Garden Design Best Practices

By Meg Hiesinger Ph.D. from The Ecology Center

Diversity, stability, and resilience are the three principles of great ecological garden design.

Diversity, stability, and resilience: these are the three principles of good ecological garden design. Well-designed gardens produce the most food with the least work and are cheaper and easier to maintain. This month includes some basic principles and checklists to create your own design. You’ll also find inspiration and sample designs from actual Grow Your Own! gardens.

To start, here are some guidelines:

Place things in relationships and make connections.

  • The way you arrange things in your garden design can greatly reduce the amount of work you do and the resources you need. For example, locating your chickens in the orchard will fertilize the trees and feed the chickens at the same time.

Draw inspiration from natural systems.

  • You are designing an ecosystem, so copy what nature does best. For example, a thick layer of mulch mimics the leaf litter in a forest- it protects your plants, directs water, and looks good. Companion planting helps your plants obtain proper nutrients and remain bug-free.

Use full-circle loops.

  • Ideally your waste products find a second life. For example, plant debris and veggie scraps provide nutrients for healthy soil when composted in a pile or worm bin.

Create abundance and surplus.

  • Increase the stability of your garden system by selecting items that have multiple benefits. For example, a fruit tree provides a sweet seasonal treat and surplus for winter canning. It also cools buildings in the summer and provides habitat for shade-loving plants to grow beneath it.

Start small.

  • Design your garden to accommodate all your wishes, and plan to build in phases as you obtain more resources.

Use appropriate technology and time-tested, low-impact methods.

  • For example, instead of starting with an expensive hydroponics system that depends on a constant supply of outside materials, try to become an expert in natural fertilizers first. You can make nutrient-rich compost and worm tea with ingredients from your own garden.

Reinforce your jobs.

  • Your garden should be a resilient system, which means your basic needs are covered no matter what. For example, with watering, combine hand-watering with drip irrigation. This way, plants still get water even if one method breaks down.

What is An “Ecological House”?

by Philip S. Wenz

Do you want to live in an environmentally friendly house, but wonder what that really means? Does your house have to be loaded with expensive “green” gadgetry, or built with recycled tires? Is it practical to retrofit your existing house? Will your new “eco features” help the environment, or are they just more stuff to consume — trendy, but ultimately damaging to the planet?

Though there is no single, set definition of an environmentally friendly house it’s good, at the outset, to think about what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve found the concept of the “ecological house” — new or retrofitted, big or small — useful for determining project goals.

An ecological house is modeled on the energy and material flows of natural ecosystems, and thus enhances rather than degrades the environment. Like an ecosystem, an ecological house conserves resources (energy, water, food and materials). It also produces resources, or at least gathers and stores more of them than it uses. The “extra” resources are distributed back into the larger environment to support life elsewhere.

A standard house, by contrast, is a resource sink. Life’s essentials flow into it, are dissipated or degraded until useless, and are dumped off into the environment, sometimes as toxic waste. The flow is unidirectional, from source to sink to waste.

In an ecosystem, and in an ideal ecological house, there is no waste because the resource flow is circular. Like houses, ecosystems import energy — mostly solar, in their case. Unlike standard houses, however, ecosystems store their energy and reuse it. It’s stored first as plant biomass, which is eventually distributed as food to the ecosystems’ myriad inhabitants. Further, and this is the real key to the sustainability of ecosystems, the stored energy continues to circulate, as exchanged nutrients, until it makes its way back to the plants. In the scenario known to every sixth grader, plants make animal food and animals make plant food.

Ecologists and ecological designers describe this behavior of ecosystems as the closing of nutrient loops. Human habitation systems — from cities to houses — create one-way energy and material flows, leaving loops open. Ecosystems unconsciously practice the “reduce, reuse, recycle” dictum and have sustained themselves for billions of years. Human systems have been around for only a million years or so, and might not exist much longer if they don’t start conforming to nature’s rule that “waste equals food.”

