Outdoor kitchens help cool homes

A simple outdoor kitchen can be a lovely addition to your home. Whether you’re an outgoing entertainer, or just someone who loves spending time outdoors, an outdoor cooking space can be a real asset. Plus, outdoor kitchens don’t need to be flashy, complicated, or expensive. You can still get many of the perks without dishing out large amounts of money for the latest technology or a large set up.

An outdoor kitchen could consist of a simple barbeque and sink combination, or a woodfired oven for making delicious pizzas. When designing an outdoor kitchen space, think about what you wish to get out of it. You may not need to spend money on all the bells and whistles.

In this blog we take a look at some of the benefits of creating a simple outdoor kitchen.

Keeping heat out of the house
One big benefit of an outdoor kitchen is that it can keep cooking heat and smells out of your house. While cooking can be a wonderful hobby, the heat it generates can make an enclosed area quite warm at times. This can be particularly annoying during the summer months, when you’re trying to keep your home as cool as possible!

More time spent in the outdoors
If you’re someone who can’t get enough of nature and fresh air, then an outdoor kitchen could be right up your alley. Cooking outside can be a wonderful experience – who can forget the joy of cooking by campfire as a child?!

Added home value
The idea of an outdoor kitchen can be appealing to both entertainers and chefs alike. If you’re thinking about selling your home, or just wanting to increase its overall value, a simple outdoor kitchen could help boost appeal and intrigue. But just how much value could it add? Well, Remodeling Magazine,, and CNN Money state that outdoor kitchens  can return between 100 and 200% of their cost (according to Absolute Outdoor Kitchens Buyers Guide). Just keep in mind that these are American sources, and Australian results may differ.

Extra living/entertaining space
Having more space to entertain guests and relax with family can be a fantastic benefit, especially during the holidays and warmer months. An outdoor kitchen can provide a space for socialising and entertaining. Simply add some seating options and you can host guests while you cook! It is also a convenient way to prepare food with guests present, as you don’t need to be repeatedly walking back and forth from your indoor kitchen to your outdoor entertaining area.

A simple outdoor kitchen can be a great way to add value and entertaining space to your home. It is also ideal for keeping cooking heat out of the house, and can boost the amount of time you spend outdoors.

Words: Sarah Bellamy

Thor’s Hammer giving back

Thor Diesendorf and Edwina Robinson perched on the recycled turpentine bench made by Thor’s Hammer. The timber was sourced from an old wharf. Image: Lachlan Richardson

Giving of your time, expertise and money to a worthy cause can make you feel good.

One Canberra business, timber recycler and furniture maker, Thor’s Hammer, recently donated a 2.4 metre bench of recycled turpentine and 300 plants to the Cole St, Downer micro-forest.

After the bushfires of 2019-20, owner Thor Diesendorf decided to contribute 10% of profits to three Canberra groups doing environmental good – Firesticks, an indigenous led corporation focused on cultural burning practices, Greening Australia and The Climate Factory were the beneficiaries.

The Climate Factory is a social enterprise, founded in 2019 by Landscape Architect, Edwina Robinson after Australia experienced its hottest summer on record. Her vision is to rehydrate the landscape, build great soils and plant densely with climate ready plants.

Thor says planting trees is a great way to help the environment. His favourite tree as a child was a deciduous Chinese Elm, Ulmus parvifolia, in his backyard. Thor says he spent a lot of time climbing that tree and still has a soft spot for the species.

Community involvement is key to the success of the Downer micro-forest with local residents forming a carer group in 2019 and turning up in droves at working bees to plant, mulch and make tree guards. Diesendorf’s team nestled the timber bench amongst newly planted She-Oaks at the micro-forest.

To date The Climate Factory has led three working bees at the micro-forest with the last working bee sponsored by Thor’s Hammer. 1300 plants have gone in the ground with the final working bee scheduled for Autumn 2021.

26 November 20

Micro-forest vs Food forest – what’s the difference?

On a 2000 square metre block of land in Moruya, NSW, I’ve been exploring growing different types of vegetation with different purposes. As well as traditional shrub beds, mown grass, vegetable gardens, water harvesting ponds and a large outdoor courtyard I’ve also planted a micro-forest and a Food forest.

