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And still have a beautiful garden  …

How to plan your bushfire prone landscape? You can have a beautiful garden whilst reducing the risk to your bushfire prone property ...

So, maybe you’ve built or renovated your house to minimise the bushfire risk? If so, well done; that’s great. However, why stop there? Given that  bushfires are part of our natural landscape, the most important design and construction stage to reduce your risk of bushfire attack is yet to be undertaken … your garden! If your home is your castle then your garden is your moat!

After last year’s bushfire season, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that bushfires are becoming more frequent and with a higher intensity – Causing a greater amount of destruction and impact on many Australians. As the next fire season rolls around again this can understandably bring on anxious feelings and bad memories.

If you are rebuilding after a fire it can be challenging to find the motivation to plan a new garden. However, research shows that gardens have an important role to play. Gardens provide healing, respite and give hope and optimism through new growth and rejuvenation.

This can be an opportunity to think about what worked in your old garden and what you would like to change. Nurseries, friends and family may be able to help you to regain some of your favourite plants lost to fire that held sentimental value to you.

The best news is that there is a lot of design tips I can share with you to get your landscape ready! But before you get your gardening tools out or head down to the plant nursery, we need consider the following factors:

  • Do your homework – think site assessment and research
  • Understanding how fire behaves
  • Create defendable space around your home
  • Garden Design
  • Hardscape Materials
  • Plant selection to improve your garden’s defence, and
  • Ongoing garden maintenance

Download your FREE 8 Step Guide on How to Plan your Bushfire Prone Landscape Checklist

Do your homework for your bushfire prone landscape

In landscape design; before you begin planning your design for your bushfire prone landscape, it is important to start with research and site assessment. In a fire prone area this is essential!

While there are no guarantees that your property will survive, in the same way as having healthy habits are for your body – this improves your odds.

  • Start with your council. Most councils provide extra useful information, for example Blue Mountains City Council has interactive mapping which will give you an idea of your property’s constraints such as bushfire threat
  • Check the 10/50 vegetation clearing rules – these rules change from time to time so it is important that your information is current. There is an online tool to check 10/50 eligibility https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/plan-and-prepare/1050-vegetation-clearing/tool#tool
  • It is also may be worth engaging an accredited bushfire consultant to assess your BAL rating (Bushfire Attack Level). BAL is a method for measuring the different levels of bushfire intensity that a dwelling may encounter in a bushfire. Fire Protection Association Australia have a search index of accredited professionals to help http://www.fpaa.com.au/provider-of-choice/why-use-a-provider-of-choice.aspx
  • Check out your local CFA, CFS, RFS websites for local community education engagements and information http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/news-and-media/getready
hardscape-materials-suitable-for-bushfire-prone-landscape
Stone Walls and Deco Granite

Understanding How Fire Behaves in the Landscape

By thinking about how fire behaves we can design to slow potential fire attack on our properties.

Topography or Slope

Are you close to bushland or grasslands, in a rural area or on a semi-suburban block? The steeper the hill, the faster the speed and the intensity of the fire. Flames and radiant heat dry out vegetation which then burns easily.

For instance a mowed lawn or paved areas, terraced areas using retaining walls may be useful in creating defendable spaces.

Weather conditions

Hot, dry and windy days create conditions that increase the possibility of fires starting and sustaining.

Vegetation = Fuel

When there is a lot of vegetation without spaces between this creates a continual path for fire to travel.

Therefore, these factors should be considered in your garden design to reduce your risk.

Consider the existing landscape fuel – this includes leaf litter, plants, mulch, fences, outdoor furniture, outdoor structures and how this fuel is likely to affect your dwelling and it’s defendability.

Create your Defendable Space around your Home

In your defendable space the idea is to modify the vegetation to prevent direct flame contact where possible.

Can you provide access for emergency services?

The size and nature of your defendable space requirements will depend on a number of factors, but there should be an inner and outer zone.

As each site will be different, creating your defendable space with a personalised and tailored consultation will improve your chances in a bushfire.

Ongoing Garden Maintenance for Bushfire Prone Landscapes

Good garden maintenance is essential in a bushfire prone landscape, so you need to plan your bushfire prone landscape with this aspect in mind.

If your garden is large, you don’t enjoy gardening or simply don’t have the time, it is important to plan your garden to be low maintenance. You need to work out how much mowing, pruning, weeding, mulching and raking are you prepared to do each week?

In addition to these jobs, less frequently but still on a regular basis you should check/clear your gutters, check your hoses, roof and walls are in good repair?

It’s important to honest with yourself on this as you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew!

Ongoing Garden Maintenance is an important consideration

Garden Design and Planning for Bushfire Prone Areas

Let’s get started!