How can you mimic nature and close a loop at your house? Compost your food scraps and use them to grow a garden. The standard, open-loop approach to consuming food eliminates nutrient-rich scraps as waste, which requires energy in the form of a garbage truck for disposal. If you turn your unused organic material into plant food and use the sun’s energy to produce human food, you’ve closed a loop and reduced your family’s demands on the larger environment.

As well as circulating nutrients internally, ecosystems contribute to life in their region and the biosphere by releasing unused food, water and minerals into their surroundings at appropriate times. Similarly, a “home ecosystem” can redistribute a resource such as “gray water” — for example, shower water, which is clean enough for certain uses — and store that water in plant tissue, say, in fruit trees grown on the property.

At harvest time, some of the water is circulated back to your family as fruit, closing a local loop, and some is expired for healthy recirculation in the atmosphere as the leaves dry up and drop off (as opposed to unhealthy and energy-intensive treatment in a sewage plant). The dried leaves, of course, can be used as compost and mulch for next year’s vegetable garden.

The possibilities for creating intertwined closed loops are endless.

Using nutrients from your yard, you can profitably grow products ranging from hardwoods, bamboo and herbs to exotic fish. Your house can produce more electrical energy than your family uses and direct the excess to environmentally benign applications, such as heating a food-producing greenhouse in winter. Or, you can feed the public utility grid for credit toward your monthly bill.

The ecosystem model can be applied to all of the fundamental issues in ecological design. For example, optimizing a house’s “life cycle” — the amount of energy and material needed to create the building, its ongoing demand on the environment and its final disposal—can be facilitated by observing how ecosystems use local resources and recycle materials. Nature herself is your best guide to designing and living in your ecological house.

COLUMN #1 (Gazette-Times)
© Philip S. Wenz, 2007
syndicated by Philip S. Wenz, 2007

A 10 Step Guide to Understanding, Calculating and Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

I  found this guide quite interesting as it assesses the many ways one can reduce its CO2 footprint in various aspects of life. Perhaps very North American oriented but certainly worth to understand it and be able to apply in other regions and in our personal life.

The full guide is available at The 10 Step Guide.

Ecological Gardening

A view from Happy Earth, an Australian Non-Profit

(Visit their page on Facebook or visit their Site)

Ecological gardening, like sustainable living, is about seeing ourselves, our homes and our gardens as important parts of local and global ecosystems. It’s about exploring the stories behind what comes into our gardens, and what goes out, and how we can make small positive changes, which have rippling effects far beyond our back fence.

Here’s some of the ways we are/plan to garden ecologically:

  • Growing lots of our own food organically, to bring food closer to our hearts and plates. See the Future of Food for more info.
  • Creating a food forest, which is not only the most efficient way of growing, but creates valuable habitat for wildlife.
  • Planting lots of local native species.
  • Not planting species that are likely to become local weeds such as strawberry guava or grafted passion fruits.
  • Creating habitat for wildlife through having layers of vegetation, lots of mulch, hidey holes such as in old pipes and rocks, frog ponds, etc.
  • Planting species that are suited to our climate and locality, and strategically placing them in optimal positions, to minimize the need for high inputs of water etc.
  • Questioning where things coming into the garden are from, such as rocks, mulch and plants, and trying to source things that are locally, sustainably and ethically produced/harvested.
  • Irrigating effectively and minimizing the need to water by planting at times when rainfall is predicted, and temperatures are cool.
  • Focusing on building the health of the soil, and not simply applying synthetic fertilizers, to ensure that nutrients are not leeched from our property and contributing to excess nutrient problems in our local creeks and elsewhere.

Feng Shui and Ecology

The View of Janus Welton, AIA, BBEI Architect

Feng Shui & Ecology
Ecology: The Interrelationship of humanity and the natural environment (YANG)

Feng Shui: The Interrelationship of humanity and the natural environment (YIN)

The definition is the same and each describes a facet of the whole in the dialogue of MAN & NATURE.

The Importance of Feng Shui In the Green Design Movement
Ecology and the Green movement focuses on the VISIBLE , Gross, Physical, or Yang aspects of the Man and Nature relationship, in the same way that Feng Shui describes the more SUBTLE , Energetic Patterns, or the Unseen Yin aspects of the same equation.

