Philosophy


Gardens are living dynamic small corners of the larger ecosystem, practical living spaces, and they reach their fullest potential, their highest manifestation, when they are also living works of art. They can be many things: a setting for good living, refuge from a hectic life, source of food or spiritual rejuvenation, all while constructively improving the environment. I believe my job as a consulting designer is to create gardens that are beautiful and functional in the minds and eyes of the particular people who will live with each of them.

The very first text appearing on the home-page is “How do you want life in your garden to be?” It’s there because it is the focus of my design process, and I think it best sums up my philosophy. It leads to many other questions, which in turn become the creative stimuli, the “holistic context” for your garden. It can be as deep and meaningful or as light or utilitarian as you want it. It is asking what you want your experience of your garden to be. How do you want to feel; what do you want to do in the garden; what you want your garden to do for you and the environment.

I chose those words deliberately. I use the word “life”, as distinct from “your life”, to imply that while obviously the garden is intended to enhance your life(s), it also recognizes that the garden is made up of other living things too - the plants, the birds, the insects and the myriad soil bacteria fungi and other creatures, as well as other people. And finally it recognizes that the garden is a small corner of the larger life of the ecosystem, and it is asking how you want that to be, because your garden will impact that as well.

Incidentally, I don’t think the current fashion for a landscape of almost entirely manufactured and built elements are gardens, even when they include a couple of native grasses or a succulent or 3 lined up like prisoners against a wall for execution. They have very little life in any sense. Sure they can be impressive, even on the odd occasion rather beautiful built spaces and they may fulfill the owner’s ambitions to be contemporary, impress others or be “low maintenance”, but to me they are not gardens. Gardens have plants, soil, and life.

Below explains the foundations upon which my philosophy has developed and why my attitudes and approaches to garden design have become what they are, but first I want to explain the term paradigm. It is defined (amongst other uses) as “A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality”. We all have them. They are the way we understand the world and navigate our way through life. We get them from our accumulated experience and learning. Sometimes we shift or change them in the light of what we assess in our individual minds as “sound new evidence”. They can have an enormous impact. Thomas Kuhn pointed out that if a new idea is in line with existing paradigms, we accept it readily. But when a new idea goes against our existing paradigms we block it out, distort it or rebel against it. For example, barbed wire which rendered the military tactic of infantry charges utterly ineffective was invented some hundred years or more before such charges were dropped as a standard way of conducting war. For how many centuries have intelligent women been asserting that their mental abilities equalled that of men before they achieved the right to vote or work in positions held traditionally by men? In both cases, the paradigms of the decision-makers meant they could not see what is obvious to us now.

A teacher I had in the Holistic Management course I took, Guy Glosson, said in his broad Texan accent, “I keep a pair o’ dimes in my right trouser pocket to remind me to check that my paradigms are not skewing my perception of what’s really happening in front of me”.

As words are the most common way we convey thoughts to each other, the words we choose (consciously or not) usually convey our paradigms along with the specific information we are trying to express. Words are also often used to sort out thoughts inside our own minds too. Indeed, oft repeated words (thoughts) tend to become or shift our paradigms. This is why marketers, vested interests, sports people, politicians, religious leaders, and at the extreme dictatorships, use carefully chosen words over and over and over in an effort to shift their audiences’ paradigms.

All this may seem unrelated to garden design, but the import of it has been significant for me, particularly in relation to my understanding the earth’s ecosystem and the way we humans understand it and behave within it, so the words used here are carefully chosen.

Foundations

We humans are a part of, not apart from the ecosystem of the earth. We and everything we do and create are a part of, not apart from, the ecosystem of the Earth. However, in most of the dominant cultures (I know there are a few exceptions) we are inclined to a paradigm of humanity as separate from and often above nature. We tend to talk of “(hu)man-made” as distinct from “natural”. We discuss the environment as though it is an interest or lobby group separate from and competing with the economy and society. At one extreme of this paradigm, humans are viewed as superior beings with absolute rights to exploit even destroy the resources of the earth. At the other extreme, humans (particularly modern humans) are seen almost as the embodiment of original sin recklessly trashing the world. It seems to me that these are two sides of the very same coin (paradigm) – viewing humanity as apart from rather than a part of nature; or more accurately, a part of the ecosystem of this planet.

