Saturday, November 3, 2007

My love is otherwise

The soft colours of this template remind me of Australian native plants, which I love. It's partly patriotism: our flora is completely different to that of other places. Joseph Banks was so excited by it that he persuaded Captain Cook to rename 'Stingray Bay' to 'Botany Bay' -- and that's where I grew up, not that there was much left of the native flora by then.

Our plants are very good at giving us a sense of place. Sydneysiders are home when they see the salmon-coloured trunks of Angophora costata, for example, and an Australian can be moved to tears by finding a gum-tree in a foreign land. To plant native plants is an expression of love for a beautiful country.

People can be a bit foolish about native plants, though. A Banksia coccinea is an Australian plant, but it comes from the sandy soils and dry climate of Western Australia. It will not cope with the humidity and clay in my Sydney garden, and why should it? It is 4000km from home! By natives, I mean the local flora, which has evolved to suit the local conditions. If you can find out what your natives are, you instantly have a group of plants that you know will cope in your garden with very little attention. In fact, the lack of cosseting required can sometimes be surprising. I planted out a large native garden bed two weeks before water restrictions commenced in spring 2003. Once restrictions commenced, I ceased all artificial watering to that bed because I had to focus my efforts on the vegie patch. In the next six months, I didn't lose a single native plant. It is painful to remember the deaths and poor yields in the vegie patch during the same period.

Most Australian native plants have evolved to deal with difficult conditions -- drought, flood and fire. The rambunctious games of The Twig and The Sprig do not disturb my native plants at all, nor do my chooks. My vegetable patch, on the other hand, is fenced off!

Don't forget that native plants also provide habitat and food sources for native fauna. If you are lucky you could tempt rare birds, insects or even frogs into your garden this way. But how do you find your native plants?

Councils and public libraries sometimes have lists of local flora (some councils even propagate their own plants, which they then pass on to local residents for a nominal fee). Heritage sites and major parks in your area might also have such lists, as will local environmental groups like Greening Australia, Landcare and so on. Your local branch of ASGAP will also be a valuable resource. Tracking down the information is all part of the fun!

Hakea salicifolia closeup


Anonymous said...

Choosing local plants is a good start and going to libraries, council offices etc ought to be helpful but it isn't always so.

In each case we explained the local conditions, climate, soil etc. We went to a great deal of trouble over this and then went to the Forestry Nursery to buy our native tubestock. They concured with the list we had. One wattle was supposed to be perfect. It grew marvellously the first summer, from 30cm tubes to 150cm small trees, in hard conditions.

The first hard frost we had 65 out of 75 turned black and died.

Now we buy 5 of each candidate and see how they go. If Ok we get more.

Anonymous said...

The word for the natives that are actually native to the area you live is Endemic, so you ask for Endemic Natives to whatever area, and i agree with David, not all councils actually have a trained hort person working for them, so go to a reputable nursery or try a TAFE hort section. Not sure about other areas, but here we have the Rural Buying Center and they know their Endemic Natives from the alien natives.

Chookie said...

Ouch, David! What an expensive way to find out that you can't always trust the forestry people!

Erin, I have mixed feelings about the word 'endemic' -- I tend to find it being used sloppily. For example, anyone will tell you that the Sydney Red Gum is endemic to the Sydney region -- which it is, but only to the sandstone country. Mine grows, but not at the normal rate! Besides, when you use words like 'endemic', people start to think you Know Something, when you're really muddling along like everyone else!

Anonymous said...

Endemic is the right word for plant only naturally found in a particular region ... but it certainly can be misleading if its being bandied about. Technically that's the correct term though.
That being said, there's a bit of talk lately in ecology circles on *not* being too precious about set boundaries for endemic natives .... as the climate changes, populations would naturally move, but this can be hindered by man's interference. Apparently the general trend for species distributions will be "pole-wards and uphill" (quote from Jeff Price - IPCC author- at a recent seminar). If there's a housing estate or a heavily grazed pasture in the way, that could cause a few problems so the odd out-of-natural-range planting isn't such a bad thing IMHO.
...and the problem with forestry is they can only go on the info they have ... but in my experience they've had quite a bit of info from plantings in the area. In my experience they do generally know what they are talking about. That being said, frosts can be tricky even for forestry...