The elements of Ecology are indistinguishable from the elements of Feng Shui . The proper chanelling of (water) , the harnessing of the wind (air) and the sun (fire) , stewardship of the (earth) and forests (wood) , and management of extracting and manufacturing (metal) all have their energetic quality in Feng Shui.

Best viewed as a Science and interpreted as an Art Form, Feng Shui is based on the underlying principles of the Universal Cycles of Change and the Elements Water, Air, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal. Balancing these natural elements with human settlement patterns and building design is the key to both disciplines.

Building Ecology and Biology is the study of Ecological and Biological methods for detecting and eliminating sources of Environmental Pollution that cause Biological Stress and contribute to ill health and disease. The powerful combination of Feng Shui Ecology & Sustainable & Healthy Building Design provides us tools to detect, diagnose, and problem solve to create harmonizing, healing, and healthy environments. A holistic overview and “tool-kit” of Feng Shui and Ecological principles are available to incorporate into new homes and offices and to heal our existing environments. We have the technology to build in harmony with nature- Now it is our challenge to use it on all levels!

What is Feng Shui?
Used by leading edge professionals in Architecture, Interior Design, and Natural Healthcare, Feng Shui is about the Flow (Wind) and the Containment (Water) of Energy or Chi in our environments. Good Feng Shui creates a balance of Yin and Yang qualities and deflects harmful energies and maximizes positive energy flow. It is an understanding of the cyclical nature of energy patterns that creates a harmony between earth, human life, and Nature. In its literal translation Feng Shui means Wind & Water and was originally known as KAN YU . Kan is Heaven : the Cosmological order of The Universe, and Yu is Earth : geology, landscape, ecology, mountains, sun, air, water, agriculture, sacredness of the land, and energy lines called dragon lines.

Feng Shui practitioners use these polarities of the Invisible and Visible Form to create harmonic balance between Heaven and Earth.

Why is the significance of Feng Shui?
Feng Shui links us as Humans to our Environment and Observers of Nature. Most of us are so busy in our contemporary lives, we have very little time to observe, and have therefore lost the “Way” or the “TAO” of the patterns of our universe.

Feng Shui interprets a “pattern language” of natural forms and phenomena, man-made buildings and symbols, with the patterns of the universe. These patterns are closely linked with the phases of the Sun, Moon, Seasons, Time, and the alignments of the Stars and observation of Earthly Energies.

History of Feng Shui
The Ancient Chinese observed that some surroundings are better than others, luckier than others, easier to survive in, more comfortable and more harmonious. Most of us still observe this in our lives today- we know we are affected for good or ill by our surroundings and by the layout and orientation of work places and homes.

From it’s original roots as the earliest form of Ecology; through 5,000 years of Chinese history of site planning, the building of cities, design of buildings, and even the lay out of grave-sites, Feng Shui as it is still practiced in the Orient and Worldwide today.

It is an important “key” to understanding the relationship of Man to Nature and to the Built Environment, and provides tools for healing our own homes and environments we design for others.

While the Ideal Feng Shui setting changes from climate to climate, it is essentially locating the building in a classic armchair embrace with the Mountain behind and the River in front. Other factors such as Geo-Biology also are important in harmonizing Site Design. The underlying energy and water currents in the earth effect our sense of place and are best noted by watching the movement of animals and patterns of vegetation to identify areas with the best energy. Dowsers use a variety of simple tools to locate such currents within the Earth’s crust.

Feng Shui Diagnosis and Cures
Traditional Feng Shui Methods focus on Diagnosis and Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine applied to the environment. The 5 Element Theory really is a representation of the 5 Phases of energy from the early Taoist Compass- or Sun Dial .

In effect , the energy expands and contract like a “cosmological jellyfish” as the sun continues on its daily path and the yearly path of the seasons . The Sun’s energy rises in the East in the early morning, denoting Springtime , fresh , Green, uplifting Wood Energy. After, the Sun and energy flow rises to its full zenith at Noon , Summer Solstice, and denotes the scattered energy of Fire . Later , the path of the Sun descends in the West in the afternoon and early evening , Autumn, in a downward motion denoting Earth .

