Moonscape to oasis with sustainable gardening

How sustainable gardening can transform that barren patch of earth left by your builders into a beautiful, green oasis.

Finally the builders have left, the painting’s done and even the carpets and furniture are in. But as the sun rises on your first day in your new home, you see an increasingly worrisome blot on the landscape – a so-called “garden” full of nothing but clay and rocks. Time for some sustainable gardening!

Soil the foundation of sustainable gardening

Many new home owners find they are not only starting with no plants – some have been left with no topsoil, either.

“Most new developments have the topsoil scraped off before building starts,” explains Diana Cotter, who runs workshops for Sustainable Gardening Australia. “Most soils you buy now are scraped off a development somewhere then mixed with about 50% sand and have mushroom compost added. There is no glue or substance to it; nothing to hold it together.”

Ironically, the first thing a lot of new owners do is buy in topsoil, but while it may be easier to dig, few professional gardeners consider it better for plants. “One site I worked on was a sloping block so they’d imported some topsoil to try and even it out,” Cotter recalls. “On the top end – the natural clay – everything grew really well, but on the lower side, which was filled with topsoil, if you felt the soil, it just ran through your fingers and everything struggled.”

Gardeners interested in growing native plants may find a scraped block is actually a bonus; dormant weed seed is removed, as is residual superphosphate, which favours weeds over wildflowers and is common on former farmland.

But for anyone wanting to grow exotics, lawn or vegetables, a rich, friable soil is best.
But Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA) advocates against disturbing topsoil where possible, because it releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere, involves unnecessary transportation, can spread weeds, and disturbs the original composition of the soil.

More information on sustainable gardening

Sustainable Gardening Australia

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Cover of Issue 4
You can read more about Moonscape to oasis with sustainable gardening in Issue 4 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Did You Know?

Reducing your lawn area is the best way to save water as lawns can account for up to 90 per cent of water used in gardens.

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