Edible and Ecological Windbreaks to Support Home and Garden

A good windbreak can make all the difference - for your house, for your garden, for being outside comfortably. It's important to protect natural windbreaks and integrate new ones in the design of your property and garden - different types in various places. In my permaculture garden I have designed edible windbreaks, and at my parent's place, their windbreak is the natural tea tree foreshore reserve. Both have great habitat value for native species and the people living there.

 Natural windbreak on coastal foreshore (Image: Morag Gamble)

The picture above is part of the natural windbreak between my parent's house and the Gippsland Lakes. It is essential during the gale force winds often coming off the Bass Strait.   Sometimes standing down on this beach you really have to lean into the wind to stop from being blown over. In many parts of the island people cleared the foreshore to get the views, but this not only destroys the ecological value, it destabilises the coastline and it makes living next to the water much more difficult with the winds and salt spray. You can even have an edible garden behind a windbreak like this.

The regular uprights of the trunks of the young tea trees (Melaleuca spp) in the foreshore reserve, and the multiple layers, break the wind rapidly, and even with just a thickness in some places of 10-15 metres a huge difference can be felt.  Even if it is really blowing down at the beach, back up near the house and orchard, it is calm.

The winds can come powering across Lake Victoria to Raymond Island. I'm so happy to have the beautiful protective  wildlife reserve along the foreshore. It also means that the people with houses along the water do not own the waterfront. There complete access for anyone to walk along and enjoy. (Image: Morag Gamble)

The coastline is retreating on this part of the island. I've been coming here for about 40 years and I estimate there has been at least a 2 metre erosion of the coast, more on Harrington Point - which is no longer visible here as a point. The foreshore reserve trees are also critical in holding the sandy soils together, but also as they die back and fall to collect sand on the wavy days. The washed up seaweed also acts as a buffer and sand collector.  Where the trees have been cleared they have had to build rock/concrete walls. (Image: Morag Gamble)

I planted up windbreaks early in the development of my home in subtropical Queensland to protect my house and main garden particularly from the strong south westerlies - the storm winds. I focussed on natives from the local landcare nursery such as lilly pillies and grey myrtle - not highly flammable, dense leaves and evergreen. They are now 3-4 metres tall and quite bushy. They deflect the winds wonderfully, but are located to allow the more gentle breezes to flow through this living space.

The dense foliage of the lilly pillies and grey myrtles provide great western shade in the afternoon as well as filter the strong storm winds. From my observations at the Island, lots of uprights help a lot, as well as dense small foliage. The shape of the windbreak scoops the wind up and over the house.

The bonus too is that the lilly pilly (Syzygium spp) fruit is edible and the grey myrtle/cinnamon myrtle (Backhousia myrlifolia) leaves make a lovely tea.

Delicious edible lilly pillies - raw, sauces, preserves, baking...

The Grey Myrtle has lovely foliage - dense green with slightly red new growth. These new leaves are my favourite parts to harvest for teas and flavouring in soups and curries (a kind of nutmeg, cinnamon aroma)

Backhousea myrtifolia, Grey Myrtle, is a good windbreak plant in this region - and an Australian native from the rainforest margins. (Image source: 1 million women)

My windbreak also shades our house in the afternoon making the hot summers more tolerable on the verandah. This is important to me, because it means we can use this outdoor space - our main living room and homeschool classroom for most of the day.  I love the windbreak too because these trees are full of a diversity of birds, and just sitting outside while I work, I am surrounded by birdlife and birdsong.

I usually plant temporary in-garden windbreaks to help new vegetable gardens areas become established. I often use Canna edulis or lemongrass because they grow quickly and are easy to manage and remove later. As well as wind protection, these plants also provide afternoon shade for young vegetables and other perennials. Once the perennial kitchen garden system is up and running, I phase out the extent of the canna and lemongrass, move it elsewhere, mulch it, eat it ....

Canna edulis has large leaves that grow quickly and provide great shade, protection and mulch, as well as food - a great multifunctional permaculture plant in this climate. (Image: Morag Gamble)

The Canna is visible at the top of the picture - the contour row helped to act as a windbreak, sun break, but also as a vegetative terrace, source of mulch, source of food, and great addition to compost, no-dig garden layers and the chicken yard. (Image: Morag Gamble)
Designing a windbreak to be multi-functional is the key - to provide wind protection, to provide shade, to provide food, fodder, mulch, timber, habitat,  and other resources. I am also very careful to select species near my house that have low flammability and are recommended.

More information is coming soon about the windbreaks at my place on my Our Permaculture Life youtube channel. I am making a short information clip to upload.

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