In the evening, the sun’s energy is the most contracted, much like Metal . The Sun reaches its lowest point at Night, Winter Solstice, at its most Yin condition denoting Water . Each of the 5 Elements correspond to Shapes, Colors, Archetypal Energies, Body and Health Applications and form the basis of Feng Shui Interpretation.

What are the Benefits of Feng Shui?
In this time of diminishing natural resources and escalating costs, it is necessary to pioneer responsible, ecological, and sensitive design solutions that have a powerful and lasting effect on the environment and the human condition.

Increasingly in Today’s industrialized and densely populated world, the effects of “Sick Buildings” are being felt at home and in the workplace. The Modern Feng Shui practitioner must have a toolkit to test for, shield, and eliminate sources of these harmful pollutants created from the many thousands of chemicals and energy waves that have been unleashed in our ecosystem and building materials since WW II. . It is a well known fact in the Health Community, that chemicals, organic compounds, electro-magnetic fields, molds and allergens, etc. cause Biological stress to the body and promote disease and ill health . It has now become an integral part of the Feng Shui Practitioners role to address the biological and ecological aspects in our environments and provide testing and strategies for eliminating these sources of pollution . Feng Shui Design principles can play a major role to create a more positive Ecologically Sustainable and Healthful future !

Feng Shui Design is important in Site Selection and Site Planning through Interior Design for projects of any size , and can enhance the future of any community or building to ensure harmony with natural site features.

From the cities of Ancient Beijing , Modern Hong Kong, to Donald Trump’s New York City High rises, all pay homage to Feng Shui principles. Commercial property, Office Environments, and Residential Living Spaces can all be greatly enhanced with the principles of Feng Shui. In Summary, Feng Shui & Ecology can be defined as Location, Location, Location : being in the right place, facing the right directions, doing the right things, and at the right time, or essentially being in tune with, and harmonizing the built environment with Nature.

Permaculture and Ecological Design

A Publication from The Permaculture Project

Today professionals and students in business, government, education, healthcare, building, economics, technology, and environmental sciences are being called upon to ‘design’ sustainable programs and activities.

Through systems science we have learned that actions taken today can affect the viability of living systems to support human activity and evolution for many generations to come. Sustainability is a concept introduced to communicate the imperative for humanity to develop in our built environment those conditions that will  sustain the structures, functions, and processes inextricably linked with capacities for life.

The challenge we face in this new era of sustainability is a realization that the goals and needs for developing sustainable conditions in our social environment are complex, diverse, and at times counter to the dynamics of ecological systems.

In recent years ecology has been called upon to include the studies of how humans interrelate with ecological processes, within ecosystems. (“Ecology”, 1998 Ernest Callenbach). Although humans are part of the natural ecosystem when we speak of human ecology, the relationships between humanity and the environment, it is helpful to think of the ‘environment’ as the social system. What are the relationships and interactions within this ecosystem? What are the relationships and interactions between the social system and ecological environment (this includes air, soil, water, physical living and nonliving structures)? How do the interactions between systems, affect the global ecosystem?

The most fundamental means we have as a society in transforming human ecology is through modeling and designing in our social environment those conditions that will influence  sustainable interactions and relationships within the global ecological system.

“The social system is a central concept in human ecology because human activities that impact the global ecosystem are strongly influenced by the society in which people live” (“Human Ecology”, 2001 Gerald Marten). Currently, social system designs create fragmentation, and counter productive relationships with ecological environments and dynamic processes. Such design in social organizations directs human activity towards unsustainable patterns of behavior and living conditions that create imbalances in both social and environmental ecologies. We must learn anew how to ‘design’ within our social environment, viable, sustainable, and regenerative system conditions.

