Brown is the new green

It is an uphill struggle to change long-entrenched attitudes. “It is literally uphill in Adelaide, where the gentry live in the Adelaide Hills (even the Downers are uppers). The natural rainfall is higher in the hulls and tastes are very conservation, which is to say – English. This is clearly a target group for Sustainable Landscapes conversion.” – George Seddon.

Professor George Seddon AM undertook a review of the Sustainable Landscapes project for the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and the project partners in 2005 and made this observation as an aside. George’s imagination was irresistibly drawn to the subversive and puckish – his intellect pretty well accorded him immunity from the responses in sweeping (but defensible) generilsations elicited.

However, the need for sustainable landscapes is serious. Prior to water restrictions half of Adelaide’s domestic water consumption was in gardens. The importance of changing garden culture is clear, and is clearly a challenge. Of course, we still want beautiful gardens but we want those gardens reconciled with our environment. In his review George emphasised Adelaide’s geography to underscore the significance of the task.

He wrote: “South Australia has an arid to semi-aird environment with Adelaide’s climate being close to that of Tangier in Morocco on the coast of North Africa. Of all the southern Australian cities it has the most acute water problems and therefore the most urgent need to address them seriously.

“Forget ‘green’. Don’t use the word. Adelaide is not meant to be green in the summer, any more than Tangier. It raises false expectation and associations. Try ‘well-vegetated’, or follow California, which has road signs that mean ‘don’t throw your cigarette butts out the window’ that say ;’keep California green and golden’. It means dry and brownish yellow in summer, but it’s a good sell.”

While a less green Adelaide might, at first glance, seem a difficult sell, the absolute fundamental significance of water security is a message the community understands.

In this context, the Sustainable Landscapes project was established to develop guidelines for public and private landscapes that deliver good landscapes in harmony with the water-scarce South Australian environment. The project aims to influence the attitudes towards the directions of public and private landscapes within South Australia. The project has focused on demonstration sites, education and outreach programs and research using the resources of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide together with other public and private partners.

Indeed, the partners are critical to the project. Key partners include the Land Management Corporation, Innovation and Economic Opportunities Group (through the Mawson Lakes Economic Development Project including the Delfin Lend Lease and the University of South Australia), the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board, SA Water Corporation and Botanic Gardens of Adelaide with the Department for Environment and Heritage.

So the Sustainable Landscapes project has begun to develop high-visibility demonstration sites, as well as providing policy and guidelines that will lead to changes in urban horticultural practice and significantly influence community attitudes. The Land Management Corporation has even mandated the adoption of sustainable landscapes for its major residential development at Lochiel Park as part of an overarching commitment to sustainability.

If you were lucky enough to catch the ABC’s Gardening Australia on the last weekend of July, you way have seen presenter Sophie Thomson and landscape architect James Hayter exploring the Windsor Street linear trail in Unley. James underscores the significant contribution to the social, economic and ecological infrastructure made by sustainable landscapes. As George Seddon observed in his review, “South Australians need to learn new ways of living and sustaining their fragile land, and this program can help them do it.”

Through demonstration and education this partnership project promotes the integration of good design, low-water-use plants, non-weedy plants, low chemical use, low energy consumption, habitat creation, water conservation measures, and the use of sustainable products. You can find our more about the principles of sustainable landscapes at this link.

George Seddon’s death this year, in his garden in Fremantle (of course a sustainable landscape redolent with his philosophy), was a great loss. A dinner celebrating George’s achievements, imagination, curiosity and comradeship was held at the University of Melbourne a few weeks ago. We imagine George would have viewed the affair with some scorn, and wondered about the fuss. Yet many of us still yearn for access to his counsel, his intellect, his humour, and his humanity.

What is a sustainable garden?

  • Conserves water by using mulch, efficient irrigation, watering only when necessary, and growing plants with similar water needs together
  • Provides habitat for local native fauna such as frogs, lizards, bats, butterflies, and small birds
  • Consumes minimal non-renewable energy in construction and maintenance
  • Avoids use of pesticide or other chemicals that could harm the natural insect populations and other beneficial organisms
  • Uses sustainable and locally sourced materials and products, and avoids materials such as rocks, pebbles or wood collected from wild landscapes

NOTE: This article was co-authored by Sheryn Pitman – Sustainable Landscapes Project Officer, Botanic Gardens of Adelaide.

Originally published in The Adelaide Review on 31 August 2007.

For more information about the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, visit the website.



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