In 2019, I coined the term ‘micro-forest’ to refer to a dense area of climate-ready vegetation that cools the landscape, provides habitat and provides hope for the future. I used the term specifically to describe a pilot urban landscape project I was spearheading in Canberra – the Downer micro-forest that would use climate-ready trees – trees, able to cope with a hotter and drier future and provide a cooling space within.

The Federal Labor Member for Canberra, Alicia Payne liked the idea so much that she invited the Molonglo Conservation Group and The Climate Factory to submit a grant application to build a micro-forest in her electorate – hence the Sullivans Ck micro-forest was borne.

The Federal Department of Agriculture describes forests as areas dominated by trees, usually with a single stem and a mature height exceeding two metres and with the potential tree crown covering 20% of the area.

“Native forests are categorised in Australia’s National Forest Inventory​ into eight national forest types named after their key genus or structural form: Acacia, Callitris, Casuarina, Eucalypt, Mangrove, Melaleuca, Rainforest, and Other native forest (which includes a range of minor native forest types that are named after their dominant genera, including Agonis, Atalaya, Banksia, Hakea, Grevillea, Heterodendron, Leptospermum, Lophostemon and Syncarpia).

Across the wide range of rainfall and soil conditions that support forest, most of Australia’s ‘Native forest’ category of forest is dominated by eucalypts (77%) and acacias (8%).”

In our home garden, I’ve planted our front garden into a dense native ‘micro-forest’. My aim was to mimic the look and feel of the undulating heavily vegetated local sand dunes at Moruya Heads. And to create a windbreak filtering hot westerly winds, provide privacy from a busy street and create wildlife habitat.

The micro-forest grew quickly to provide a dense windbreak, privacy screen and wildlife refuge in 3 years.

Using the fast growing local coastal wattle, Acacia longifolia subsp sophorae I quickly established a dense privacy screen and windbreak. Amongst these wattles, I peppered local tree species like Casuarina glauca, Allocasuarina, Callitris rhomboidea, Acacia mearnsii and Acacia fimbriata. The coastal wattle and Acacia mearsnii (Black Wattle) have grown rapidly to at least 4 metres in 3 years, whilst some of the Casuarinas have outstripped the wattles.

Understorey shrubs include, Banksia integrifolia (Coastal Banksia), Leptospermum (Tea Tree), Correa alba, Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’ as well as strappy plants like Dianella and Lomandra. Groundcovers include Myoporum parvifolium, Carpobrotus (Pig Face) and Hardenbergia. Hardenbergia also known as Native sarsparilla and widely cultivated, can grow as a sprawling groundcover or twine up trees and shrubs.

The native groundcover, Dichondra repens (Kidney Weed) makes its presence felt in shadier moister parts of the micro-forest.

A couple of edibles have crept into the micro-forest, a Macadamia (a native of Australian rainforests) and a grafted Avocado (non-native). Time will tell if they bare fruit. And a Grevillea robusta (Silky oak) seedling has self-sown amongst Allocasuarina trees. It’s staying for now.

Not all the plants have survived, the coastal wattles are short-lived – when they grow quickly they tend to die quickly. Cutting them back seems to extend their lives. In dry periods the Casuarinas, Allocasuarinas and Wattles drop leaves adding to leave litter below.

The aim is to make the planting as dense as possible and to avoid bare ground. Local Blue-tongues appreciate my efforts and took up residence in 2018. In November 2019, I spotted my first pair of bumbling metallic green Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa) gathering pollen from Dianella and Westringia flowers.

This Blue-tongue lizard lives in the dense undergrowth of our micro-forest. I was quite surprised when I threw some snails near it and it started eating them and was lucky enough to capture it on video!

Our dense front planting provides a great foraging spot for small birds like Silver Eyes as they cross our block onto other places.

With soil excavated from our site cut, our earthworks contractor, placed soil to look like sand dunes. For every hole I dug for tubestock, I added organics to give plants the best possible start to life.

For its first three years, the micro-forest survived mostly on rainfall and occasional hand watering. Then, the summer of 2019 hit. By the year’s end Moruya had received a paltry 508mm of rain (about 5/8ths) of an ‘average’ year, then firestorms devastasted the Eurobodalla area (burning almost 80% of the landscape).

