bunnies


On the last day I spent time with Bob and Taimai, walking over the farm, talking vision, farm strategy, soil testing and fodder trees. 


 A worthwhile trip; I gained a better understanding of the amazing vision of Bob and Kay and the team at Koanga, who are doing the hard yakka, many of us would be uncomfortable undertaking.  It’s not perfect but they doing it, not only for themselves but for everyone in New Zealand.  To keep going with lack of funds, living in a caravan and having to ‘sell’ the dream through tours and workshops takes a driven kind of person that has a higher mission at stake – it is a hope that overcomes the obstacles because the alternative is not worth considering.  I wish the Koanga team the best success and will certainly be attending Kay’s talk here in Taranaki on the Friday 23rd May.


Kay Baxter and the crew from the Koanga Institute will be coming to New Plymouth on 23 May as part of their nationwide tour to save their land and save NZ's heritage seeds.  Kay, co-founder of Koanga Institute, world-renowned expert in seed-saving and permaculture gardening will be doing two inspiring talks in one session, her first talk will be ‘Seeds, Humans and the Process of Co-evolution… a regenerative way forward’  and in the second Kay will share her journey around ‘Future proofing Your Health and Designing Your own Nutrient Dense Diet’.  For more information and to purchase tickets - visit


Written By GreenBridge's Eco-Garden designer - Bena Denton



Welcoming Kama Burwell to the Greenbridge team!

We have have worked alongside amazing local ecological designer and water engineer Kama Burwell on several of our projects, so when we recently had the chance to intergrate her more closely into what we are doing in Greenbridge - we of course jumped at the opportunity!


Kama has a wealth of knowledge, including; permaculture design, organic farming and terraquaculture through to water engineering.  Within the Greenbridge team, Kama will be utilising her experience of designing lifestyle blocks, productive gardens etc, to head up our 'Eco-land' arm of the business and we feel very lucky to have her!

We look forward to many exciting projects and also developments in what we are able to offer our clients with Kama as part of our team and asked her to give you a quick overview of her background and experience...


As an ecological designer I draw on 15 years experience in environmental engineering, delivering sustainability education, teaching permaculture and terraquaculture.   I specialize in the sustainable development of landscapes and watersheds: restoring springs & waterways; creating productive & beautiful landscapes; and utilizing water & wastewater productively.
With her husband and two children, Kama lived on a lifestyle block for 10 years where she experimented with multi-functional shelterbelts, treecrops, food forests, forestry, market gardening, greywater systems and rice paddies. She has featured in and written for both Lifestyle Block and OrganicNZ magazine.
Moving to suburban New Plymouth in 2012 to enjoy community-living, Kama is currently developing an suburban oasis modelled on traditional pacific-asia farming.

If you didn't already know Greenbridge's in-house services cover from the urban environment through to the rural lifestyle block and are broken into three area's to cover the full scope of sustainable properties;


  • Eco-Land - which looks at the overall infrastructure of a 1-10acre property.
  • Eco-Garden - which focusses in on the landscaping and in particular the productive gardens upto 1 acre &
  • Eco-Home - which looks at the house itself and (among other things) how to design or renovate to improve energy, heating & water performances.











click on the comments button below if you wish to leave a comment...

Urban Food Forest Permablitz


What a day!  Gorgeous sunny winter weather and a wonderful group of willing gardeners to put in a food forest in a large urban site.  Resisting the urge to pre-prep (in order to transform the site on the day), I am so glad we did!  The 230sqm began the morning as a muddle of scraggly ‘bush’ and a huge pile of wood chip, into a rationalized FF with huge potential to produce a large amount of food for a family…



To begin with...


84 people hours later...




We began with a cup of tea to ground our selves with the tasks of the day ahead as well as a brief low down on which plants had been chosen and why (see case study at

First task – was to move the mountain of wood chip!  An amazing resource for the FF itself; a mixed pile was left over from GreenBridge contacting an arborist to remove unwanted trees (ash, pseudopanax, mahoe, an accidental mamaku (ow) and more).  Three hours latter…we were left with a surprisingly large site – exciting and daunting stuff perhaps!