Most, if not all, science disciplines have shown that this separatist paradigm does not reflect reality. Yes, we are a species that has changed and continues to change the ecosystem of the planet dramatically, but so too did the dinosaurs and even the earliest life-forms the cyanobacteria that in fact created the atmosphere that makes most current life-forms possible, including ours. And yes, we are unique to date in our level of technology, our ability to communicate and co-operate, and learn from others as a result, and we can and do deliberately impact the environment around us far more than any other species yet evolved. But, we are still a part of that environment.

As with all life-forms, humans are made up of elements and energy arranged in our bodies and minds, and all those elements and the vast majority of that energy came to our bodies from or via the earth’s ecosystem. Those individual atoms and energies don’t remain in our individual bodies for very long. They constantly move in, around and out of us and other species through a number of processes we collectively call “life”. And what is more, we depend completely and absolutely on those ecosystem processes functioning more or less as they have for the last few million years or so for our individual and collective existence.

There is only one ecosystem on this planet.
Despite the current tendency to refer to ecosystems of a particular locale, say a catchment, a forest, or a grassland, there is actually only one ecosystem on this planet – the WHOLE ecosystem, and that whole ecosystem is utterly and inextricably one whole thing. (this being an example of the impact of words and paradigms on thinking and decision making – referring to “the ecosystem of a catchment, farm or garden”, tends to isolate it in our mind, blinkers our thinking and thence impacts our decisions about it).

There are four Ecosystem Processes which make up that single ecosystem of the earth.
The ecosystem functions through four broad processes; Energy Flow, Water Cycle, Mineral Cycle and Community Dynamics. For a more detailed look at each of these, I recommend Savory and Butterfield’s book “Holistic Management, A new framework for decision making”, but there are many others who also describe these. I have put a brief description of these four processes at the bottom of this page.
In brief though, these all work as a whole. No one exists without the other three, indeed changing one will change all four, and there is neither life nor ecosystem without all 4 functioning.

It took me a while to absorb the full meaning and implications of all the above:
If our species evolved as part of the ecosystem, then so too did all our attributes; including our minds and our desire for beauty, art, comfort and happiness etc., and of course our technologies as well. This may seem obvious, but it is quite a shift from the “separatist” paradigm I refer to above, seeing humans as apart from nature. On a very broad scale it means that all we do and produce, whether manufacturing a smart phone, creating some art, or simply eating and breathing, are inseparably all part of the ecosystem of the earth. All the materials processed into that smart phone came from the earth, and will remain part of the earth’s environment, regardless of whether their new arrangements enhance or degrade it. The same applies to our buildings, industry, cities, economy and of course, our gardens. Even our migrations and the changes we thereby made to the way the ecosystem functions in the new locale are a part of the ecosystem and evolution.

None of which is to suggest that I think it is OK for us humans, especially those of us with the privilege of education and relative wealth, to degrade or destroy the ecosystem in our individual or group pursuit of a comfortable “happy” life, justifying it as “part of evolution”, or “necessary to keep the economy going”. Rather, I am suggesting that viewing ourselves as apart from the ecosystem rather than a part of it has a number of debilitating effects. Firstly, it psychologically disconnects us from the ecosystem and thence our daily as well as major decisions are made without giving the ecosystem and our complete reliance upon it much more than token consideration, at best. Secondly, it does not reflect reality, and therefore is almost guaranteed to lead to decisions which have unexpected and usually unwanted consequences.

Evolution will continue whether the things we do mean that the ecosystem remains favourable to our civilizations survival or not. Evolution will go on. Many organisms will become extinct, others will emerge (eventually), and the flow of energy from the sun onto around and away from the earth will continue. The real issue for us 21st century humans is whether the decisions we make and therefore the actions we take are likely to keep the ecosystem going in a way that suits our comfortable and rewarding survival, or alternatively leads toward our and many other species’ messy and very unpleasant demise.

