Ecological design models for New Zealand urban areas

I think there is a  need to move ecological design in NZ beyond the twin poles of revegetation on the one hand and garden design with natives on the other. I have been thinking about how to do this and, during my ‘sabbatical’ at University of Sheffield, saw how effective a tool was the modelling of ecological design on wild communities but without the automatic adherence to the ‘indigenous’ plant menu.

To do ecological design in urban areas we need to look for vegetation communities in the wild of New Zealand that are adapted to similar climate, microclimate and ground conditions to those found in the design site. What makes it more interesting and, in fact, more achievable is when those conditions are extreme – drylands, wetlands, nutrient poor lands, eg gumlands etc.

Gumlands bracken and sedges - the basis of a design assembly for impoverished soils. (click to enlarge)

Gumland ferns and sedges and shrubs – could be the basis of a design assembly for impoverished soils. (click to enlarge)

We are more familiar with the various wetland conditions found in many urban stormwater management systems and how these can be used to develop diverse wetland communities. Much urban landscape exists in close proximity to hard materials – concrete, asphalt, brick, etc.- Rather than remove all this and replace with topsoil at great expense can we use the pioneer vegetation of locations like Rangitoto lava beds? In the unique and distinctive Rangitoto vegetation can we see inspiration for city landscape

Rangitoto colonising vegetation. in the most extreme conditions of drought  and salt water.

Rangitoto colonising vegetation in the most extreme conditions of drought exposure and salt water.

Ecological design is about designing with plant communities rather than plant species. The basic unit of design is the community or ecosystem (the community plus its physical environment). It is the way we put these together that can create the diversity  and intensity of vegetation and habitat that we need and enjoy in urban areas.

complex layering in established coastal forest creates attractive and intense detail.

complex layering in established coastal forest creates attractive and intense detail. (click to enlarge)

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