Sustainability and suburban gardens

In Australia, green lawns and roses were once standard features in suburban front yards, along with pretty, annual flower borders. The man of the house mowed the lawn on the weekend, kept the roses neat and trim and sprayed weeds and pests with copious amounts of chemicals. Back then, these manicured front yards were considered a sign of good character.


“Neatness is all”.

The suburban ideal of the 1960s. Photo from ‘Landscape Australia’

There are several advantages to these gardens. They keep homes and gardens cooler than pavers or concrete. They are attractive if well maintained, and a useful play area for small children. Yet, in the 21st century, their shortcomings outweigh many of these advantages.

In South Australia, the driest state on the driest habitable continent, lawns require substantial amounts of water in order to remain green from late spring to early autumn. In return, they provide no shade to our energy hungry, summer homes. Lawns also require a fair bit of work to look good – frequent mowing, edge trimming, fertilising and weeding. The use of chemical sprays is still common, contributing to the destruction of many beneficial insects.

Most suburban flora and fauna is now composed of introduced species and many of our native plants and animals are rare or threatened. The need to save water, adapt to a changing climate with less rain, hotter and longer summers, and provide habitat for indigenous species which are better adapted to this ‘new normal’, is forcing us to re-assess old practices. So what do alternatives to the 1960’s suburban ideal look like?


Brighton civic centre and library native garden during winter 2014


Native lilac in bloom at Brighton civic centre and library garden

In Holdfast Bay, the local council is developing and promoting water wise, bio-diverse, climate adapted gardens which also preserve habitat for threatened local species. These gardens contribute to a more resilient local environment while also reducing maintenance time and costs, improving bio-diversity and helping to transform our urban areas into more ecologically sustainable and beautiful spaces.


Residential front garden in Brighton – Holdfast Bay


Residential front garden in Hove – Holdfast Bay

Increasing numbers of Holdfast Bay residents are also stepping away from the 1960’s ideal and creating climate appropriate gardens in their suburb. Here, water preservation, shade, and habitat for native plants and wild life are the new priorities. These gardens are setting modern standards for sustainability and resilience, and creating a new, 21st century, suburban ideal.

This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Gardening, Holdfast Bay and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sustainability and suburban gardens

  1. sallyashaw says:

    I agree the English neat garden is no longer suitable for South Australia!

  2. tristanobav says:

    I think the real key here is that the use of native plants is beneficial for declining wildlife – especially in the Adelaide plains and Mt Lofty Ranges region. In the ranges, remnant habitat is down to less than 10% of pre-European conditions as a result of land clearance and there is an extinction ‘debt’ for animal species (particularly birds) that can be offset with proper revegetation initiatives.
    I’d encourage all to plant rare, native, wildlife-attracting plant species for this reason (as well as the others mentioned in the article). Great stuff!

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