With seven people on site there is always a little chaos, consequently many things happened at once (having said that the whole team worked incredibly well together - like a well oiled machine who had done this numerous time before!:) 


  • Cardboard was laid along the cleared southern boundary, to suppress weeds and create a ground cover mulch for the ‘shelterbelt’. 
  • The shelterbelt was planted; a mix of existing kawakawa (medicinal/pioneer shelter), Tagasasti (a chop and drop source of shelter, mulch, nitrogen fix, bee fodder and kindling), Hebes; chosen for the mauve flowers which attract bees/beneficial insects (for fruit pollination) and their 1-2m habit; making it a good urban shelter plant.
  • Weeds galore! …bindweed (convolvulus), climbing asparagus, wandering dew (tradescantia), balsam, caster oil plant, ink weed, climbing fig and oxalis!  While a weed is only a plant where you don’t want it and many ‘weeds’ (such as dandelion, chickweed etc.) are encouraged in a FF for their edible and other uses, some weeds are pernicious and can take over the place.  Fortunately we had Barbara Hammond on the team, a well-known local botanist who helped identify the ones we couldn’t.
  • A great suggestion was made by Daniel to incorporate in the future a narrow 1.5m chicken run into the shelterbelt area, as a number of these weeds are migrating in from the neighbours property and the chooks may go some way in keeping these weeds at bay. 
  • Also happening at the same time was the rough marking out for the main canopy fruit trees and berry bushes, we were into digging the holes – I had the team digging Kay Baxter sized holes of 1m wide and 600 deep (tape measures out) to really give these baby trees a really good start.  A Mix of 50/50 existing soil (a good free draining loam) and compost (courtesy Return2Earth) as well as a bag of rotted horse manure per tree from my place – bring on the worms!  A little potash and lime was top dressed, as the soil indication was acidic, even for fruit trees. 
  • Following a late lunch (delicious quiches, cakes and soups made by Susan), the trees were well planted, watered and the fruit trees were then mulched with on site resources; the green waste cleared earlier that morning (minus the stubborn weeds - ideally this green waste would be chipped smaller so it would decompose quicker) then layered with cardboard and hay…
  • We experimented with the hay, some fruit trees received ‘seed free’ pea straw (expensive) and others semi-rotted hay from our farmlet to see how weeds establish them selves respectively. Note: about 1.5 rectangular bales of hay per 12sqm fruit tree guild would be ideal but as we did not have this much we heaped on the wood chip – in hind sight we probably overdid this simply because it was available and free, but I would have preferred to reserve the woodchip for the paths only and have a hay mulch for the guild areas (guild area being roughly to the drip line of the mature tree).  Such a heavy carbon dressing may draw out the existing nitrogen in the soil in order to break down the carbon – to the detriment of the nitrogen available to the plants.  To compensate this I have suggested planting nitrogen fixing green cover crops in spring (such as clover, vetch, lupin, peas & tagasasti (to be removed year2-3).
  • A good ground cover needs to be planted and established ahead of the weeds (see case study for ongoing maintenance) and as time was racing on, it became clear we wouldn’t get a chance to fully double dig the 12sqm guild areas so we cardboarded and mulched, planting directly into the soil below.  Alternatively raised ‘lasagna beds’ could be created or another quick option is to order in more compost . 
  • Enough perennial plants had been purchased to plant out fully one guild below the apricot tree – and this was most satisfying to see finished!  There are many plants to choose from and the client selected; comfrey (for potassium cycling and mulch), strawberries (edible and good shade tolerant ground cover), oregano (ditto), plus the nitrogen cover crop in spring (as above).
  • Other things we did…left spaces for barrels to be linked up to a future water syphoned system (gravity fed from rain barrels).
  • Clearly marked circular access and pathways (broken into two widths, 600mm for wheelbarrow, 300mm foot traffic and ‘key holes’ into large guilds for ease of picking).
  • Designated some beds purely for establishing perennial crops i.e. asparagus and globe artichokes, oca; harvested and supplied by neighborly Che over the fence!
  • Clustered berry bushes (gooseberry and blueberry) for easy netting from birds.
  • Re-introduced rotting logs for bug habitat.
  • Spots left for seating and enjoyment of the FF.


