(Mill Creek NetZero House backyard)
Ron Berezan of Urban Farmer fame designed and constructed our yard. He thoughtfully helped us create a beautiful space with as little environmental impact as possible (I’ll discuss the permaculture aspects of the design in a future post).
We wanted a sitting place in the yard, as well as paths, sidewalks, and a large window well to let sunlight into the basement. We also wanted to minimize the use of concrete in the yard. Concrete has a huge carbon footprint, and is rarely reusable (it can be recycled, but only with a major downgrade in utility – it basically becomes gravel).
To achieve our goals, we used paving stones, reused sidewalk blocks, reused bricks, field stones and wood chip mulch.
Paving Stones and Reused Sidewalk Blocks
(sidewalk blocks and red paving stone sidewalk, Mill Creek NetZero Home)
We used sidewalk blocks that I salvaged from the yard (before we built the house) in combination with red paving stone to create our outdoor patio and sidewalks. The humble sidewalk block has a lot of potential to save concrete in Edmonton. It is found piled up in back alleys across the city in virtually the same shape as when installed in the 60s and 70s.
We chose paving stones for the front sidewalks as well. Although they are very energy-intensive to produce, they are extremely durable, and they retain their value as a reusable product for many years. A properly-made paver can be pulled up and installed elsewhere 50 years after it was first installed, and still look and act as good as new.
(paving stone sidewalks, Mill Creek NetZero Home front yard)
Actually, if we had known how well the sidewalk blocks would work, we would have used them in the front yard as well.
To build a retaining wall and a window well, we chose to use field stones. This is a green choice because field stones are a nuisance (waste product) to local farmers, and their embodied energy consists of transporting them to their place of installation. Versus manufactured concrete retaining wall blocks, the field stone wins by a country mile.
(field stone retaining wall, Mill Creek NetZero Home)
(field stone window well, Mill Creek NetZero Home)
When we tore down the house that used to be on our property, I saved hundreds of bricks from the foundation.
(salvageable foundation bricks)
We used those bricks to build slightly raised garden beds. They look great, and they make for sturdy little dividers.
(reused brick garden beds, Mill Creek NetZero Home)
Finally, we used wood chips to make paths instead of sidewalks in many cases. We chose the lowest grade of wood chip (I forget what it’s called), which I believe is a waste product for local arborists. They make for extremely comfortable walking, and they do a great job of retaining moisture and keeping the weeds down.
The two main industrial inputs for the landscape were paving stones and, surprisingly for a layperson such as myself, road crush aggregate (gravel). It takes a lot of gravel to make everything float nicely on the clay soil.
We're really happy with how the landscape turned out. It's a beautiful outdoor space to spend time in, but of course the best part is the food that surrounds you when you're in it! More on that next time though.