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.


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