An holistic perspective is necessary for long-term success.
In his book “Holism and Evolution”, published in 1926, statesman and scientist Jan Smuts, was the first scientist (at least in the “west”) to describe that the ecosystem of the Earth functions in wholes and broad and flexible patterns rather than distinct, sharply defined parts and processes like a machine. Life and the ecosystem exist as wholes within wholes; some overlapping, some closely connected and others more distantly - but connected all the same.
For example; an individual person is a whole, made up of whole organs which in turn are made up of whole cells. That individual is also part of a family and other social and economic groupings, which are in turn parts of larger groupings, and we all function in some way or other as parts of a larger economy. None of these individual “wholes” can be reasonably understood without some reference and understanding of the larger and smaller “wholes”.

Wholes and patterns are more helpfully described than defined, because “described” implies perceivable yet blurred boundaries, whereas “defined” implies precise and complete boundaries. So, if we describe the Australian economy we understand that it is not an isolated totally closed system; likewise for a family, a business, a river catchment, an ocean current, or indeed a garden. On the other hand, if we tried to define these we would struggle to find precise boundaries that accurately accounted for their true and entire nature. For all wholes it is most helpful to think in terms of describing them rather than defining them. This may seem like a pedantic load of unnecessary academic non-sense; however the consequences for the way we consider situations and make decisions are significant and the results sometimes enormous.

Wholes and patterns tend to behave in certain ways, but because they are not fixed mechanistic things, and because there is diversity within as well as between, and because they can evolve and adapt, we cannot be absolutely sure of the precise and total consequences of an action we may take for a “whole”.

However, to survive all “wholes” act. Life is a constant flow of actions. For humans to act, we first make decisions. Some decisions are instinctual, like grabbing a child who is about to run in front of an on-coming car, or dropping something which is burning hot. Many decisions are habitual, because we make them so often, like where we shop, and what we buy. All remaining decisions are deliberate, taking conscious thought to some degree or other. It is the cumulative effect of all these habitual and deliberate decisions which lead to the life we have and our impact on other “wholes” – whether they are “wholes within”, “wholes which are connected” or “wholes of which we are a part”, and ultimately on the whole that is the ecosystem of the Earth which sustains us.

Allan Savory and others working with him have developed a decision making framework and processes that recognizes the holistic nature of the world. This framework and processes are agnostic, in that they do not prescribe how things should be done or what people should want. People remain in control of their own destiny. Savory was not looking for a decision making process. He was trying to find the root cause of land degradation. He looked at all the common beliefs as to the cause, and one by one revealed they were each symptoms of a deeper issue. He realized that the clever organism, humans, who have conquered the world in so many ways were decision by decision inadvertently applying management tools that were degrading the very resource base, the earth’s ecosystem, on which our long term existence depends. Along the way, Savory pulled together some other key insights into the way the ecosystem functions. These insights have lead to dramatic improvements in our understanding of the ecosystem, and consequently can lead to dramatic improvements to the outcomes of our decisions. I won’t go into those here but refer you again to his book, “Holistic Management; a new framework for decision making”, and these websites - www.savoryinstitute.com , www.hmeducators.com.au.

The process is driven by something called an “Holistic Context”. This concept is very simple, but can take some getting used to as it can involve some paradigm shifts. It recognizes that the whole being managed needs to be clarified (described) for decisions to be truly successful. It also recognizes that only the specific decision makers involved in a whole (family, business, individual etc) can clarify for themselves how they really want their life to be – it cannot be determined by others. And it is this which means that every whole is truly unique and is best placed to make informed decisions to lead them decision by decision towards the life they want in the short as well as long term. View Holistic Management here.

So what has all this to do with garden design?