Humanity has the cognitive capacity to learn, envision and project through design to application, intended future outcomes. Until now this capacity has been utilized for economic prosperity which has created many complex structures, and processes within the social environment that impede our capacity for sustainable development. Many people are being called upon to design and develop within the socio-economic environment the means for sustainable development. But along with the awareness of the need for transformation, is a growing realization that the environment in which we have learned to interpret information, develop skills and apply knowledge, to date have shaped our capacity to understand systems and their functioning process in our own lives.

Survival in our culture has been inextricably linked with our socio-economic environment. It is within this environment, that our observations and understanding of ‘how life works’ has been maintained for generations.

The social environment was not developed with an understanding of ecological structures and functions for building and sustaining those capacities inherent in succession, and regeneration. Fragmented from this understanding, humanity misuses ecological resources, which support processes for succession, regeneration, and evolution. All natural resources are moved or converted from the ecosystem to support the socio-economic system. Human constructions have been conceived and designed as though our function and survival is not only separate from the ecological systems, but unaccountable to sustaining those capacities in which we depend.

Socio-Economic Design

Conventional economic design, and production methodologies that serve one purpose such as economic wealth/profit, results in a one way relationship in which commodities are being developed at increasing levels of resource use and energy consumption. If surplus does not go into replenishment of those same resources being used or consumed in the production process, and the resources are not being accounted for by the same valuation method as the commodities they were converted into; there is a one way valuation and accountability that hides resource depletion. Resource depletion within social, environmental, and human equity has become inherent in current social design.

Ecological Design

On the other hand ecological design, functions and self-organizes to create system-efficiencies, regenerative capacity, and succession. Yields and surplus are returned to the system in order to strengthen and optimize the developmental capacity of the elements or parts within the system. As the parts, (i.e. elements of a system) are able to develop and function to their fullest potential, and form capacity building relationships, there is an emergence of a viable and abundant eco (life)-system. Production and Consumption within ecological design is not the means to an end, but are instead part of an ongoing process of fortification. All resources, including waste are considered potential building blocks to be utilized to regenerate the systems’ form, feedback, and functional health.

The most comprehensive source for transformative design in the human social environment begins with Learning how to DESIGN Permaculture systems within any context of social, environmental, or economic organization.

The Permaculture Design methodology teaches students to learn through careful observation, and develop the ability to think through the cycles, functions, structures and dynamic principles of ecological systems.

The Permaculture Design process takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding ecology, systems, and sociology. This is integrated with specializations in appropriate technologies, eco-engineering, design & building, physical-chemical- iologies, renewable energies, and economics. In order to create, in human design, the structure, conditions, and capacities for sustenance that will be sustainable over time, we must allow for a more ecologically stable and viable human culture to evolve.


Ecology is a branch of biology that studies the relationships between living organisms and their environment. Ecological science has contributed much to our understanding of whole living systems.

Ecology is a multi-disciplinary science. Because of its focus on the higher levels of the organization of life on earth and on the interrelations between organisms and their environment, ecology draws heavily on many other branches of science, especially geology and geography, meteorology, pedology, chemistry, and physics. Thus, ecology is considered by some to be a holistic science, one that over-arches older disciplines such as biology which in this view become sub- isciplines contributing to ecological knowledge. (Source: wiki/ecology)

Originally “ecology” referred primarily to species or organisms as they exist in natural ecosystems. This science has grown to consider “the close couplings that exist between organisms and their surroundings on a global scale.

Organisms can be studied at many different levels, from proteins and nucleic acids (in biochemistry and molecular biology), to cells (in cellular biology), to individuals (in botany, zoology, and other similar disciplines), and finally at the level of populations, communities, and ecosystems, to the biosphere as a whole; these latter strata are the primary subjects of ecological inquiries. (Source: wiki/ecology)

PS. Please note that the author of this blog does not agree with killing guinea pigs for food even if this could be part of an ecological approach.

Passive House Definition

The view of Dr Wolfgang Feist
sponsored by the Passivhaus Institut.

The Passive House is not an energy performance standard, but a concept to achieve highest thermal comfort conditions on low total costs – this is the correct definition:

“A Passive House is a building, for which thermal comfort (ISO 7730) can be achieved solely by post-heating or post-cooling of the fresh air mass, which is required to fulfill sufficient indoor air quality conditions (DIN 1946) – without a need for recirculated air.”

