Designing with Biodiversity in Mind with Emmaline Bowman from STEM Landscape Architecture

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

In episode 13 of Think Big, I share a conversation I had with Emmaline Bowman about designing with biodiversity in mind. Emmaline is the director & founder of STEM Landscape Architecture and Design in Australia. Emmaline has a Bachelor of Design & a Masters in Landscape Architecture.

Em believes that every answer can be delivered when you look into nature, & she strives in creating environments that respect Australian flora & fauna in ways that are not only beneficial but beautiful.

I enjoyed listening to Em discuss her earlier influences and how she approaches her projects with biodiversity in mind.

STEM Website

We discuss:

✨What is an Acknowledgement of Country?

✨Emmaline's early childhood influences and what lead her to pursue landscape architecture

✨Why she believes we should educate our clients more about biodiversity

✨How she communicates the designs to clients

✨Australian Indigenous Bushfoods

Recommended episodes:

Episode 12 - How to Learn More about Plants and Vocabulary for Plants and Planting

Episode 11 - Building Smart Zero-Net Carbon Cities: Paris Climate Action Plan and the Language of Cause & Effect

✨ Follow me on Instagram:

✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull

Ready to take action to speak up and share your voice?

In November 2021 we are starting the very first ArchiEnglish practice - a group coaching program to get you confidently express your words. Come and join me and other professionals in the built design profession to share your voice and speak up with more confidence. ArchiEnglish Practice Course

Table of Contents





💻 Tucker Bush Plants -

💻 Eucalyptus olida - Em discusses this plant in the episode

📹 Emmaline Bowlman on Gardening Australia


revegetating / reveg - is the process of replanting and rebuilding the soil of disturbed land

indigenous planting - plants native to a specific local area

transparency - being honest and open with people

biodiversity - the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat Green links - vegetated corridor of open space/trees/parks/reserves that provide a continuously connected link of biodiversity between urban areas and the natural environment

Green wedges - open spaces around and near urban areas to connect green spaces

What are Green Corridors?

nature play - any activity that gets children active or thinking actively outdoors in nature

softscaping - planting monoculture - planting only one species or a few different species of plants in a large area

bushfoods -

Expressions / Phrases

to have something in mind - be thinking of something in particular

hit the nail on the head - to get something exactly right

to be taken for a ride - to be tricked or lied to

Setting yourself up (for failure) - try to make people believe you can do something even though you know you can't


Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:00

You're listening to think big Episode 13

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:15

Hello Big Thinkers and welcome back to Episode 13 of Think Big English for architects. I'm your host Tara Cull landscape architect, English teacher and communication coach for Arkinglish. As part of my work at ArchiEnglish, I coach people in the built design profession who speak English as a second language to build outstanding communication skills and feel more confident to speak up in November 2021. I'm very excited to say that we are starting the very first arky English practice, which is a group coaching programme to get you confidently expressing your words, your ideas and your opinions. If this sounds like you come and join me and some other professionals who have already joined the coaching programme, to share your voice and to speak up with more confidence. You can learn more about this coaching programme if you go to archy slash courses. Now if this is the first time you have listened to the podcast, I suggest you go back to the start to find out more about what the podcast is all about. Today's episode is a listening resource to help you with listening skills and also building vocabulary around plants and planting and describing the importance of biodiversity to clients. It's also a discussion about some of the challenges that the built design profession faces. if English is your second language, and you would like to build more professional language skills, and improve your critical thinking skills in English, then you will definitely enjoy this episode. In today's episode, I'm so excited to share a conversation I had with emmalyn Bowman from stem Landscape Architecture and Design in Australia. The work of her practice in Australia really resonated with me since her and her team have a strong commitment to designing sustainable gardens that are not only beautiful, but function with the purpose to sustain wildlife and better the earth and also to connect people to the environment to connect the clients to the environment. They want to connect people back to the environment to allow children and adults to explore and also to understand nature. And to better understand how the urban surroundings can have an impact and how we can allow for biodiversity with animals and the ecosystems. sticking to the theme of planting from the last episode, you'll hear a lot of vocabulary and expressions about plants and planting. And you'll find all the key vocabulary and the transcript in today's show notes at archy slash podcast. So let's get into today's episode.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 03:08

All right, well, thank you M for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time to have this chat with me. I think it's been we've we've taken a few weeks to get here. But we're here now. So thank you very much for joining me.