Well, it means that while there are broad patterns and tendencies that can inform garden design decisions, each situation is indeed unique. It means that each decision about how to assemble a garden layout, its component parts and the materials to be used is best made in the circumstances of that garden, the people who are to live with it and the resources they have available to them.
It means that decisions about how to maximize the gardens contribution to improving the environment also need to be made situation by situation.
It means that “standards” and so-called “best practices” whether about style, content or function, are most usefully viewed as possibilities or guides at most, but definitely not as hard and fast “rules” or “shoulds” and “should-nots”. It also has ramifications for larger policy matters like water-restrictions, but that’s a discussion for elsewhere.

This all flows on to other things more traditionally associated with garden (and other) design:

Style and fashion:
Incredible and beautiful gardens have been built in many cultures and countless different geographical, social, environmental and economic circumstances and times.

In Australia, New Zealand and the Americas especially, we are drawn from many cultures, and while we individually have our own cultural and genetic back-ground we are all influenced by many other cultures, and this contributes significantly to who we are. Gardens have always reflected , or at least been influenced by the culture and ideas of their makers, and so it makes perfect sense that gardens in the 21st century, especially in “the new world” will have many influences.

Some people advocate that we should be producing a distinctly Australian garden style, and they sometimes list or imply a bunch of shoulds and should nots to follow, or tutt-tutt about gardens which don’t follow their dictates. Until I thought more deeply about it, I was of a mind like this too. However, I now find this political correctness a bit shallow, and I think it misses the point. If we create gardens that we 21st century Australians individually want, we will be contributing to the growth of something that may or may not in time become a distinctly Australian style. Only time will tell, and apart from the academic interest and stimulation to be had by trying to identify patterns, does it really matter? Some people want a garden which reminds them of the bush, and others don’t. Some want to be reminded of places not from Australia. Some want a very contemporary layout, others like more traditional styles. They are all legitimate gardens, if they are of the people who live with them.
This is not to say that I think there is anything wrong at all in trying to capture the essence of an Australian locale and create gardens accordingly. I just find the dogmatic prescriptions about what other people should and should not do in their gardens rather simplistic. Similarly, this is not to say that I think it’s OK to create gardens and landscapes that are ugly and conflicting with their surroundings, and certainly don’t want to encourage a narcissistic approach to garden making.

For the same reason, I’m not a fan of following fashion, just because it is the fashion. Fashion is driven at least as much if not more by commercialism and the higher profit to be had through churning out repetitions,(ironically often marketed as “individual”) than by meeting the real needs and desires of the people who will live with a garden. As with style above, I am not at all critical of people choosing a contemporary look for their garden if it suits them. I am critical of salesmanship and marketing that is driven primarily or entirely by the profit motive, foisting inappropriate stuff onto people and locations without any consideration of their whole situation. I heard one designer recently advocating that “people should update their garden every 10 years to ensure it was current with the fashion, just like you would with clothing.” I think such statements are stupid and short-sighted.

Natives or exotics:
A few years after moving into my own garden, I experienced a short period of native fundamentalism. Triggered by a wonderful holiday at Wilson’s Promontory and inspired further by remnant bush I’d admired throughout South Australia and Victoria, I was tempted to rip out all those dreadful exotics and convert to a native garden. Fortunately I was not so rash; helped in no small part by Pam (my mother) who suggested that I think carefully and experiment with new plantings first. With a few beautiful exceptions, very few of the native plants available at that time actually survived my experimental plantings because of the soil and climatic conditions here.

My experiments also lead me to wonder, “What is native anyway?” Unless it grew on this location without the intervention of humans, (as a species we did not evolve in Australia), is it really “native”? The first humans arrived here 40 thousand years ago (give or take) and through their very presence and efforts to survive changed the plant and animal species mix dramatically and with those changes, the landscape as well. Tim Flannery’s Future Eaters documents this well. So, do we go back before they arrived to find what existed before any humans impacted the local scene to determine what is native? If we could, it would be well before the last ice-age peak which also changed the landscape and plant species mix. If the First Australians’ impacts on the landscape were “natural”, why are not those of the later European and other settlers?