Fruit tree guild


This food forest is the third to go in of my design (as well as assisting with others and designing many more) and I have a goal to help get in 20+ food forests in urban NP over the next two years, not because I think FF are the be all and end all, but because we have so much to learn from them.  Are they the agriculture of the future? – lets find out!


Note: this story covers a day in the install of a food forest; if you would like to get an understanding of the pre-work (design process, site analysis, plant selection etc, please refer to the Blagdon Food Forest Case Study at  There will be further case studies coming on line to as they are documented – so keep posted. 


Blog written by: Bena Denton of GreenBridge - sustainable properties



Home Expo Competition Winner Announced...

That's right, we exhibited at the recent Taranaki Home & Lifestyle Expo as a start of our next phase in Greenbridge's development.  Now that we have developed the processes and partnerships required to support the work we do for our clients, we are starting to actively advertise and grow our business..


Congratulations to Simon & Jackie Simpson from Fitzroy

Who are the winners of our $2000 Eco design prize!


You can check out the re-branding of our business by visiting our website at

And a big thanks to our special friend Genevieve from that helped move us forward and take our marketing material to the next level!


We are really excited about the interest we are having in what we do with 5 current clients, 4 booked appointments and around forty people that have asked us to get in touch...  The range of work is exciting too, ranging from simple urban garden design through to full rural propertie and home design as well as two different developers interested in having us involved with 10+ home developments!


I'm also really excited to see the conversation of 'Professional Development Of Permaculture In NZ' which is being developed through a working group that came out of this years National Permaculture Conference...  If you're interested to find out more email me at to find out more...


Daniel at this years Home Expo in Taranaki





National Permaculture Hui Taranaki Mar 9-11...


Lots of exciting things have been happening in our business lately, with us working on a range of exciting projects from an urban house and garden in Blagdon through to a 10 acre block in Bell Block and discussions around a larger Eco-community in New Plymouth.  We were also invited to speak at the Puke Ariki 'speed date to renovate' evening in mid Jan, were approached for another radio interview and are involved in the planning for this years National Permaculture Hui to be held in Taranaki.
Over the past few months, several of our friends and colleagues have asked us  what it is that we actually do in our business?  And now that we have been operating for almost a year, we have a clear vision about what that is and we'd like to share with it with you...
A brief history…  For several years I had been looking for an opportunity to apply my passion for sustainability in a field I could be proud of.  Having developed and run my own business in Wellington, I knew what it took to build something from scratch and we began retraining, in permaculture, organic gardening, sustainability and most importantly putting it to practice by buying 10 acres of raw farmland north of the mountain.  In mid 2011, we relocated a house on our new land - with the vision that in the future, we would build a second dwelling of alternative materials and that the development of both the land and these two dwellings, would provide one example of what someone could do with their property in Taranaki with sustainability in mind.
Despite our knowledge and experience (both Bena & I have degrees in design, are qualified permaculture designers and I built and ran my own design and project management business for 7 years), it proved difficult find the information, people and resources required to easily develop our property along sustainable lines and it was through this challenge, that the idea for our new business was seeded…  So  in April last year, Green Bridge was launched!
Green Bridge is about pulling together the information, services and products required to sustainably develop land, garden and home. Whether implementing a productive urban garden, or completing a full renovation/new build and strategic development of a rural property, we make bridging the gap to sustainable living accessible and easy.
We have an in-house focus on assessment, design & project management and a network of over 40 partnered experts/contractors -  which enables us to offer anything from a few hours advice, right through to a complete assessment, design & implementation package.


If you want to find out more, check out our website at (or click the 'Site' button above) 

If you didn't already know - this years  National Permaculture Hui is being held here in Taranaki from the 9-11 March.  As part of the pre-events surrounding the Hui, we are holding a  'Finding & Planning Your Eco-Property' workshop on Sat 2nd March at our 'work-in-progress' demonstration site in Omata.  Numbers are  limited to 15 people and its running at a reduced cost of $10/person, so be in quick if you want to attend… For more details about this workshop about the Hui itself or the other events organized around it go to our website or check out

Daniel talking to people at the Puke Ariki speed date to renovate evening



Busy Start To The Festive Season...

