Creating Shade Enhances Lifestyle Benefits

The only lesson from the past we learn is that lessons from the past are not learnt

The Southern Highlands is blessed with abundant natural beauty and resources. The challenge facing newcomers to the region is how to harness and enhance our landscapes when establishing new residences and employment opportunities -without compromising the region’s heritage of tranquil country living. Nor should they undermine the sustainability of our natural ecosystems.

When creating new landscapes or modifying existing ones, many difficulties are presented to landowners. The biggest, which most landscapers face, is the impact of the sun and wind on plant communities. Plants are one of the key ingredients to successful landscape establishment. Without healthy plants, soils and water, new landscapes seldom thrive or mature as originally perceived at the planning stage.

Australia is one of the most sun-aware nations in the world when it comes to the impact of high UV levels on the health of the human body, yet we seem to have little awareness how it impacts plants. Many plants are limited in their ability to grow if UV levels are high. A tree’s ability to grow is severely limited, due to reduced photosynthesis occurring when its leaves are sun- or wind-burnt.

Climate change is now considered a reality. Climatic extremes such as drought, flood, storms and fire continue to impact on our lives. This will not only affect the quality of our lifestyles but also the ability of many plants to thrive and survive.

Why then are the majority of new landscapes created in the Southern Highlands predominantly planted with tree species that are not suited to high UV levels? Unsuitable tree species require huge inputs to establish and generally take between 15 to 40 years to provide adequate shade and shelter to our homes and environs – which include the car parks and streets of new commercial and residential developments together with our public parks and gardens.

Unfortunately the majority of the gardening population in our shire firmly believes in the ability of these species to provide future lifestyle benefits. Clearly the rhetoric of “the only lesson from the past we learn is that lessons from the past are not learnt” still applies.

The majority of the great Southern Highland gardens that have endured the test of time are blessed with high rainfall, deep fertile soils and have generally had extensive establishment and maintenance budgets. All are protected from climatic extremes from either effective windbreaks or have protected southern, eastern or northern aspects.

If your property is not blessed with these natural attributes and your budget is moderate, I advocate the use of local native plant species. Creating environmentally friendly landscapes can enhance lifestyle benefits for both family and community, as well as providing positive benefits for our local flora and fauna.

Eucalypt providing shade to farm buildings

As our region is blessed with many different biological communities this makes the choice of what species to use rather complex – without specialist knowledge and local experience. ‘One size does not always fit all’, as the saying goes. If in doubt as to your local ecological community seek this knowledge your local shire council or CMA office or through commercial professional advice.

Another helpful tool to use when trying to ascertain which way to go when determining plant selection is to benchmark using past experiences or as mentioned earlier “lessons from the past”. Just remember when benchmarking you always have to compare apples with apples and not apples with oranges – so if you see a tree that’s performing well in a high rainfall area, with rich deep soil, don’t expect it will do the same in a dry woodland area with soil that’s half an inch thick!

When benchmarking different results, always consider the site’s average rainfall, average temperatures, average humidity, soil type, wind exposure and aspect as all of these vary considerably within the region. Don’t forget to include the establishment and maintenance budget (which should also include the hours of dedication and perseverance by the owner) used to create the landscape.

All of these are key considerations if a landscape is to achieve its objectives.

Fortunately we have been blessed with a very mild couple of summers. Surely I do not have to remind you that the intensity of the sun will return, and if we are poorly protected, limitations and discomforts imposed on our lifestyles will continue.

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