The Answer Lies in the Soil

indoor outdoor flow

The 1980’s left the mantra of “indoor outdoor flow” ringing in our ears as it fuelled Auckland’s sprawl to the far reaches of suburbia in pursuit of threshold free living.  For a generation of home owners that dream soured as they struggled to establish a garden on a dusting of topsoil spread over heavily compacted subsoil necessitated by large scale subdivisions.  If they were fortunate, they may have been provided with fresh green ready lawn and nursery soft plants that invariably failed to survive the first heat of summer.  If not, a visit to the garden centre and a boot load of fast growing plants delivered the same result.  For many the aspiration of conquering the threshold dulled to merely opening the ranchslider to retrieve the sausages off the barbeque.

The dream of indoor outdoor flow is not a fanciful pursuit merely mimicking alluring images seen in lifestyle magazines.  It has been shown that a connected garden, built on quality soil, can deliver tangible health benefits, environmental enhancement and assist in the integration of neighbourhood communities.  Improved health benefits include the obvious encouragement of an active lifestyle but also allow the contact with microbes in the soil that can enhance immune systems.  Quality soils can improve the neighbourhood environment by allowing the selection of tree species that are less likely to be of an inappropriate scale or blow over in a moderate storm while requiring less watering throughout the summer months.  Quality soil also permits the growing of vegetables with the opportunity to share the excess tomatoes and capsicums with the neighbours in return for their excess aubergine or perhaps even babysitting.

When it comes to a rainy climate, such as Auckland’s, soil offers a very practical benefit. A deep layer of soil absorbs a lot of stormwater, which in turn reduces the load on the drainage system, as well as minimising the risk of stormwater finding its way into the house.


Subdivision digger

Removing the top soil in preparation for development in Oteha Valley


The key to achieving a garden that can create the link between indoor and outdoor is dependent on the provision of a good growing medium.  Within new subdivisions this has generally been stripped off the site prior to the commencement of formation earthworks.  It often comes from low fertility pastures and is further degraded by storing for months in large piles prior to being re-spread over the completed subdivision.  In many instances the soil requires re-invigoration through the incorporation of organic matter, spread to depths far greater than is currently practiced and the provision of good drainage.  Inevitably, the purchaser later finds that their garden isn’t quite as lush as they first thought and can become a bit of a swamp come the winter rains or a dusty patch in the summer.



New residential development in Oteha Valley


This can be an expensive exercise with benefits not always evident to the purchasers. But what if the garden was treated the same as say the kitchen or bathroom, the customer selecting from a range of attractive garden options in the same way that they routinely deliberate about the location of the sink and the choice of fridge-freezer. If a tree is desired in the back yard, potential purchasers could select a tree pit comprised of good quality topsoil and appropriate drainage.  A vegetable plot or a bed for flowering plants could equably be quantified and scheduled for selection, and the thin layer of topsoil and ready lawn would become the equivalent of lino flooring or uninsulated roof.

There is potential for this model to be applied to more intensive living such as terraces or apartments where modular options could provide an integrated garden in courtyards or on balconies.  Property developers Willis Bond have identified commercial value in marketing “urban agricultural opportunities” into their proposed Wynyard Central residential development.  They are promoting “balconies to maximise on-site food production” and “potential for developing a communal food growing facility/city farm” in their inner city precinct.

The ability to facilitate an indoor outdoor flow across a range of housing typologies, independent of a land size, has the potential to align aspirational dreams with economic reality.  As Auckland grapples with ways of achieving an intensified liveable city, perhaps the answer may lie in the soil.

Key tip for better indoor-outdoor flow:

Fertile soil is the prime ingredient for successful green areas around your home. To create lush and leafy outdoor spaces you’ll need to ensure your site has both quality top-soil and good drainage.



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