Emmaline Bowman 03:20

No, thank you for having me. If you don't mind, can I do an acknowledgement of country before we start? Yeah, absolutely. Go ahead. Wonderful. So I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation who were who are the traditional owners of the land on which we work, live and grow. And we repeat, we respect their elders past, present and emerging.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 03:44

Thank you. So I think it's interesting that you started with that. And I think it's something that a lot of my students have actually been asking about recently. So could you explain why do we start with an acknowledgement of country? What does it mean?

Emmaline Bowman 03:58

Yeah, so I like to pay respect to our traditional owners. And the reason why we do it is because as Australians, we've actually come into this country, and the lands have been taken from Aboriginals who used to live here. And I find that more and more as I work in this environment, that all the plants and the knowledge that I'm gaining, it's the more and more I realise that quite a terrible thing has happened to our indigenous Australians. And I really, I feel kind of deep about that. So I really want to make sure that I pay respects to them. And I think that it's a discussion that a lot of other people should sort of open their eyes to as well because when we are using all those natural elements of our landscape, in essence, you know, we are using parts of their land and the things that they use. So yeah, it's basically me just really paying respect, sir. Okay, well, thank you very much for doing

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 05:00

I think it's important. So just to kind of explain a little bit more about what a statement, or an acknowledgement of country is, it's essentially a statement, or that shows awareness and respect for the traditional custodians of the land. And often you can do it before, like an online meeting, or meeting or an official government meeting. And it can be done by somebody who's indigenous or somebody who is an indigenous. And I think it's important to pay respect. So thank you very much. That was a good beginning to our conversation. So for those of the listeners who don't know who you are, could you explain who you are, and a little bit more about your background and your story? Yeah, so my name's Emily, Emily Bowman, and yeah, so I am a Landscape architect, and I own a business called STEM. And I created STEM because I saw a gap in the industry where I was working, where, you know, we weren't thinking about how we were planting for wildlife, and, you know, all the insects and the biodiversity and for indigenous plantings. And even though it seems like we're going on this massive green trend, it still was being said that they were doing it, but it wasn't actually happening. And I sort of wanted to start stem to ignite that curiosity in people in that love for nature. And that's basically my ethos of what stem is about. And the way that I got to this point was I really grew up on a farm, which people kind of like, Oh, you know, cows and all that sort of stuff, you know, how did you get to animals, it was more dad was revegetating the creek along the property. And I would go with him, and you know, helping with the planting. And I was obsessed in water, like so obsessed. And, you know, I would watch how the plants would grow. And I would see how everything changed. I saw that insects calm, I would collect these insects in little tubs. And you know, I was doing all that. And then I got a fish tank from my dad when I was eight years old. And my fish kept dying. And I was like, what's that I would go back to the creek and I'd be like, why is the water so clean here? Why have I got bugs why I've got plants. So what I did is I took the soil and I took some of the plants and the bugs and I put them in my fish tank. And it was the first time where I had this fish time that lasted for like three months without needing a water change and stayed clean. And oh, my fish died. I was like, Oh my god, what is happening. And later on, I went into the like actually worked in aquariums. And it was like they were I started to everything made sense, because I was bringing in bacteria and micro organisms into my water to create this little ecosystem in a fish tank. And I brought in plants and things like that. So I was like, Oh, now I know why this happened. And then that's where the addiction started. So I had, I had 15 foot tanks at dads when I was 18. He's like, what are you doing? And I was I'm gonna do biology and zoology and Take your tanks with you! You know, I did it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:28

That was his fault you did it right?