This is a purely functional definition. It does not need any numerical value and it is independent of climate. From this definition it is clear, that the Passive House is not an arbitrary standard enacted by somebody, but a fundamential concept. Passive Houses have not been “invented”, but the conditions to use the passive principle has been discovered. One could argue about, whether the noun “Passive House” is adequat to denote this concept. Well – there is no better one. Thermal comfort is delivered in a Passive House by passive measures as far as reasonable (insulation, heat recovery in the temperature gradient, passive utilized solar energy and internal heat loads). To use only passive measures might be possible in some climates – but it will not be reasonable in most of them.

An even better understanding we get from the following practical considerations:

1) In airtight houses one always needs a ventilation system (ask the Swedish). All really energy efficient houses have to be airtight. That means, that with the Passive House concept the technical component “ventilation system”, which one needs anyhow, will be sufficient to heat (and to cool) the building without additional ducts, larger duct diameters, additional ventilators,…

Remark for readers from America: You are used to have air based heating and cooling systems (thats why you call it “air conditioning”). But the systems used in America are almost all just recirculating indoor air at a quite high rate (> 10 ach, but the air is not “changed”, it is just recirculated). The system discussed here is something very different: It replaces the indoor air with a very low rate (0.3 to 0.6 ach) with external air to maintain a good indoor air quality. There is no recirculated air. The airflows are much lower, there is almost no noise and no draft at all. Well, the use of such a system might be very similar to the ones you are used to – but quite more comfortable.

2) This concept makes it possible, to construct buildings with a very efficient heat recovery and to do that cost-effectively. This is difficult in other cases, because heat recovery systems ask for a quite expensive additional investment to the heating system with a too long pay-back time to make them affordable. Therefore it is a good idea to reduce costs of at least one of the two systems: The ventilation or the heating system. If one reduces costs for the ventilation systems by choosing e.g. just an exhaust fan ventilation, then the ventilation heat losses will be quite high and the building will need a conventional heating system – in this case the result could be a low energy house. Or the heating part is simplified in a way that it can be integrated into the ventilation system and, in that case, the building will be a passive house.

The extraordinary low consumptions of passive houses are just a direct consequence of the concept described above. To deliver all the space heating just by heating with fresh air can only work, if the overall heat losses are very low. Therefore the insulation of the building envelope has to be very good at least in cold climates. But the same holds true for hot climates, if the fresh air supply has to be sufficient for air conditioning.

The drawing illustrates the basic principle of a Passive House: Ventilation has to deliver at least the fresh air required for an acceptable indoor air quality. Isn´t it possible to use just this amount of air to heat (and cool) the house? – Yes, in principle this is possible, but the maximum heat load which can be dealt with by this concept is very low.

This is the calculation to derive the “condition for Passive Houses”:

From experience (and DIN 1946) we know, that 30 m³/h is a minimum air rate per person to maintain a reasonable indoor air quality (Yes, in airoplanes you often get only 12 or 15 m³/h. But – is this a reasonable good indoor air quality?). Air has a specific heat capacity of 0,33 Wh/(m³K) (at 21°C). It is allowed to increase the fresh air temperature by 30 K, not more, to avoid pyrolysis of dust. You get

30 m³/h/Pers · 0,33 Wh/(m³K) · 30 K = 300 W/Pers

That shows: 300 Watt per person can be delivered by a fresh air heating system. If you have e.g. 30 m² living space per person, you get 10 W per m² living space. This value is independent of the climate. So far all values are peak load values, that is the maximum heat capacity needed at design conditions. In dependence of the external climate Passive Houses will have to be insulated to a different level: More insulation in Stockholm, less in Roma.

It is important to distinguish heat load values (power in W (Watts)) from annual consumption values (heat or energy in kWh). In a Central European climate from experience and simulation we now, that typical heating energy consumptions of Passive Houses are some 15 kWh/(m²a) – but these are only raw figures. In Stockholm it could be up to 20, in Roma more like 10 kWh/(m²a).