During one of my first visits to the Sustainable Backyard, I encountered a class of tertiary students using the garden to identify plants. I introduced myself to the instructor and asked for a follow-up interview. After several failed attempts, I finally met with Antoinette in the shade of the Sustainable Backyard. Antoinette is a faculty member in the Landscape Department at Wintec, a polytechnic school that sits adjacent to Hamilton Gardens, and shared the ways in which she builds sustainability into her landscape design classes.
“I use this particular garden in two formal classes: Landscape Design 2 and Theory of Landscape Design. I tend to focus quite heavily on ecological health and using ecology as a basis for design. We touch on permaculture in terms of edible gardens and relationships between plants and people and the function they satisfy. But it sits within a bigger picture of ecology. We look at house angles, sun angles, shade, etcetera.
I love coming down here to show students the relationships between plants and that plants should satisfy more than one function, such as attracting birds and providing color. Aesthetics is one. It’s quite interesting. It’s a much healthier landscape compared to many landscapes designed by others. It’s based on function; Form follows function.
I’ve taken my students on a field trip to Waimarie Community Garden [started by the Hamilton Permaculture Trust]. We extend it into farms as well. Farming is huge here – it’s also a huge polluter. We’re looking at ways of improving the landscape, not just stopping phosphates from going to river, but by putting edible plants in the riparian zone.
We talk about ecosystem services, and there’s a bit of focusing on monoculture. Monoculture is highly open to risks of collapse. Then there’s biodiversity. And then there’s an ‘in between’, where production is balanced with biodiversity. So get in fruit trees. Open your mind to the plant world. I want them saying, “I can use fejoahs and pine nuts in my design.”
My Landscape Design Two class is all theory. We do plant identification and spend one week on edible plants. I try to have them look at the landscape in an edible way. If you’re going to plant a box hedge, you can use chili or guava. Look at forms of plants we’ve always used in our backyard, but look at them from a different angle. When you have climbing plants, you can have them growing up your corn, for example.
I have a nice video of Nigel Wilson and he’s building a garden in the desert and he’s creating an amazing food producing, lush forest. It’s great to show them that. My experience with education is it’s a jumping off point. I just try to wow them with stuff so they can take what they need or want. My students are between the ages of 19 and 30. Some day they might think about permaculture, or growing beans up their corn.
Usually they’re really interested. They’re really interested in cutting edge technology. Green roofs were very popular this year. We usually tend to bombard young people with a whole bunch of terrible statistics, instead of showing them what they can do.