Emmaline Bowman 08:16

He ignited it and to his demise, because he wants me back on the farm to work. But you know, my new road, but um, I did biology and zoology. And I was going on this course and I really loved it. I really did. But I didn't see a future or I always wanted to change things. I wanted to change it where I was helping animals. I wanted to be able to bring in biodiversity and you know, all those sort of things. And I saw a path of becoming a park ranger or working in a lab and also like, wow, you know, this isn't it. So I started investigating other ways. And that's when I found landscape architecture. And I thought, well, I can combine my plant knowledge and my love for like animals and fish. And I can put this into landscape architecture. And that's what I did. So I worked at an aquarium at the same time. So I was still creating fish tanks. And I was helping people with their ponds and things like that. But while I was at landscape architecture, I was learning all the architectural elements as well and designing and CAD and all that sort of stuff. And somehow it just all came together I just kept doing pawns and I did my masters on how we could cross animals and architecture together. So in urban environments, if we promote indigenous plantings, which means your plants local to the area that we could then increase our biodiversity and that tool of designing for our wildlife and for ecosystems could be applied to everything. We could talk about cities to backyards and doing that we create these green links and wedges and in doing so if it is privileging indigenous and those species of plants then you are creating a hierarchy to protect and encourage your local species to come back rather than introduced species. I hope that's not too long. But I hope that makes sense. And that's how we started stem.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 10:11

Yeah. So I mean, just sort of taking it back to the beginning. I think it's really important. And I think it ties in with the next question I want to ask you is looking at, you know, your your interest in your curiosity started off when you're quite young, and your environment and learning from your dad, even though he was he was telling you take your fish tanks with you. Yeah, it's such a nice story that he really started your, your interest and love for understanding more about how the landscapes work, I have a similar story, when I was younger, my grandma used to take me out on walks around her property in Emerald. And we would look at ferns and we would look at the mosses. And we would look at how things worked. And that really, that's really, when I think about my journey into landscape architecture. That's really where it started when I was quite young. And so I think this really goes back to what I wanted to ask you, which was thinking about, there's a quote on your website, which I absolutely love, I think it really illustrates sort of what you're trying to do with your work at stem. And it says, We want to connect people back to the environment, to allow children and adults to explore and understand nature, we aim to better our urban surroundings to allow for the biodiversity of animals and ecosystems. So I think that's such a beautiful example, because you've really taken your story as well and put it into those words. So could you talk us through why this is so important to you and your work at stem?

Emmaline Bowman 11:41

Yeah, well, you kind of hit the nail on the head in yourself, because when you're a child, what you're exposed to sticks with you for life, and I'm finding, you know, from growing up in the country, and observing what happens in urban environments, and seeing a very different way that, you know, people are growing up. And I think having that connection to your natural world, and the landscape is really important, because it gives you a grounding and an appreciation for the complexities of our earth, and all the ecosystems. And it also, I feel like it helps you mentally as well, because you realise that you're not the most important thing in the whole wide world, that there is this whole complex organism working together, and that we are all working together, whether that be, you know, it could be just your team members, you know, we start to unpack that and understand at very young age, it's really beneficial. But yeah, I find that I want to ignite that through these designs. So when kids are at home, you know, they're getting out into the garden, and they are seeing these, these, these systems are seeing the plants just like what you did. And then I find that when they grow into human beings, they kind of have a better appreciation. And they kind of go on a really interesting path. Because I find that happens a lot with the people who I meet in the industry and in other industries, they have a wonderful story to tell. And it starts from a young age. Yeah. And do you work with? Do some of your clients have kids as well that you're able to see them interacting in the lens? Yeah, yeah, we've touched on that. So a lot of a lot of the people that we work with have children. So we really inspire nature play and all those elements into the, into our Designs. And if it's not, parents, it's grandparents. And they are also also into getting their grandchildren to play, you know. So that is a really big part of what we want to do and what we want to design for so that these kids are sort of seeing it. And at the same time, it brings out the inner child to the parents as well, because it can take you right back to that time when you were climbing a tree. And when you were looking at it, and you think you got it so weird, either. Those are the things so it's I think it's really beautiful. It grounds us and we really need that grounding at the moment, I find

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 14:09

I think so. I mean, you know, at the moment, all the kids that I work with, they just they've got their heads in their iPads, or they're watching TV, and it's sometimes a bit of a fight to sort of get them to go outside. So I imagine having that space where there's a lot of diversity, plant diversity, different landscapes, they can kind of run and play, things like that in their backyard, then that really encourages them. And so do you work mostly with residential clients? Or do you work on say, big commercial projects? Or could you talk us through that? A little bit?