I’ve now learnt that whatever we humans do (whether indigenous or migrant) is in fact a part of the function and constant evolution of the ecosystem. The critical things are whether those actions are leading towards the life we want, AND are they enhancing or degrading the resource base, including the ecosystem, on which we all depend. In some situations that will mean using native plants, in others it means using exotics. My experience is that it is not necessary to have native plants to encourage many native birds, animals and insects to thrive.

In the same way that I wrote regarding style, none of this is to say that I don’t like native plants, or that I am dismissive of gardens that are planted to entirely native species. Nor I am at all dismissive of efforts to maintain the incredible biodiversity of pre-European settlement. It’s just that I think the moralizing about it can be more emotional than well thought through reasoning. Fortunately, the range of plants now available selected or bred for garden use from Australian wild originals is fantastic and can contribute to a truly beautiful thriving garden.

Uniqueness and originality:
The circumstances of every garden are unique and yet most have many things in common especially when set in the same cultural mix and similar local environment. The uniqueness comes from the people who live in it, as well as the particulars of the site and it is these things that give it genuine, albeit sometimes subtle uniqueness. My experience and observation is that addressing those unique elements sometimes leads to an original treatment or solution. This kind of originality has great appeal because it has real connection and context. I think this is quite different from a designer striving for originality in garden design for the sake of the ego of originality in and of itself.

In preparation for my first trip to Japan in 1989 I learnt that obsession with originality as the pinnacle of artistic credibility is a particularly modern western characteristic, and I’ve observed it’s often driven more by commercial and ego factors than artistic. Originality for no other reason than being original, often leads to gimmickry. While it can be fun, a bit quirky, it’s appeal doesn’t last long. Originality which emerges of its own volition in response to particular circumstances on the other hand is truly inspiring and its appeal lasts forever.

Authenticity:
As a young designer I was concerned that I had an authentic Japanese garden, an authentic South Australian cottage, an authentic Australian garden, and an authentic Cottage garden all in little component rooms. Looking back this was very simplistic. For example – how authentic can a Japanese garden be created by me when I am not Japanese, it is not located in Japan, and the climate is quite different? Now I realize I was confusing exact copy with authenticity. Thank goodness I learnt the difference; partly from Pam who encourage me to not be so hide-bound, and significantly from reading a number of Japanese garden authors writing about this exact subject.

A beautiful, successful and authentic garden is one which is appropriate to the desires and tastes of the people who live with it, gives them the most pleasure possible in their terms, and has a net positive impact on the eco-system by increasing the functioning of the 4 ecosystem processes. For some people this will be a garden of exquisite refined delicate peace for purely aesthetic use – 3 dimensional living, even spiritual art such as the Zen or tea gardens of Japan. For others it will be a garden that enables children to romp, play ball games, chase the dog, build a tree-house or watch tadpoles grow in a pond. Others get the most pleasure and satisfaction from producing abundant food for the table at home and to share with family and friends. At one extreme some people are most at home with order and perfect symmetry, at the other extreme are people who revel in a wild garden, and most of us are somewhere in between. All these can be successful beautiful gardens.

A lesson from my childhood:

When I was in my early teens, I had one of those life-lessons that I’ve never forgotten. Teenagers can be very critical of their parents, especially when those parents aren’t as “cool” as the naïve teen might hope! A friend of mine’s mother painted pictures to hang in her house. He derisively called them “chocolate boxes by numbers”. I mentioned this to some adult I was trying to impress, probably with equal teen-age smugness, and was promptly enlightened! I don’t recall the exact words but the gist of it was very clear: “Does Mrs. X enjoy her paintings? Does she hang them on her walls? Does she get great pleasure from making them? – yes she does. In that case they are just as legitimate in her home as any of the great masters! They may be boring to others, they may be predictable, they may show very little technical skill or artistic flair, BUT they are hers, she made them even if by following numbers, and she loves them so they are legitimate art. They give her pleasure and probably stir some inner emotions. That is not to say that for the rest of the world, Mrs X’s chocolate-box paintings are of any interest or significance. For the rest of the world, great works of art inspire and move us and we would be much poorer without them. We marvel at the technical skill along with the meaning they carry and the emotion they stir. These are great pieces of art." Ranking artworks of any sort against each other as a means to test legitimacy completely misses the point of art, and would probably draw the ire of many of the great artists anyway.

