Melbourne designer's vision for a water-smart city

MELBOURNE -- The garden of tomorrow will bring balance to the landscape through integrated water management and biomimicry design.

MELBOURNE -- Rapid climate change and an increasing need for water conservation has compelled a Melbourne designer to create 'Equilibrium', a progressive landscape project focused on water reuse, biomimicry and community.

"It's about working with nature to create innovative and clever waterways throughout Melbourne -- in our backyards and in public spaces. We like to call it a community approach to water management," Equilibrium's creator Phillip Johnson said.

An Australian sustainability pioneer, landscape designer Phillip Johnson has over 16 years of experience in landscaping native and indigenous wonderlands in urban and rural Victoria.

Working in collaboration with the Victorian Government and savewater! Alliance, Johnson picked up several awards at the recent International Melbourne Garden and Flower Show (MGFS) for his visionary exploration of water recycle uses.

Equilibrium concept design

The Equilibrium project, which debuted at the MGFS, contrasted two backyards of relatively the same size.

The first is the typical Australian backyard characterized by concrete slabs, exotic plants and water sources leading to stormwater drains.

The second option takes water capture and conservation techniques one step further through the creation of 'habitat corridors' which enable the garden to survive, making it less dependent on drinking water.

In this second design, the stormwater is harvested into a billabong reservoir and streams into the single backyard.

Capturing this water falling onto a site assists in improving the ecology of the city's urban waterways, while the water and garden corridors help to filter out the pollutants.

"Adopting a natural system, my underlying inspiration is to mimic nature, where rainfall percolates through the soil and indigenous plantings, moves through the mountains and down to the river, with waterfalls often aerating and creating movement in the water," Johnson said. "My designs follow this natural system, scaled back to work in any backyard."

Johnson's key water capture and reuse ideas include:

  • Installing permeable surfaces around the house to replace concrete, decking or gravel. Water can seep into the lawn and garden, improving soil moisture, rather than run into a drain.
  • Building a rain garden to help filter stormwater before it enters our waterways.
  • Installing a rainwater tank to capture water for the garden, washing machine and toilet flushing.
  • Diverting tank overflow if the garden needs a little extra water.
  • Creating a billabong or natural pool to store and reuse water run off in the backyard.

(Source: savewater! Alliance)

Equilibrium also demonstrated how produce and rain gardens can help to increase neighborhood self-sufficiency -- highlighting the networking possibilities for a community.

"We encourage neighbours to think about interlinking their backyard water reservoirs to mitigate drought and flooding, and to ensure no reliance on precious drinking water to maintain our green cities -- while still encouraging biodiversity," he said.

“Our aim is to continue to educate and inspire the public to rethink the way they design their backyards to ensure our sustainable future,” Johnson said.

Download the pdf (959kb) of the plant design.

Photo: Ari Hatzis.

This post was originally published on


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