Emmaline Bowman 14:46

Yeah, so most of our projects are residential, but we have worked with commercial clients as well. Now commercial clients are obviously looking for designs that are looking for Habitat greening. And all that sort of stuff. So we find that really wonderful when they do come to us, I also find a little bit conflicting because sometimes they're working with budgets and certain way they want to mould you into the design. So I do find that it's a bit challenging sometimes to work with them. But that being said, like with our residential clients, we, it seems like a lot more like design flexibility, they more open to, you know, really wonderful designs, some things that are different, they, some of them have really good budget, some of them don't, and working with what they have is kind of fun, it's also challenging as well. But you know, if they do have a lower budget, then you can do a lot more softscaping, which is exactly what we love to do anyway. So whereas, yeah, and I love that, but our commercial, you know, quiet, it's a lot more hardscape. So you're sort of like, you're at this sort of Crossroads where you're like, what do I like more, you know, so I definitely do like my residential projects a lot more. But, yeah, commercial development is an area where I think we really need to change the way that we are designing because I find that it's Yeah, it's it's probably sometimes not going down the right track. Or you might observe that they they do too many monocultures, which is quite problematic and things like that. So, yeah, it's, it's an area that we could do

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 16:30

It's a balance, isn't it? I mean, yeah, what you're saying about the monocultures and and also I think there's a lot of people working within commercial spaces that don't necessarily have the biological or the scientific knowledge. And so it is about education and kind of understanding. Whereas when you're working with residential clients, you can be in front of the people who are directly going to use the landscape, so you can have those conversations. But yeah, it is a tough thing, something that I wanted to touch on actually, we were speaking about it before we hit record, talking about women in this position. So working in, particularly in residential, you know, both of both of us have worked in residential spaces, and it can be quite male dominated. And what do you feel Why do you feel it's important as a woman to sort of be there and to be putting yourself forward and, and sharing your ideas,

Emmaline Bowman 17:27

I think it's really important that women are really engaged in this industry, and there's more of us, because I find that it has been a male dominated industry for quite a long time. And what I find that really interesting, as most of your clientele are women, versus the people who want these designs are women. And, you know, I find that when a lot of male dominated industries come in, you can see a change in the way that design happens as well, you'll get a lot more hardscapes, you'll get more lawns, you get more of this, and that. And it's funny with clients, too, is that like, I don't know how many times I've heard it, where women are like, I don't want any lawn, I don't want any parts I want, I want, I want flowers, I want bugs to come in, I want to raise veggie patch. And the guys are like, I want to learn, I want to hedge and I want it manicured, you know, and it's like, I want to be able to mow the lawn, they need to do something I needed like clean. And that's not for all of course, but I find that there's a really, it's quite unbalanced. When it's such a like, it seems like a quite a feminine area. So I think it's really important that there is more women engaged in this industry, because we need to really balance out that gender inequality that is happening. And not only that, it is quite tough to design and, you know, work with male contractors in some aspects, some of them are fantastic, you know, they really, you know, want you to succeed. And some of them, you know, might be a little bit like confronted that there's a woman sort of going, Hey, this is how this is supposed to be done to tell I want it to look and you know, it's not what they used to do. So, in that aspect, you know, it's, it's really important that we're thinking about how we can balance that. Yeah, so yeah, I just, I find that it's really important that we do balance the industry, because just like anything, if we are looking to create inequality within our society, then we need to start engaging ourselves into it and showing them what we can do and how we can make it better. And it's definitely starting to happen.