Introducing Emmaline and her top 3 elements for a balanced garden

For many, the words landscape, environment, habitat, wildlife, flora & fauna may stimulate a whole world of images that come to mind. They may take you back to far away places and destinations or to special places in your day-to-day life.  Perhaps even in your urban street, noisy Corellas chatter in the roadside eucalypts or at the local park a group of Magpies gurgle during the morning school run. Your backyard may provide a place for small wrens to flutter in and out of their favourite bush, twittering happily away to each other. Wherever it may be, we are surrounded by many unique environments and this is something I get to create within my profession.

My name is Emmaline Bowman (Em) and my business is called STEM Landscape Architecture & Design and I’m a Landscape Architect; and what a great profession it is. After completing VCE in rural victoria I moved to Melbourne to pursue tertiary studies in Biological & Zoological Design at Latrobe University.  I come from a background in animal husbandry & a love for water from the days helping my father rehabilitate the creek that runs through our dairy and beef property. We created a large place within the farm for indigenous plants, insects and animals. I subsequently wanted to do more for the Australian environment by transforming spaces to cater for not only people but for native plants & animals. I transferred my studies to start a course in Landscape Architecture by undertaking a Bachelor of Design before completing a Masters In Landscape Architecture. My research was investigating new design methods that allow for a cohabitation of human and non-human others to work together in rural, urban & constructed environments. This included prioritising native plants & animals in design as a conservation effort to protect & rehabilitate damaged places.  During my tertiary studies I worked at a local aquarium and reptile shop and as a side job I designed & planted out aquariums, terrariums and ponds. This taught me a very valuable lesson in balancing aquatic ecosystems and these practices have followed me into all my design decisions today.

STEM designs spaces respectful of our native environments focusing heavily on water systems, plants & animals in both private & commercial sectors.

Because of its broad focus on landscapes, the profession has an endless amount of landscape design possibilities. My specific passion and focus is on water, habitats, wildlife, conservation and ‘Holistic Design’. I have been given the honour of introducing myself as well as sharing our stories at STEM, plus providing helpful and handy tips about garden design to help you to create habitats that can entice a variety of different animals and birds to your own space.

I would like to touch base on that term ‘Holistic Design’. I love this term because it is very important within landscape architecture & design and I feel that it is something that gets overlooked.  Many of you probably have bird-attracting plants in your garden or at the local park and this is a wonderful way of supporting our local birdlife. Certain types of plants allow for food, shelter and homes for different species. For example Acacia paradoxia is a great plant that provides protective shelter for our small birds like wrens, finches and Silvereyes just to name a few. The spikes on this shrub protect these beautiful little birds from introduced species like cats, dogs and foxes as well as our native predatory birds. But what is it that allows for this plant to survive? We know that it needs soil, water and sunlight but what about the nutrients and oxygen being deposited by worms, insects and soil loving bugs. What do these guys need? And when this beautiful shrub erupts in a mass of fluffy globular yellow flowers, what insects come to pollinate this plant and where are they when it’s not flowering? Furthermore, what other animals thrive on these insects during times of plenty or do they get out of control and become a pest because there is nothing to control them?

The word is ‘balance’ and balance is what is needed to create healthy environments.  We base our designs on 3 key elements that support balance. These are; water, food and shelter.

Water: We believe in not only "water is life" but it's a major component to great habitat design.

Water can be incorporated into the garden in the form of ponds, dry creek beds, water features, rainwater tanks and rainwater runoff. This is to support and water plants but also for all animal species to drink and bath in as well as creating an environment for aquatic species. For example, a helpful tip to remember is if you are supplying bird baths, ensure that they are either off the ground or hanging from trees because predators can sneak up while the animal isn't paying attention. Also, plant your pond with native aquatic plants; this will keep your water clean and healthy as well as preventing excessive amounts of water evaporation.

Food: Food can be incorporated in many different ways, usually with plants. Some plants like Chenopodium nutans and Solanum laciniatum provide fruit and others like Grevillea rosmarinifolius, Eucalyptus sideroxylon and Hakea laurina produce nectar or sap which is a valuable food source for many types of birds, insects and animals. We can also provide food by attracting certain species into the garden. For example, if you provide protective plants like Poa labillardierei and Brachyscome multifida as well as leaf litter, logs and stones into your garden you will entice insects, amphibians, and reptiles. These can become a valuable food source to insectivorous birds, and small mammal species as well as predatory birds and insects that will eat those pest species that are eating your favourite plant.

Shelter: We touched on this before and we know that different plants provide shelter; ground and middle level shrubs for smaller birds and taller varieties for predatory and larger birds and animals. So too are old dead hollowed trees. If you don’t have hollow trees on your property you can provide nesting boxes, but remember to provide different types like small and large openings or deep or shallow boxes, as this will attract a variety of species. Again, logs, rocks and leaf litter provide homes to all those little ground dwelling critters as well as a food source to the plants because they help break down organic material which then become nutrients and a food source to plants and fungi. Bug boxes are also a great addition to the garden when beneficial insects not only become a food source for many birds and animals but also keep your plants happy and healthy.

Through our contribution with ‘Bird in Backyards’ we will provide more handy hints about garden design and attracting birds and animals, document our newly constructed projects and provide information within the world of landscape architecture and design. 

Everything has a purpose and is connected in all kinds of ways. It is important to realise that nature evolved its plants, animals, insects and ecosystems in conjunction with those elements over millions of years leading to a balanced system. We need to remember that if we want a variety of birds in our gardens we also need a variety of plants, insects and animals too. 

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