The same applies to gardens. It is the job and the art of the garden designer to bring our technical skills together with our artistry to create gardens for people to make their hearts sing. Often, in the process we create beautiful gardens that have wider appeal. On occasion we may even create a garden that is a great work of art, but that is for others to judge. Our job is to create gardens for the people who will live in them, and by focusing on that, and not the ego boost of creating a great garden for the sake of it being great and our own self-aggrandizement we are most likely to create truly beautiful authentic gardens.

Sustainable Gardening: If the world does in fact function as wholes and patterns as I am convinced it does, (rather than in distinct component parts like a machine), it is far more helpful, indeed closer to reality, to view the garden as part of its owners’/custodians’ “resource base” and to make decisions about it in the context of the whole life of those owners/custodians, than to endeavour to produce a garden which in itself is “sustainable”. In fact, I’d argue that a sustainable garden without consideration of its owners’/custodians’ whole life is a non-sense.

“Sustainable” is a term thrown around in public discourse often to enhance the credibility of the argument being put, but little attempt is usually made to clarify exactly what the user actually means. Depending on the speaker’s concerns (and sometimes spin objectives) their focus might be economic, social or environmental, but usually not all 3 equally.

Generally speaking, I’ve observed that when most people talk about “sustainable gardening” their motivator is usually care for the environment. To me, in the light of the holistic nature of the world, taking meaningful care of the environment has to mean making decisions in the whole of our life (not just the garden) that lead toward the ecosystem thriving, society and people within it being happy and healthy, and the economy working to serve all those people and the ecosystem rather than the reverse.

As with many things in life, there is plenty of instant fix advice to tell us that all we need to achieve X is do Y and Z. In the case of “sustainable gardening”, such rules often include “use native plants”, “use drip irrigation or better still plants that need no irrigation”, “always mulch heavily”, “have no lawn”, “create habitat through such things as bird nesting boxes and frog-ponds”, “plant to create summer shade and winter sun on the north east and west of the building”, etc. Most of these have sound broad pattern logic behind them and can be very useful ideas, but must be considered in the particular circumstances of the garden and the people who will live with it. Given the statistic that 41% of the environmental footprint of Australians is from the way in which our food is grown processed packaged transported stored marketed and the waste disposed of, I think starting with growing as much of your own food as is practical in your garden can be a huge contribution. But this doesn’t appeal to everyone, nor is it always practical. I advocate looking at the whole of a households life and resources (including the garden) and make improvements wherever possible.

Using our own place as an example, at first glance the garden at Niwajiri follows few of the prescriptions on sustainable gardening: we irrigate with sprinklers (ones which don’t mist); there are native plants but exotics are the majority; we mulch but appropriately to the circumstances and in some areas there is none or very little only during the hottest days of summer and depth of winter (for soil temperature moderation); and we have an area of lawn – actually just mown whatever-comes-up. However, for the 12 months to April 2013 we used only 172kilolitres water from public resources (our bore) to grow our vegetables and fruit AND run our entire household for washing, showering, dunny flush etc.- the rest was rainwater. We used a further 560kilolitres to irrigate the ornamental garden. The average Australian couple without children buying their food through the industrial food chain (supermarkets etc) would have consumed a staggering 7,300kilolitres for their food alone - although it wouldn’t show on the water bill.