I'm sure many of you can relate with me when I say "that the crossover into December (and therefore start of the festive season) has definately gone off with a bang!"  We held the second 'Eco Planning Your Property' workshop at our demonstration property on Saturday 24th, which was a great success with lots of fantastic feedback...


"Great info from experienced and well trained hosts"

"Friendly, experienced & Informational.  A great introduction and potential money saver"

"Good overview of a range of relevant areas.  Approachable, friendly and well researched"

"lots of info in a short time" "I loved your property layout"

"Inspiring, informative, logical (it all made sense)'


(The feedback was so positive and there's been so many requests, we are already looking to follow up with more workshops in the new year - with more detail on specific areas that people haved showed interest).


The following week saw me overseeing work onsite for one of our clients urban property in Blagdon - removing lots of non-productive trees and plants to make way for what will over the next few years become an edible landscape paradise!  And by the end of the week, I  travelled down to Wellington to take the brief for a client there and then back again to New Plymouth in time to do a presentation to the NZ Institute of Architects.


Now it's back into some client work and finding time somewhere to do my part in helping with organization for next years National Permaculture Hui here in Taranaki...  I have my name down to do a presentation, although not to let the cat out of the bag - but I don't know if there will still be room as the speaker line up is stacking up to be super exciting!!!  


The hui is running over the thee days of Taranaki weekend 9-11Mar 2013.  Along with the hui, planned pre/post events and WOMAD one week later - its gonna be a crazy fantastic week


Check out the website for further info and earlybird bookings final details of speakers and pre/post events will be being confirmed over the coming weeks...


Edible Landscape plan for transformation of urban clients property in Blagdon, New Plymouth.

Going Back To Where It Started...

It would be accurate to say that my wife Bena & I have been interested in sustainability for as long as we both remember.  For the major project of my design degree, I chose to design an efficient domestic water heater (water heating is the biggest single consumer of domestic power - representing between 30-50% of the average households total power usage) and Bena included environmental architecture papers while completing her degree in interior architecture...


However, like so many people - we spent several (in my case nearly 15) years working in NZ, Australia & the UK within fields that although we enjoyed aspects of them - they weren't in full alignment with our values and we simply weren't passionate about them!  


Putting this one glitch aside, back in mid 2009 you could say that life was going well...  We were back in NZ living with our two young children in a cute little cottage in Raumati South North of Wellington.  My Wellington based business Hearth Ltd was growing (despite the start of the economic downturn) and I was only needing to work thirty or so hours a week to generate a good income and we had finally finished renovating our house - so for all intensive purposes, things were pretty easy!  It was around this time that Bena and I first saw the BBC documentary "Farm For The Future" which started us down a new path...



By the end of 2009, we were telling our family and friends that we were winding down my business and moving to Taranaki.  The truth is that we didn't want to commit to a big investment and several more years that my business needed for a new showroom, so we decided to make family the most important thing in our lives and move closer to the children's grandparents (and hopefully give me an opportunity to change industries...).  We packed all our stuff in a truck, rented out our place in Raumati and by the 1st of Feb 2010 we were headed to Bena's home province of Taranaki.  


We even lived most of the first year in Taranaki at a family owned house, in the tiny town of Kaponga (were Bena grew up), with me commuting the 45 min drive into New Plymouth each day to a showroom that I had helped a local business set up.  While living there, Bena & I started our Permaculture Design Certificate and armed with this changing outlook and our newly created "Property Wishlist" we started looking for land...


View of Mt Taranaki from cottage in Kaponga



'Eco Planning Your Property' Workshop A Success!

A little over a week ago we decided we would put together and run an impromptu workshop... on how to eco plan for your property.  The idea had been perculating for around the past seven months, while working with our various clients in Green Bridge - as we became aware of the need for some good information around this topic.

The first 'trial run' workshop was held this Saturday, just a week after deciding to see if there was any interest... and even with minimal advertising or preparation time (I didn't get back from an Eco Design Conference in Hamilton until late Thursday night) - it turned out to be a great success! 


