Choosing Sustainable Landscape Materials
Friendly Practices for The Garden
Today, gardeners and designers have a wide range of landscape materials
to choose from. Along with integrating environmentally sustainable
practices such as using plants requiring little artificial watering,
we can make a difference by selecting landscape materials wisely. This
brochure is intended as a guide to making informed choices regarding
materials featured have been chosen for their current popularity. In
an attempt to lessen the environmental impact of their use when building
or designing outdoor spaces, follow these simple guidelines.
- Ensure materials required are accurately estimated to avoid waste.
- Choose the smallest size of components for a job.
- Construct landscape elements to standard dimensions to reduce waste.
- Look at the materials already on site and consider ways to re-use them
- Choose materials that involve minimal industrial refinement and processing.
- Source recycled materials wherever possible rather than newly processed
- If possible use products from your local region. Enquire with your retailer
about their source.
is widely used in gardens for the construction of structures such as
pergolas, decks and screens as well as for steps, edging, outdoor furniture
and formwork. Compared to other materials such as stone or metal, timber
can be easily worked, is relatively cheap and widely available.
wide range of timber products are available in the Canberra region
with little information available at point of sale on product source.
choosing timber to use in your garden consider:
recycled or salvaged timber from a local timber supplier
timber from sustainable managed plantations rather than natural forests
(see Good Wood Guide)
second-hand outdoor furniture
structures are built from common sized timbers to reduce wastage
structures for long life, for example by allowing air flow around
alternatives from readily renewable resources such as bamboo and
plastic timber made from recycled plastic waste
high quality timber for visible components and treated pine for hidden
nature, it takes around 1000 years to produce 1cm of topsoil (TAFE
NSW Et EPA 1997) therefore it is important to protect existing soil
the following when contemplating alteration of the existing soil type
or surface levels.
possible work with the existing landform rather than significantly
- Equalise cut and fill to avoid importing/exporting soil.
- Stockpile and reuse topsoil when performing earthworks.
- Add organic matter such as composted green waste and local manures to
improve soils. Manures are available from local paddocks, shearing sheds and
- Match plants to soil conditions, for example, for shallow soils with
rocky outcrops use plants that thrive in these environments.
products include bricks, pavers, pots and tubs, terracotta ware and
ornaments, all of which require the extraction of materials from non-renewable
resources and significant energy inputs when firing.
is perhaps the most common landscape use of clay and has been used
for thousands of years to create outdoor terraces and paths. Clay pavers
laid on sand can be easily removed to access underground services.
choosing paving for your garden consider:
- limiting paving to areas where you will sit, stand and walk
- re-using existing pavers either from your site or from the local region
- using spare or recycled pavers as garden bed edging
- requesting a number of seconds (with slight flaws) when buying new pavers
and using these in inconspicuous areas
- if choosing new products, opting for products manufactured locally.
is available as cured pre-cast units, (blocks, pavers and retaining
wall systems), as well as poured in place. Both methods involve quarrying
aggregate from non-renewable sources, and production of Portland cement
powder using high energy kiln-firing.
reduction in the environmental impact of concrete may be achieved by:
- preparing your own wet concrete mix including chunks of cleaned broken
brick, recycled glass and salvaged sand instead of new aggregate
- using only as much cement in the mix as required for the project
- allowing for future crushing and recycling of the concrete by avoiding
steel reinforcement (pour concrete slightly thicker, or use a slightly higher
- avoiding disposal of concrete waste into waterways, open spaces and drains.
Pebbles and Gravel
and pebbles feature as ground surfacing in many contemporary landscapes.
When choosing gravel for your garden consider:
- using the minimum depth necessary
- using on-site soil to fill holes and create levels rather than filling
large voids with imported gravels and pebbles.
crushed brick or concrete made from recycled bricks, roof tiles and
- avoiding river gravels mined from existing river systems - ask the supplier
where the material has come from
- avoiding material sourced from overseas locations (often highly polished pebbles in bags).
Crushed Rock and Stone
processes are used to extract sand, (used in concrete and beneath pavers),
crushed rock, (used as a base beneath paving and in drainage systems),
and large stones, (used for paving, walls and garden features). These
elements are non-renewable.
using sand, crushed rock or stone in landscape construction consider:
- using only the minimum depth necessary
- where safe, laying stone without mortar or concrete to allow for future
- reusing old gravels and sand from beneath paving you have demolished
- sourcing stone which is a by-product of quarrying processes
- reusing or recycling unwanted flagstone and ornamental stones
- using recycled brick or concrete behind retaining walls and in other
drainage systems instead of new quarried material.
it is illegal to remove bush rocks from the bush. They provide habitat
and soil stabilisation.
can reduce evaporation from garden soil, adds organic matter whilst
suppressing weed growth and reduces erosion. Mulch should be spread
to a suitable depth. Generally 75mm is adequate.
choosing a mulch for your garden consider using:
- shredded prunings from tree surgery and green garden waste
- by-products of managed plantations rather than natural forests
- leaves collected from street and roof gutters
- pine bark, a by-product of pine processing for timber.
cardboard and natural fibres laid beneath mulch can also contribute
to weed suppression. Non-organic gravels, such as crushed brick and
crushed concrete can also be used as mulches.
TAFE NSW & EPA (July 1997) Waste minimisation guidelines for building
Good Wood Guide: www.rainforestinfo.org.au/good-wood/sel_spec.htm
was prepared by Edwina Richardson, David Moyle and Jennie Curtis from
the ACT Group of the AILA and was published in hard copy with the assistance
of funds made available by the ACT government under the
Environment Grants Program.