As mentioned in Niwajiri, my garden the number of bird species here has risen from 6 when I bought the land to 38 at last count. In just 5 years we took at least 47.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and suspended it in raised organic matter levels in the soil. I have my office at home and my partner catches public transport to work. The food we grow saved us $10,000 of after tax costs in 2010 when we last accurately measured it. We continue to drive the same 2 very old cars, as they have not yet completely stopped working. We pay a local mechanic to keep them running. We do this because it saves money and the irreplaceable resources consumed in building new ones. When we do replace them, it will be with the cleanest technology we can possibly afford at the time and we’ll probably keep them for an extremely long time too. The money we’ve saved through these choices like these has enabled us to pay local tradespeople and artisans to do and maintain projects here using recycled materials wherever possible which are usually much more labour-intensive than the “off the shelf new”. However, because they have been specifically built for purpose and longevity using skilled workmanship they will outlast most of the throw-away cheaper (and usually ugly) alternatives. So in broad terms, we have improved the functioning of the ecosystem on our 3 small acres and dramatically reduced our negative impact elsewhere, we have and continue to improve our financial situation, we’ve supported local businesses and community, and we’ve created a place where we, our family, friends and strangers enjoying being. We did this all through thinking of our garden as a part of our resource base and making decisions to improve our whole lives.

I don’t want this to sound sanctimonious or self-righteous, but rather mention all these things as example and hopefully encouragement of what can be achieved.

Appendix

The 4 Ecosystem Processes: There is only one ecosystem on this planet – the whole ecosystem. There are many local variations and components, but none are separable from the greater whole even though the life forms in one locale may be utterly unaware of the existence another. We can look at the ecosystem through 4 “windows” – water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics. These are discussed at length in Savory’s book. In summary though, they are as follows:

Water cycle – for all intent and purposes, the amount of water on the planet is fixed. It is neither created nor destroyed. It cycles from the atmosphere to the surface (or just under it) and back again. Much of it spends long periods locked up in glaciers, aquifers or as sea-water. Insert diagram of water cycle. It is a critical component for driving the weather and climate of the world, in addition to be essential for all life forms. If it is working well life thrives.

The Mineral Cycle is the cycle of nutrients. Again, without which life does not exist. The mineral cycle refers to all the elements that make up life that are not water or energy. A frequently over-looked but absolutely critical element of this cycle is the way in which dead plant matter is cycled back into the living bio-sphere. One of the 4 key insights of Savory’s is that this happens through different means in permanently humid environments compared to seasonally humid ones. Again, I strongly encourage you to read Savory’s book as the implications of this are enormous, but this is not the place to go into a thorough discussion.

Energy Flow – All organisms require energy to live. And all life on earth, including we humans (but excepting a few organisms dwelling near volcanic vents deep in the ocean), depend on the ability of green plants to capture that energy from the sun via photosynthesis, and convert it into a form they can use. There is no other source. Most species rely also on heat energy directly from the sun or the surrounding water or air, but no species can survive on that heat energy alone.

Community Dynamics – From the moment living organisms establish residence on a patch of bare soil or rock or in a newly formed pool of water, things are never the same again. Change begets change as the organisms interact with each other and the surrounding micro-environment. Eventually, that community of organisms usually reaches a state of apparent equilibrium but within there are still changes and adaptations going on stimulated by things such as variation in weather year to year. To achieve a degree of overall stability, the biodiversity must be high. True biodiversity includes diversity within species as well as diversity of species. That is, within any one species there must be genetic diversity and age diversity; otherwise the species is at grave risk from just a small change in circumstances. To listen to discussions in the media or read policies on Biodiversity, one could easily think that the term “biodiversity” related only to endangered species. Bio-diversity is much broader than that, and maintaining indeed enhancing and growing biodiversity is absolutely critical to maintaining an ecosystem conducive to human existence.


Contact me, Steve Hailstone via
Email: steve@hailstonegardendesign.com
Or phone (+ 61) 8 8339 4811

For more information:

Holistic Management has a brief overview of the process.

Portfolio has pictures from gardens Steve Hailstone has designed over many years.

Niwajiri, my garden gives an in-depth look at my approach to garden design through the example of our own garden “Niwajiri”.