Some of the feedback/comments from the workshop included...
"Great overview of eco design & build on property, can see in action"
"A fun day with lots of great info, which was all clear and very useful"
"Good mix of ambient chill and professionality"


So much so, that we we have had several requests to hold a second workshop for the people that couldn't make the first one on such short notice...  So we are going to hold another one!


Meaning that on Saturday the 24th November we will be holding the second (refined)...

ECO PLANNING YOUR PROPERTY workshop from our "work in progress demonstration site" on Hurford Rd in Omata, New Plymouth.


If there is enough interest from attendees, we wii also look to run a series of "Eco Your Home" workshops in the new year in areas people have indicated they want more detail.   If you're interested or want to have a say in next years workshop topics, then be in quick as numbers will be limited... drop us a line on 06 751 5556 or check out our website for further details 


So thankyou to everyone that attended the first one and also to the people that pushed us into putting on another!

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Developing Sustainability In Taranaki...

Exciting things are happening in regards to sustainability in Taranaki!  On Thursday, my wife Bena and I attended the first of two'Behaviour & Practices For A Sustainable Region' hui that have been organized and are being run by Hive Taranaki.  The intent of theses two hui, is to undertake a stock take of our regions position in terms of sustainability and then "create strategies for facilitating wide-scale behavior changes, practices and action for a sustainable, healthy and prosperous region".


The first meeting was held in New Plymouth, had attendees representing a wide range of organizations -among others there representatives from: Forest & Bird, Rotakare Scenic Reserve, Sustainable Living Fair, Frocks oN Bikes, Tai Ora, Friends of Waitara River, PINZ, Puke Ariki, Witt, Bishops Action Foundation, Wise Better Homes, NP Farmers Market, MAIN Trust, Upcycles, Positive Futures Trust, TSB Community Trust, Korito Organics, Avonstour Farm, several representatives from STD, NPD, SD, TR and STD councils, and of course us at Green Bridge.  


I was particularly excited to hear from the various council representatives that attended.  Although what I encountered, may not reflect all council staff or council policies, it is clear (and very heartening) to find out that we have some great people working for sustainability within our region within the policy making arena.


The second half of this event will be held this Thursday in Stratford and will focus on "developing strategies".  If you want to find out more or attend, contact Kama from Hive Taranaki at with your name, organization, position and contact details.



Aside from starting work on another two fantastic client projects through Green Bridge, the main other thing that I was involved in this week - was the latest core group meeting for next years National Permaculture Event!. Things are really starting to take shape, with venues etc being considered.  It was clearly a good meeting as things got heated enough for me to throw my pen at someone and our chickens will probably never be the same after having eight or so children chase and play with them!  Watch this space to find out what the dates will be, as well as all the other key info...


If you have any thoughts or would like to be involved - either leave a comment here, or drop us a line...




Kids and the chickens...


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The First Ever "Taranaki Eco Hotspot Tour"

The start of the eco tour at Dee Turner's organic & biodynamic property on Korito Rd.



The 'Taranaki Eco Hotspot Tour' was organized as a follow up to the APC11 conference in Turangi.  Originally instigated by Kama Burwell, Green Bridge was excited to take up the organizing, promotion and running of the tour at Kama's request - due to her commitments at Hive Taranaki.


The tour was a great success, covering a wide cross section of individual focuses and visited six of the most exciting sustainably minded properties in our beautiful region.  We ended up having nineteen attendees over the three days, made up of five locals, one east coaster and the rest from abroad - ranging from Australia & Malaysia through to California.



Running over the three days from Wed 18 to Fri 20th April, the tour was fully catered with local organic food and included transport.


The first day of the tour started at Derena Turner’s Korito Organics.  Dee is a well-known teacher of organics and biodynamics and she and her partner Dave, have developed self-sufficient, certified organic & biodynamic 10-acre property, which is off the grid, they have built a macrocarpa eco-home, created a lake and planted hundreds of trees.


The afternoon of the first day was spent at Michael Lawley’s Eco-innovation.  Michael and Linda run a renewable electricity generation business from their remarkable 10-acresite, exporting micro-hydro turbines around the world. They are off the grid themselves, with their eco-home, workshop and EcoInn accommodation business powered by a combination of solar, wind and hydro.


