Edible shade plants

Plants are one of the cheapest low-energy shading options available. They can cut down the amount of sun coming into the house with the added bonus of improving air quality. They also provide their own type of evaporative cooling as water moves from the soil through their stems and leaves and into the air.

Here we look at some edible shade plants that provide excellent cover in summer, lose their leaves or die back in winter and also yield a delicious harvest.

Different trees and vines have different deciduous periods, so it’s good to think carefully about what would work best in your area. Melbourne-based edible landscaper Rafael Schouten says if you’re thinking of growing a vine, grapes and hops are great, with grapes growing horizontally and hops growing vertically.

Annual climbing plants like scarlet runner beans are also fabulous for vertical shade, growing walls of luscious green studded with red flowers. These work really well as a short-term option and are great for renters or those committed to planting each year.

If you are thinking of a tree, any deciduous tree that is not a dwarf variety could be a good option. The mulberry is a medium-sized localised tree that is fast and easy to grow and you can prune it however you like. Apricots also make good shading trees. According to Rafael: “An apricot is a better shade tree than other stone fruit as they grow bigger and don’t need limbpruning like peaches if you’re growing them big. They spread out more than plums, which are too vertical, and have nice solid shade.”

When fine-tuning your shade, Rafael says pomegranate and kiwi fruit hold onto their leaves too long into winter, while almonds and ornamental pears are fast growing but leaf out early in spring when you may not be quite ready for shade.

If you need to plant a larger tree for full house shading, chestnuts and walnuts are great options. In places where winter shade is fine, the loquat is easy to grow, has tasty fruit and gives dense shade.

Read the full article in Sanctuary 27 for a list of edible shade plants including kiwi fruit, scarlet runner beans, hops, mulberry, apricot and loquat.

Energy efficiency inspections project

CSIRO’s House Energy Efficiency Inspections Project CSIRO is conducting a study in homes across Australia to assess their air tightness and quality of insulation, and is looking for ten more homes in Sydney to fill the quota.

If your house is less than four years old and you live in Sydney, you can register to make your home available for testing and inspection to assess air tightness and quality of insulation.

How can I get involved?

Register your interest to participate here.

With energy costs rising, home energy use is affecting all householders’ budgets. The air tightness and the quality of insulation can have a significant impact on how much energy you need to keep the inside of your home comfortable throughout the year.

What do I commit to?

Your house would be blower door tested and have a thermal imaging and ceiling inspection.

What do I get?

At the end of the study you will receive a report on your home’s air tightness and insulation quality (worth $800) and a copy of CSIRO’s Home Energy Saving Handbook (worth $30)

Can I withdraw from the study?

Participation in the project is voluntary and you are free to withdraw from the project at any time.

Any questions about the study?

If you have any questions regarding this study please contact either Mike Syme mike.syme@csiro.au or Michael Ambrose michael.ambrose@csiro.au

Resilient design


Resilience can be interpreted many ways, but in a bricks-and-mortar sense it’s a building that’s not permanently damaged by the extremes of Mother Nature. More broadly it’s a home that stays warm when the electricity grid fails or a community that is empowered to respond to a disaster.

Architect Dr Paul Downton says that new homes should be designed to meet worst case climate scenarios. “I think if you’re not designing for the year 2050 at least, you’re not serious, and if you look at the projections for 2050, tweaking the standard house a bit isn’t going to produce the level of resilience that we’re going to need.”

So what wild weather can we expect as the century progresses? The level of risk depends on where you live, but Australia’s Climate Council points to more heat waves and freakish deluge-or-drought rainfall patterns, leading to more severe and frequent bushfires and floods. Cyclones are likely to become more intense although less regular. Meanwhile, a projected 1.1 metre sea-level rise this century puts up to 247,600 houses in Australia at risk from flooding due to increased storm surges.

Some organisations and individuals have launched much-needed initiatives in response.

Green Cross Australia’s Harden Up: Protecting Queensland project was established after the 2011 Queensland floods when three-quarters of the state was declared a disaster zone. The disaster-resilience portal includes a database of 3000 severe weather events that have occurred since the 1850s to help householders establish what extremes are likely to strike their area, and to act on this risk through a personal resilience plan. The campaign’s emphasis is on resilience through sustainability.

Architect Mark Thomson helped retrofit a two-storey brick-veneer home that had been severely flooded during the Brisbane floods in 2011 and says a new approach is needed to make homes more robust. “Guttering systems, box gutters and low-pitched roofs require rethinking to withstand increased storm activity and severity. Materials need more flexible joints for greater expansion and contraction resulting from greater and more rapid extremes in temperature.”

For Dr Downton, who designed Adelaide’s urban village Christie Walk, resilient design is also about where we live and who we live with. He says that higher density living will facilitate more resilient communities. “We should be building villages and communities rather than subdivisions. If all the wheels fall off and things go wrong, if you facilitate community I think you’re building resilience.


Green walls in the city

Amongst the hard exterior of inner city Sydney a quiet revolution is taking place. Residential apartment blocks, terrace courtyards and even heavy traffic route walls are being transformed as councils and residents seek innovative ways to meet rising demand for urban green space. Green walls are taking root in Australia and internationally as one way to overcome a lack of accessible soil, improve air quality and make otherwise drab spaces beautiful.

Sydney City Council is actively encouraging residents and businesses to grow upwards with a new Green Roof and Walls Policy that aims to increase the number of green facades and rooftops in the city. “With higher-density living and a growing population, we need to accommodate people in a healthy way and use urban space as wisely as possible,” says Lucy Sharman from the City of Sydney’s Green Roofs and Walls initiative.

Urban green space also benefits the environment. “Green walls and roof gardens help to cool buildings and slow down rainfall, helping to make cities better adapted to a changing climate,” says Lucy. “They are a practical and accessible way to make cities more liveable while generating environmental and social benefits,” she says.

Lucy says that you can make the simplest green wall by growing vines in pots or a planter bed and training a vine up a wall. By growing a vigorous, fruit-bearing vine, such as passion fruit, you achieve both thermal benefits and have fruit to eat. [Ed note: see more on edible shading plants in Sanctuary 27] You can also grow plants in pots on racks/shelves secured to a wall, espalier fruit trees on wires, or you can go the hydroponic route. Hydroponics is based on growing plants without soil using nutrient/mineral rich water to sustain them.

There are also several companies that specialise in both types of green walls, and some systems are now available from nurseries and hardware stores at cost effective prices. Even small green wall projects can help attract wildlife back into the city and give you the unique satisfaction of creating a garden, no matter what size.