An Australian landscape designer’s enthusiasm for backyard water-wise innovations helped him win gold at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show.
Phillip Johnson’s entry was a large billabong fed by a series of small waterfalls.
He created the artificial billabong to demonstrate how it could collect and filter rain water that flowed from a nearby roof.
Since winning at the world’s top garden show, Phillip Johnson Landscapes has now built hundreds of what he calls “natural pools or billabongs” in people’s backyards across Australia.
And Johnson says any greenthumb can build their own billabong.
“You could do a mini thing by yourself, you’d have to do your research, how to build it properly, how to direct water.
“If you’re practical you could do it, but if you just want it done now you come to us.
“Anywhere in Australia you’ve got free water falling from the sky, that water drains straight off the roof and into the storm water pipe.
“You can harness it and use it and you can reduce your water bill.”
Johnson’s home in the Dandenongs in Victoria has a billabong system and it has a practical as well as decorative purpose.
“The billabong sustains the surrounding habitat.
“It acts as a water source, a place for swimming and increases fire safety and drought resilience.”
The father of two young boys has a kitchen garden around his billabong.
“I’ve got a fence all around my property and my favourite way to build them is out of tomatoes stakes and it’s a great way to grow your tomatoes.”
Natural filtration systems keep the billabong water clean and there are no problems with mosquitoes, Johnson says.
The “natural” pools have fluctuating water levels – they naturally rise and fall with the seasons – and their water is provided by on-site rainwater harvesting.
“When we create the right ecosystem, a hierarchy of creatures, you don’t get mosquitoes because you’ve got healthy water, you’ve got moving water because you’ve got solar powered pumps.”
Plants on the margins of the billabong absorb nutrients from the incoming water, Johnson says.
“We use native and indigenous plants that are drought tolerant and recreate Mother Nature’s own local work.”
Besides making billabongs and natural pools, Johnson also converts traditional swimming pools to “natural” pools.
He also build spaces for greenthumbs to grow fruit and vegetables, compost and to keep chooks for fresh eggs.
“Everyone is the custodian on their property, you have that land for two years, five years or 50 years and it’s important that everyone tries to do the best environmental practice.
“We got a big issue to rectify in this world, what we’ve done by clearing native vegetation, having concrete everywhere.
“By having an area where you can harness rainwater, collect it, use it, cool your backyard, it’s useful and you’re creating something that’s beautiful that has insects and frogs,” he says.
“It’s good for our souls.”