We started Thursday morning with a guided walk along the Huatoki WalkwaySteve Wharehoka provided a local Maori perspective and history of the walkway’s food and fibre resources and we also dropped into the burdgeoning eco-community that’s developing along the walkway. We finished the walk at the impressive 10-acre Shepherd’s Bush community orchard.


Thursday afternoon was spent at John and Ruth Ernie’s farm Avonstour.  An inland farm, John & Ruth farm heritage organic farm, provides rarebreed meat and eggs to the local Farmer’s Market, restaurants and buyer co-ops. They are innovative and creative farmers, utilizing tree crops extensively, with dams jumping with a range of fish and rotating several animal species.


On the final morning of the tour, Dan & Bena of Green Bridge gave a “bare all” exploration of the challenges and successes they have found in the early stages of a sustainable development of their 10-acre block on Hurford Rd, Omata.  We showed what we are doing to restore a healthy watershed and managing large overland flows, as well as what we have done so far in an eco retrofit of our relocated home.


The final visit of the tour was to Pat & Sandy’s ‘garden of eden’ amongst the windswept pastures of Warea.  Once described as Taranaki‘s best gardeners, Pat and Sandy shared how they transformed a barren site into a lush garden of food and beauty.



Feedback from the attendees about their experience on the tour included: "this is the best tour I have ever been on", "I would have been happy to pay more to come on this tour" & "your selection of properties was perfect".  Some of the locals have already gone on to get further advice and products from the tour hosts and a few of the Australian participants are planning a return visit to learn more.




We have already had a few requests to run more tours, so let us know if you are keen to attend and please give us some feedback on what you are looking for: a two day weekend or tour over several evenings, transport included or not, particular sites or topics to cover and of course what you would be happy to pay?...


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APC11 (The 11th Australasian Permaculture Convergence)

The first Australasian Permaculture Convergence to ever be hosted in New Zealand, was held in Turangi for five days running from Wed 11th - Sun 15th April 2012.  I was lucky enough to attend, with ten friends from Taranaki to share in the learning and be part of the exciting outcomes that are following on from the event!


Although there were initially a few logistical issues with the event (due to a late run of registrations), the event was a great success!  With over 500 attendees, some truly inspiring and challenging international speakers including: Nicole Foss (international speaker on energy and global finance), Susan Krumdieck (associate professor of mechanical engineering at the university of Canterbury), Charles Eisenstein (author of Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition), as well as many others including Taranaki's own Kama Burwell.


There was also a good example of permaculture's 'edge effect' (The interface between things, being where the most interesting events can take place, these are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements within the system) - found in the time and space between the actual presentations - providing great fertility in the form of conversations and networking.


Green Bridge hosted the 3-day follow up ‘Taranaki Eco Hotspot Tour’, which visited six of our regions most exciting sustainably focused properties (more info about this in my next post)…


And one of the most exciting outcomes from APC11, was our home crew putting up their hands for Taranaki to host next years ‘National Permaculture Hui’ under the watchful gaze of our beautiful Maunga, Mount Taranaki.  



Initial meeting of Taranaki team to discuss next years hui...


Have you got any thoughts for next years Permaculture Hui which will be held in Taranaki?  Also if you would like to participate in the planning or event tell us how...


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The start of our sustainability focussed Blog...

Aerial photo of our 10-acre block on Hurford Rd, Omata (before we bought it).



Since moving onto our land, we've had repeated requests to email photo's of what we have been doing with the land and house from various people, as well as more recently - being asked for updates of what we've been doing with our new business...



This Blog is the result! - the focus will be ' sustainability' and it will include what we have learnt, through the sustainably focused development of our property and house in Omata, what is happening in regards to sustainability in Taranaki and also what we are doing about sustainability, through our work in Green Bridge.
So if you are interested in; sustainability, how to live a healthier life, how to live lighter on the land, or simply want to keep informed of what positive things are happening in Taranaki around sustainability - then this blog is for you!


If there is something in particular you would like to hear about? - Let me know!

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