  • Look around your property at the existing landscape what can stay? Its a good idea to clear away clutter that may be a fire hazard.
  • Access: Can emergency services access your property to defend it effectively?
  • Draw a plan of your site include everything that is there including trees that have to stay.
  • Add information provided by accredited Bushfire Consultant such as APZ, BAL zones
  • Plan a defendable space around your home
  • Break up fuel load into clumps rather than create a continuous path – avoid having trees line up to your home
  • Choose non-combustible hardscape materials ie metal outdoor furniture, gravel for paths and mulch
  • Make good plant choices
  • Position sheds and service areas away from your home
  • Use low groundcovers under trees to separate the fuel
  • If possible, place water features, tanks and pools near your home
  • Avoid placing trees too close to your home to prevent overhanging branches
  • Create windbreaks
  • Choose non-combustible mulch
  • Install drip irrigation

Choosing Hardscape Materials for Bushfire Prone Areas

With new products and materials coming onto the market all the time – it’s never been easier to make good hardscape choices. Here’s a few to consider:

  • Can you include water tanks, water features and/or a swimming pool in your design? If so, ensure you display a Static Water Supply sign (SWS) at the entrance of your property.
  • Outdoor furniture? Metal and stone furniture are a safer option than timber for instance.
  • Do you want an outdoor deck area? Do your research some timbers such as hardwoods are slower to combust than say pine. There are some great alternatives now such as those made from composite materials which have added bonuses of being lower maintenance, eco-friendly and longer lasting as well 
  • Where possible consider other products for your outdoor hardscape spaces, such as polished concrete, tiles, pavers, stone, gravel and deco granite.
  • Retaining walls: try sandstone logs, gabion walls, rendered block walls, dry stone walls, block walls.
bushfire-prone-landscape-design
Stone Retaining Walls

Plant Choices

All plants will burn eventually but some are slower to ignite and burn. 

When you plan your bushfire prone landscape it is important to think about the following characteristics when choosing the best plants:

Plants with a high moisture content

  • Succulents,
  • Deciduous shrubs and trees,
  • Irrigated productive gardens,
  • Native rainforest species.

Plant habit

  • Plants with an open and loose branching habit with sparce foliage are great.
  • Plants with branches 2metres above the ground, under-pruning increases separation and prevents lower branches acting as ladder fuels
  • Smooth bark on trees
  • Choose plants with leaves that are easier to distinguish from a distance
  • Plants with wide, flat and thicker leaves

Avoid

  • Plants that retain dead material, if not possible practice routine pruning and removal of dead plant material
  • Plants with a high oil, wax or resin content, if not possible, limit the number and place away from your home, such as Eucalyptus, Lavender and Rosemary
  • where possible avoid loose, stringy, flaky and fibrous bark trees
  • Environmental weeds – check your council website for a list
  • Plants that are susceptible to pest and disease attack
Plants with a high moisture content can help

Conclusion

Think about your site as it is now.

Ask yourself questions about what works and what doesn’t?

  • Do your homework – check out your local Council website – there is a wealth of information relative to your property ready to help you work out what your risks are and what your restrictions are – it’s a great place to start!
  • Also look at the RFS or CFA Vic websites (or relevant Firefighting Service pertaining to your state), again a wealth of useful information to get you started.
  • Understand how fire behaves – this is a key analysing tool when planning your garden to reduce the risk of bushfire impacting your property
  • Plan a defendable area around your home
  • Consider the amount of maintenance involved when planning your garden, for most people low maintenance design will be the best option as a well-maintained garden is considered helpful in slowing a fire and minimising risk during the bushfire season
  • Garden design: now that you are armed with the above information you are ready to make your best plan!
  • Choosing non-combustible/low combustion hardscape material choices can make a huge difference – time to make some great choices!
  • Good plant selection – unfortunately all plants burn eventually but the good news is that some plants are slower to ignite and burn than others.

So, don’t forgot to consider the factors mentioned above, that make some plants a better choice to include in your plan. 

For further recommended reading, please visit the following informative sites.

The information on these sites has been applied and combined with my landscape design principles to help you maximise your garden design to minimise the risk. The following information sources have been chosen because they are a reliable, regularly updated  and a trustworthy source of information :

Know when to ask for help

Asking for help doesn’t mean you need to outsource the whole project. Here at Your Landscape Journey we offer phone and virtual consultations that will provide you with direction and support.

We can help you to make a success of your project. With over 30 years’ experience, there’s little in the landscaping world that we haven’t seen or done. We know all the tricks of the trade. We can provide feedback on your ideas and help you to get exactly what you want.

Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed.

We’re right here ready to act as your guide, mentor, sounding board or trusted advisor.

Tips …

Do your homework - check out your local Council website – there is a wealth of information

Also look at the RFS website (or relevant Firefighting Service pertaining to your state), again you will find a wealth of useful information to get you started

Consider the amount of maintenance involved when planning your garden, for most people low maintenance design will be the best option

Understand how fire behaves

Garden design: now that you are armed with the above information you are ready to make your best plan!

Know when to ask for help

Good plant selection

Choosing non-combustible/low combustion hardscape material choices can make a huge difference

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