Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping blog

23 May

A Worthy Vessel for the Garden

The musician and record producer Brian Eno once said that, “Landscape gardening is a very underrated form of sculpture.” He observed that it was not just a static art form but that it changed and evolved over time, it is a sophisticated form of art that has a close relationship with time just like music has with its “time signatures”.

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Hence landscape gardening takes on new proportions as living musical art and the gardener becomes a kind of conductor. My orientation to the landscape has been with designing or composing the “softscape” including the plantings, soil and mulch. The plant softscape has been for me a profound form of art with a wonderfully diverse palette. As my plant knowledge has grown the combinations of these colors, forms and textures have spilled onto the musical score of the garden. From this perspective the wood and nails and the rock and sand are used to hold and support the garden. Now the challenge is to design and build the landscape infrustructure to match this living, colorful sculpture.


Cob bench (On site clay, sand and straw)

Using these materials offers a platform to present the wonders of horticulture and make a worthy vessel for the garden. These landscape elements might take the form of a pathway to navigate around the garden, a fountain to contain the element of water, a deck or patio, a raised bed for vegetables, a grape arbor, a cob oven, a BBQ for food preparation or a picnic table on which to enjoy the harvest. Add in the green approach to building the landscape and it becomes a creative endeavor of the highest order. The green approach adds to the design palette a wide array of materials from which to choose like on-site and recycled materials.

Made from sustainably harvested lumber

Planter made from pallets by Branch Out Farm

Incorporating these materials not only allows the uniqueness of a garden to shine, their use highlights and even encourages the ecologically balanced landscape garden. A common thread with these materials is that they are low impact. When using on-site materials for example there is a low carbon footprint because there is no transport needed. With repurposed or recycled materials the embodied energy of the original product is captured and reused.

Garden art made from junk

“Embodied energy” is a term to describe all of the energy that goes into the production of a product including the manufacture, acquisition of natural resources, mining, transport, office administration and all other aspects of producing a product.

Here are more examples of low impact landscape elements and hardscape materials that are worthy of the ecological landscape garden:



Re-used concrete also called "Urbanite" pathway

Flow Form water fountain
Garden beds made from sustainably harvested lumber

Made with sustainably harvested lumber

Retaining wall made with throw away rocks and concrete blocks

Worm bin made from salvaged trex lumber


Patio with re-used concrete. (urbanite)

Reuse of building materials commonly saves about 95% of the embodied energy that would otherwise be wasted.

The adventure of hunting through the urban waste stream to source reusable materials is half the fun and thinking outside the urban box is an important part of the process. Reused, repurposed and recycled materials offer the perfect way to soften the hard-scape while leaving a lower impact on the planet.

Ken Foster

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