Naturescapes: Sustainable Natural Landscapes

The beautiful thing about emerging natural landscapes is that they just get better and better as plants mature, moss grows, animal and insect life move in, more mobile birdlife appears, and the natural rhythms of growth and decay harmonises. That’s what we are creating!

Our work with natural landscapes started some 20 years ago when we were introduced to Permaculture, Biodynamic Agriculture and Water Harvesting.

What is it all about?

We are taking dry lifeless public open space, parks, ovals, nature strips, house gardens and school playgrounds that are dry, and with hard compacted soil and creating natural forests and dry Creek beds as biomimicry of nature.

These dry areas are everywhere. Each summer any area of grass that dries off and becomes partial dirt and any trees that start to look like they are being stressed and starved of water are potential sites for Naturescapes.

Compressed soil areas restrict the ability of water to infiltrate and feed the soil, as well as plants, trees and all the life that can exist above and below the ground.

Creating Naturescapes is converting these areas into a lush oasis.

Aranda Primary School Adventure Garden Before and After
Majura Primary School Naturescape sketch

Naturescape with Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)

Naturescape Design

When we design a Naturescape we look at each site for the opportunity to enhance water collection that will feed everything that follows.

We can collect water in several ways: By diverting overland flow water, by capturing rainwater directly, and by re-directing roof water back through the Naturescape before it returns to the local stormwater system.

We sculpt the soil profiles to create ways of holding the water for the Naturescape and to feed the soil.

Underground trench systems are created that hold water for long periods after the rain has stopped. These underground trenches are designed to hold and distribute water around the newly created Naturescape. The effect of the surface profiling and the trenching systems is to raise the moisture content of the soil.

We have trialled several areas over 12 years and similar trees, both in a Naturescape and located just away from the naturescape, demonstrated a difference in growing pattern. Those in the Naturescape grew at a rate of over 3 times the same trees located just 20 metres away.

Naturescapes are powerful supporters of natural ecosystems.

What’s Involved: Getting into the details

We remove the compressed soil, terrace the landscape to capture rainwater, reverse the water runoff and allow the water to seep into the ground. The water harvesting channels are placed like arteries of a body through the ground, which feeds moisture to all the roots of our new environment.

Dry laid rocks are used to form terraces and provide a natural haven for animal life, such as geckos, lizards and beetles. They provide a place for creeping plants, succulents and ground covers to take root and benefit from the coolth from rock in summer and the moisture emerging from the water harvesting trenches.

We condition the removed soil from excavation by adding soil improver and natural biological solutions that are found in normal healthy soil. Once improved, the soil is placed back into the terraced structure, which is now fed by overland flow, direct rain and diverted rain from adjacent buildings. The water is now held and distributed underground.

Trees are planted around 1 every 10m2 and grow to become a canopy that provides an understorey in summer for the next layer of plant and animal activity to be created. In Canberra, we use mostly using deciduous trees to shade the dry summer months and open the understorey to light and sun in winter, a bit like a solar passive house in nature.

Orana Steiner School Naturescapes 5 years after completion


We have environments that were created over 20 years ago by the original developer of water harvesting, Paul Totterdell and supported by Tim Edmondson (Canberra Horticulturist of the year) who worked extensively at the Rudolf Steiner School. These environments have now reached maturity.

The environments create havens for small bird populations that can struggle to find protection in an urban environment, where trees may be placed as a feature but not as part of a forest. Nature turns up when the right conditions are in place.

The wonderful thing about these landscapes that mimic nature, is that they improve over time. The soil is kept moist as long as there is periodic rain, as the water harvesting channels hold the water and allow moisture to spread out in the soil. After a few years, the tree root system finds its way to the channels and starts to mimic the shape of the trenches and forms a natural root channel where the water is taken up directly from the channel and feeds the trees and plants.

If the summer is a dry spell, the residual moisture in these environments lasts much longer than normal. It’s only after a sustained dry spell that the smaller plants may need watering via the water harvesting channels, thereby allowing the take-up from the channel, rather than the surface. Even on a clear night, we see water enter the system from dew forming on the roofs.

See other Naturescapes related News here