Making yards beautiful while making space for the birds and the bees

* Part one of a three part YYC Grows series

Rob Avis is used to building things that last. With a background in mechanical engineering, the Calgary resident has always had a focus on what makes things tic.

These days, however, he’s focused on building a sustainable future. Rob and wife Michelle are cofounders of Verge Permaculture, a Calgary-based company that incorporates the principals of permaculture into landscape design – a trend that`s becoming increasingly prominent throughout Calgary in recent years.

Permaculture traces back to the 1970s. It focuses on creating tools, techniques and strategies that allow people to create regenerative systems for shelter, energy, waste, water and food production.

“What it aims to do is create a new paradigm, which is, ‘How do we meet our needs while enhancing the ecosystem?’” said Avis. “So we look at how we do everything, not just gardens. The plants we consume, even the oil and gas that we burn in our cars, was at one point derived from solar energy. When we look at a home and garden, we look at a yard that’s already harvesting energy from the sun and figure out how to make it productive as possible while minimizing the amount of energy that has to go into it.”

Avis said Calgary is “very progressive and is starting to do some really cool stuff” with regard to permaculture.

The City has a Stormwater Management Strategy designed to protect Calgary’s watershed health as the city grows. An example is the 227-hectare manmade wetland at Ralph Klein Park, which uses natural vegetation to treat stormwater before it’s discharged into the Bow River.

The City also has two rain gardens at the Winston Heights- Mountview Community Association and 17th Avenue at Marlowe Place N.E. Both feature landscaped plant beds designed to help capture and filter stormwater.

Calgarians can also do their part. Permaculture design can be as macro as a wetland and as micro as a backyard re-vegetation, composting, nutrient cycling and water catchment and re-use.

“We can produce landscapes that actually generate, maybe not revenue, but they save you money in the long run because they require less or no inputs,” said Avis. “They produce productivity out of the landscape for the homeowner.

“So we’re always looking to get the most function out of a space – make it beautiful while also creating space for biodiversity. Birds, bees, butterflies, all those things – it’s really important that they’re apart of the system as well.”

* photo by Gavin Young