As a smokey January unravelled I began to question whether I’d made the right choice in planting the micro-forest. It is to the west and if the fires reached us, the front garden would burn like kerosene thrown on a barbie.

My partner and I, discussed hacking the trees off – but then what would we do with all the prunings?

Late in January 2020, the fire reached the town’s fringes, luckily it didn’t penetrate into the urban parts. Since then, I’ve installed a 50m length of drip irrigation pipe to try and keep the micro-forest slightly moist in hot weather. Who knows what this summer will bring.

Being on a large block – 2000 square metres or half an acre, gives me scope for experimenting with landscape ideas. While we grow vegetables and herbs in garden beds, I was attracted by the idea of creating a Food forest.

As the name implies, the main aim of a Food forest is to grow a diverse range of food in a forest-like environment. So while an orchard could be thought of as a highly simplified forest, consisting of fundamentally the over-storey that bears the fruit, a Food forest includes lots of vegetation layers that produce food. Like the micro-forest it includes groundcover layers that cool the soil (and provide habitat), shrubs, grasses, climbers and trees.

In 2019 I chose a spot with good alluvial soil, near our ephemeral creek but hopefully above the floods (fingers crossed). I marked out a 5m x 5m area and allowed the chooks a couple of months to scratch the ground up and fertilise the soil. I also added compost, seaweed and coffee grounds. Our next door neighbour, a market gardener, formed five mounds and furrows with his cultivator.

Like the micro-forest I’ve planted a couple of fast-growing wattles (Acacia floribunda) that will grow quickly and help protect the more sensitive plants. They’ll also drop leaves helping to form a mulch layer and add nitrogen to the soil.

I planted tubestock of the following edible trees into the mounds: 5 carobs, 3 figs, 1 Davidson’s Plum (an edible tree of rainforest) and 1 Mulberry. Shrubs include the Hawaiian Guava (Psidium guajava), Tamarillo (grown from a neighbour’s seed) and Peppino. Understorey plants include Comfrey (not edible but known as a compost accelerant), Raspberry, Eggplants, Capsicum and Lemon Grass and rambling pumpkins and sweet potato. Herbs like parsely and dill have quickly reproduced filling in gaps.

To cover the soil quickly, I introduce the fast growing and tough native bush food, Pigface (the fruits and leaves are edible) and the locally occuring Warrigal greens created a green carpet over the ground. The Warrigal greens are a pioneer plant and if conditions are right will seed prolifically – giving you greens all year round in our area.

The Food forest survived the 200mm of rain we received in February 2020. Planting trees on the mounds probably saved them from being killed by waterlogging.

The Food Forest was just above the flood on Racecourse Creek in February 2020. We received around 200mm of rain over 10 days. The flood took down fences and washed away vegetables in the next door market garden.

Autumn is often a time of abundance. In the foreground is the large-leaved Tamarillo. Pumpkin and Sweet Potato jostle with one another for space.

The biggest maintenance issues, for both the micro-forest and the Food forest is keeping the vigorous grass (Kikuyu) at bay. I’ve almost won the battle with the micro-forest having spent many hours hand weeding its vigorous runners whilst refusing to use herbicides.

Because I have a large garden, I haven’t made spaces within these forests to keep us cool in hot weather – that’s because there’s other spots in the garden, like our micro-oasis adjacent to the house that I’m focusing my efforts on.

However, once the trees grow taller in the food forest and their canopies start to overlap, a small spot for a comfy chair will be the perfect antidote to oppressive heat.

BOOK NOW – Early bird ticket offer – on sale ’til Sunday 7 June 2020.

‘Getting started – learn how to design your own cool outdoor haven’

Getting started – learn how to design your own cool outdoor haven

This is a great 4 week course for people who've never designed before or are nervous drawing. I've taught hundreds of landscape design students an easy design method that builds confidence quickly to design a functional, beautiful and cool outdoor space. You will learn how to create a base plan and analyse your site, develop a grid to guide your design, create a cool outdoor 'room' and draw a section through it. You will learn to assess your design for enough shading and cooling and select the right plants for your climate and outdoor space. The course is delivered in 7 live on-line lessons over 4 weeks and starts Wednesday 1 July at 12pm. You will be given exercises each week which you will need to complete prior to the next lesson. By the end of the course, you will have created a design for your outdoor haven that will nourish you and your household. EARLY BIRD TICKET $95 on sale til Sunday 7 June 2020. STANDARD TICKET $105


Ground-covers cool the earth in micro-forests

When you think of a forest, the first thing that pops into your mind is probably trees. While trees are an essential part of a forest and do much of the heavy lifting others have a role to play. Think shrubs, climbers, ground-covers, orchids and epiphytes.

