SUSTAINABLE  CANBERRA                                           australian institute of landscape architects   AILA®




  • Aim to include a proportion of edible community landscapes within urban and suburban landscapes.  Growing more food within our existing infrastructure means fresher, organic and reasonably priced food is available to a wider population.  Ensure food growing areas can be accessed by walking, bike rides and public transport.  This will reduce car dependence and contribute to the sustainability and health goals of the ACT government.
  • Consult with the local community and food growers groups on the proposal.  By consulting the community and addressing their concerns and suggestions, if well considered the project, is more likely to gain approval.
  • Aim for the edible landscape to not only provide food and opportunities for social interaction, design spaces to allow for other uses, such as community events, harvesting and food preparation workshops, plant sales, horticultural therapy and educational visits.
  • Design the landscape based on permaculture principles.

Landscape Design 

Edible Plants

  • A large majority of edible plants require full to part-sun to grow successfully.  Sites should provide a significant proportion of sunny areas – at least six hours per day. 
  • Choose a diverse mix of fruit trees, bushfoods, berries, aquatic plants, perennial and annual edible plants in the landscape.  Select varieties that have proven heat and cold resistance.  Investigate variety of plants being grown at Canberra Organic Growers’ (COGS) sites, gardens which are open as part of the Australian Open Garden Scheme, the Farmers’ Markets (check what region the plants come from), Lanyon Homestead as well  in private  gardens.  Many gardeners from Mediterranean backgrounds grow vegetables not available from seed in Australia.
  • Favour plants with long roots which are able to go in search of ground water.  Some long rooted plants include: pumpkin, artichokes and tomatoes. 
  • Foster growing heirloom varieties in order to preserve genetic diversity.  Heirloom varieties often have higher yields than hybrid varieties.
  • Avoid plants with a weed potential, particularly if growing near areas of bushland or grassland.

Other plants

If room permits consider growing plants that have practical uses.  Consider growing plants like Phormium and Dianella which are useful in crafts like basket making.   Explore the idea of incorporating plants used by local indigenous groups.

Soil preparation

  • Aim to grow vegetables that require regular tending in raised garden beds.  Raising garden beds will improve drainage and make them easier to access.
  • Incorporate well rotted compost into the soil to increase the organic matter in the soil.  Soils rich with organic matter have better water holding capability
  • Compost can be made using:  locally available manures, leaves, household vegetable scraps, garden waste and shredded newspaper.

Water use

  • Aim to be sustainable in water use. Where possible, harvest rainwater on site for irrigation
  • Install in-line drip irrigation to garden beds to minimise water wastage.  Note in order for seeds to germinate they will require some overhead irrigation, either with a watering cane or with a hose fitted with a trigger nozzle.  This is because drip irrigation may not wet all areas planted with seeds and some seeds require a constant moisture level for up to three weeks.
  • Follow Think water Act water guidelines and aim to only wet the effective root zone – the top 300mm of soil.
  • Follow Xeriscape principles – aim to group plants with like water needs together and water accordingly.  Some vegetables have higher water requirements than others, eg lettuce are best when grown quickly with frequent watering, whereas carrots can thrive on less water. When first planted, particularly in hotter weather seedlings and seeds may require watering ever day.  By carefully digging in the soil to check moisture levels determine whether they require watering.  Once established, in cooler months vegetables may require watering only twice per week.  In very hot summer weather they may require daily watering and some additional shade protection.
  • Maximise site permeability. This will assist the local catchment by reducing peak flows and nutrients entering local creeks and drains.
  • Mulch vegetable garden when hot weather starts.  A depth of 50-75mm will help to preserve soil moisture.  

Maximising growing area

  • Using vertical structures like trellises can create more space for vegetable growing.  Many vegetables like beans, peas and tomatoes can be grown vertically.
  • Fruit bearing trees and shrubs can be trained (espaliered) against walls or wires to reduce the amount of room they need. 
  • Grafting a number of different fruit varieties on the one tree, can increase the variety of fruit produced in a small space. 
  • Alternatively fruit trees with similar needs can be planted in the same hole.


  • Provide secure storage areas for tools.
  • Ensure provision is made for adequate seating with summer shade.
  • Ensure good site surveillance from surrounding residents and businesses to curb anti-social behaviour.

Site Accessibility

  • Ensure site is accessible for wheelchair users and for strollers.

Landscape Materials

  • Incorporate sustainable landscape materials wherever possible.  This will reduce the ecological footprint of the project.
  • Raised garden beds can be made from recycled hardwood sleepers, reused concrete blocks, reused hardwood timber palings, bricks, corrugated iron, pine (not CCA treated pine).  The life of the walls will vary according to the product used.  For example, while recycled hardwood sleepers may initially be expensive to purchase and construct they will last longer than walls made of hardwood timber palings.  Do not use old car tyres as they have toxic materials that can leach into the soil.
  • Recycled steel mesh, old gates and screen doors, bamboo poles and prunings from fruit and nut trees make excellent plant supports.
  • Aim for raised beds to be between 350 and 400mm high.  Garden beds for disabled users will need to be between 500-700 mm high and designed to Australian Standards.

Site Ecology

  • If practical and if original soils have not been adversely affected aim to restore some of the existing ecology to the site – this will improve site biodiversity.  If possible link site to existing open spaces and reserves to create habitat corridors. 
  • Choose plants with multiple functions. For example, when choosing a species to create privacy, consider one with screening capabilities, produces edible fruits and is bird attracting.
  • Create a windbreak of shrubs and trees around the site to reduce the effect of drying winds on vegetable cultivation.  Establish regulations on responsible animal ownership, including keeping cats indoors or within enclosures. 


In order to create additional interest in the space, aim to incorporate art work in the landscape designed by local artists.

Case Study

Fern Avenue, Unley, Adelaide


Blazey, Clive (2002) The Australian vegetable garden: what's new is old. New Holland: Sydney.

Byrne, Josh (2006) The green gardener. Penguin: Victoria.

French, Jackie (1993) Backyard self sufficiency. Aird Books: Victoria

Mollison, Bill (1991) Introduction to permaculture. Tagari Publications: NSW.

Smith, Keith and Irene (1999) Grow your own bushfoods. New Holland Publishers: Sydney.





This website presented by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
with assistance from an ACT Government Environment Grant

credits, contacts and contribution information

©  Australian Institute of Landscape Architects ACN 008 531 851