Sustainable garden and landscape design Positive DevelopmentSustainable landscape and garden design: residents demand Positive Development that makes an improvement in the ecological value of a site.


Landscape and garden design on a particular site can make a difference to the bigger picture ecological systems around us. Here is an example that shows how we can design gardens and landscape for Positive Development (1) so development increases the ecological value of a site.

Have you ever wondered if how you design a particular garden or site is really making a difference to the sustainability of the bigger picture, ecological systems that surround us?

Have you tried your best to incorporate green building and gardening techniques into your property by doing things such as making your own compost and biochar; adopting on-site recycling wherever possible and planting native plants to control stormwater runoff but still wondered if there is more that could have been done?

Sustainable garden and landscape design Positive DevelopmentTake a close look at the housing development in the picture above. (2) Can you recognize some features that are similar to the neighbourhood where you live?

Now imagine what this land would have looked like before these houses and gardens were built? Was it farmland ? Was it forest ? Did it have the same roads ? Was there public access to the riverbank ? Could you relax and feel your health improving as you enjoyed driving along the country road, refreshed by the rural air and the views to the forest and river ?

The answers to these questions can be found by looking at the picture to the  right. The landscape design for the housing development shown at the top of the page began with a riverbank site containing  open farmland, a road and adjoining forested land.  Originally the buildings and roads had been sited not only for convenient access and management of the land but also for cost effective soil and water management. Appreciation of the beauty of the broader forest, river and farmland resources where they were located was also integral to the design.

Now take another look at the picture at the top of the page. This design includes a wide road constructed straight through the middle of the prime riverbank farmland. Access to the river, (and to views of it), is now only available to the few people who live in two riverbank allotments, rather than to all who formerly travelled along the original country road.

The farmland has been fragmented into small allotments that are not economically viable for farming. Local employment supporting farming, recreation and tourism activities has been lost. Significant inroads have been made into the forest all along the right hand side of the original road. Fire, weed, soil erosion, stormwater and fauna management have been made significantly more risk prone and expensive under the new design.

Here we can see a specific example of how landscape design on a particular site is making a difference to the bigger picture ecological systems around us. The ecosystem services value of the site has been lowered, rather than raised by the new development. But why can't we have Positive Development that increases the ecological base and improves the resources of the public estate, so they exceed the original conditions that existed before the land development occurred?

Sustainable garden and landscape design Positive DevelopmentWell we can. The landscape design in the example at left includes housing for the same number of residents as in the first design that is included  at the top of the page. However, it does not have the adverse ecological impacts of the first development and actually includes some net Positive Development principles. Let us take a closer look at how this is achieved.

The large parcel of productive farming land is retained. Local employment is retained through leasing this land to an adjoining farmer. There is provision for public access to the riverbank at a specific point, which is accessed through the new cluster housing area.

All ecologically significant existing forest along the river and ridgelines is retained intact .  There are no direct boundary interfaces between these parts of the forest and new housing development. New housing is clustered at two locations to the south and east of the existing farmland.

Local road access is created at suitable intersection points off the existing road. Attractive views across farmland, forest and river are retained, thus supporting local employment in the tourism, hospitality and recreation sectors.

Can we be more specific in describing how  all this creates a Positive Development impact to increase the ecological value of the site, in ways that are complementary to what a garden designer can achieve on a particular site ?

By creating a positive cash flow through sale of selected parts of the land for cluster housing, it was possible to invest in state of the art technology to:

  • Improve farming practices on the agriculturally productive land
  • Make improvements to the existing attractive farmhouse so that it became a service, employment and local identity hub for the small local community who came to live around it
  • Upgrade management of natural resources on the whole parcel of land.

In this context, seven improvements that contributed to the Positive Development outcome are:

  1. On site capture, filtering and storage of stormwater, leading to an improvement in the quality of water running off the site
  2. Utilisation of existing farm buildings to house new, on site composting, processing and re-use/ resale of former farm "waste" products and new "waste" products arising from individual new households located nearby
  3. Generation of all electricity needed on the site, for both the farm and nearby new residences
  4. Professional monitoring and management of the flora and fauna in the forested parts of the site, thus leading to an increase in the long term value of the property as part of the regional biodiversity conservation system
  5. A staged, communal programme for weed management, fire management, soil conservation and regeneration of vegetation in the forested and residential parts of the site
  6. Utilization of existing farm buildings for new farm stay accommodation, thus incorporating energy efficient local employment and small business opportunities for nearby residents
  7. Construction of suitable signage and tracks for public pedestrian and cycle access through the site, leading to reductions in the use of fossil fuel vehicles for transport; improvements in public health, safety and fitness, plus increased awareness of how the property is managed as a Positive Development site that contributes net benefits to the broader ecological systems in which it rests.

Do you have any questions about how to apply Positive Development and sustainability principles to the design of your garden or the broader andscape ? Contact us via the Order button in the Menu on this website, or via


(1) Refer to Professor Janis Birkeland's 2010 book, Positive Development: from vicious cycles to virtuous circles, for detailed discussion of Positive Development and ecosystem services.

(2) All images are from "Dealing with Change in the Connecticut River Valley: A Design Manual for Conservation and Development", Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management, Centre for Rural Massachusetts, Published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Environmental Law Foundation, 4th printing, 1990.



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