At The Climate Factory, we design, build and teach about micro-forests. We are inspired by the industrial engineer, Shubhendu Sharma who applied Toyota’s production systems to forest-making and now coordinates native forest plantings across the world. Sharma in turn, was influenced by the Japanese botanist and plant ecologist, Akira Miyawaki, author of ‘The healing power of forests’.

The Climate Factory’s smallest forest is the size of a car space – 5.5 metres x 2.5 metres . We’d love to see micro-forests replacing car spaces in urban areas as we transition away from private vehicle use to a more regenerative way of living.

If you look closely at a forest, you will notice plants jumbled together. They tend not be evenly spaced and plants compete with one another for light, nutrients and water. And plants are a range of different heights, some have just germinated, some have died and some are in their prime.

At the bottom of the forest are the ground-covers. They have a special role to play. They keep the ground cooler while your micro-forest is establishing and provide habitat for beetles, skinks and lizards. Eventually the forest will become too shady for many of them and leaf litter may take their place.

Starting at the forest floor, here’s our recommendations for four native groundcovers (two which are edible) that would be beneficial in a native micro-forest.

Hardenbergia violacea

A stand out is the tough Hardenbergia violacea, also known as False Sarsparilla. It occurs as an understorey plant in native forests either as either a groundcover or twines its way up shrubs. It’s in the pea family and bears purple flowers at the same time as Wattles signalling winter is almost kaput.

It has leathery dark green leaves and once established is drought and frost hardy.

Hardenbergia can be grown from pre-treated seed. We collect the dried pods from  a plant thriving in our Moruya garden. Soak seeds overnight in hot water and plant them in a mix of 50:50 coarse river sand to native potting mix. The seeds germinated indoors in a warm sunny spot from 10 days to three weeks.

Picture of freshly germinated Hardenbergia seeds.
Hardenbergia seeds collected from the garden germinate after pre-treatment with boiling water. We used a mix of washed river sand mixed with native potting mix to make the seed raising mix.

Myoporum parvifolium

This is a rapidly growing bright green groundcover that comes in a couple of forms – either fine leaf or broader leaf. It can become woody if not left in check as it grows. Creeping Boobialla, bears small white or pink flowers and creates a living mulch over the ground.

It self-propagates by laying down roots across it stem as it sprawls over the ground. These can be removed and repotted to create new plants.

In our west facing front garden in Moruya (which we are infill planting to turn into a micro-forest) Creeping Boobialla makes a fast green mat with Pigface (see below).

Carpobrotus glaucescens

Many will be familiar with the iridescent pink flowers of the Pigface from the sand dunes of the east coast of Australia. As a kid I thought it was a weed and was unaware the flowers form edible scarlet fruits, a snack for coastal indigenous people. The fruits surprise with their salty tang.

It’s a rapidly growing plant, with sage green succulent leaves, and pieces can be broken off and potted to create new plants. As it’s a succulent it’s best to let the end of the broken portion heal over first (for a couple of days) before growing in a free draining propagation mix.

Pigface is drought and cold hardy to a point. We experience -4C frosts on our block in Moruya, NSW  and it has withstood those. It’s been used on the green roof at Thor’s Hammer in Fyshwick, Canberra and has survived.

Tetragonia tetragonoides

This leafy green sprawling groundcover, also known as Warrigal greens, is edible and is rumoured to have helped Captain Cook’s crew stave off scurvy.  It grows wild near the beach and along rivers underneath Casuarina glauca and prefers a slightly more sheltered position and more water than Pigface.

Like many other leafy edibles, its leaves are high in oxalic acid and should be blanched prior to eating. In Canberra, its best grown in a sheltered position with adequate irrigation. The leaves will tell you if its thriving. It will have large green leaves if happy or small leaves if it’s struggling.

It can be grown from seed or by cuttings.

Edwina Robinson