Copyright Natural Habitats 2016

Planting Public Places Productively

Planting Public Places Productively


In a time of ever increasing living costs and ever increasing waistlines, Landscape Architect Jenny Wood discusses the potential of planting public spaces productively.

If you have the benefit (or the curse) of living in a city, you will have noticed that on average our backyards are getting smaller, while our waistlines are getting bigger. You don’t have to know a lot about physics to realise that these two trends will eventually arrive at an impasse. But before that happens, perhaps there is something we could do to avert a human logjam.

One step in the right direction could be to improve access to fresh fruit. With shrinking yard sizes, recent landscaping trends and the ever increasing cost of living – access to fresh food is now a struggle for many people.

This brings me to the notion of productive planting in public spaces. Over the past 20 years or so, landscape architecture has seen our public spaces predominately planted with natives, with low maintenance and aesthetics the main priorities. While these designs are seen as visually appealing – and while I definitely promote native planting, they offer little in terms of produce for people or the ever-important bee.

At Natural Habitats we believe that public spaces such as parks, reserves and streetscapes should be making a greater contribution to the physical and psychological health of our societies. By planting fruiting trees such as mandarins, feijoas, apples, and walnuts – and even perennial herb species such as rosemary and thyme, the local community could have access to a source of seasonal healthy fresh food.

Collecting fruit right off the tree will not only save you a penny, add to your ‘five plus a day’ count, inspire a greater connection with nature, increase your feel good factor and foster a collective sense of community well being; it will also reduce transport carbon emissions associated with food.

At Natural Habitats, we are practising what we are preaching and have designed and planted orchards in neighbourhood reserves at Stonefields, Stage 1 of the Tamaki Transformation Programme and also at a number of retirement villages throughout the North Island. We have found that residents are enjoying the health, financial and social benefits of accessible fruiting trees. Residents are interacting with each other, arranging ‘fruit bottling’ get-togethers and taking ownership of the project to ensure its prolonged success.

We have continued our research with specialists at the Council, the Botanic gardens and also Landcare Research to develop a disease and pest resistant palette of fruiting trees suitable to the fickle Auckland climate.

Our aim is to challenge the conventional notion of what a desirable landscape is. We believe a landscape must be evaluated not only in terms of its aesthetic, but also the value of its contribution to society. As populations continue to grow, we have no choice but to make the best use of increasingly limited spaces, and that means prioritising a landscapes functional role.


Jenny Wood

Landscape Architect