For over thirty years I have been passionate and enthusiastic when creating native landscapes and preserving the beauty and abundance of our natural environment.
Most newcomers to the Southern Highlands (long term locals traditionally calling them “blow-ins”) embark upon a quest to establish exotic landscapes, the most common being the English or Tuscan garden.
These gardens require high inputs to establish and maintain. As time passes many of these gardens tend to become dominated by environmental weeds that threaten our natural landscapes. These weeds include privet, ivy, hawthorne, honey suckle, agapanthus, seasisde daisy, periwinkle, contoneaster, pyracanthea, cherry laurel, blackberry, willow, poplar – and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, many newcomers to the district are blinded by their desire to create exotic gardens and avoid using native plants. Australian native plants are inspiring the world around us and yet the majority seem to be afraid of using them locally. Why is this so?
One of the barriers that seem to influence the limited use of native plants is the negative perceptions that are spread around, and live within the community. The following is a list of some of these misperceptions with my comments in italics:
- Native plants are short-lived. Many of our species grow to be centuries old. Some are also short lived just like many exotic plants. Poor species selection and management practices also influence longevity.
- Every native plant I plant dies. Ensure you select species that grow on your soil type. For example many people try planting Grevilleas on clay or basalt soils. Most Grevilleas grow on sandstone or sand based soils and do not thrive on heavier soils. Correas are also a good example. Also exotic pathogens in the soil can contribute to sudden death.
- You can’t prune native plants. Most native plants thrive with pruning. Pruning increases longevity and enhances ornamental qualities. Pruning also contains plant size assisting form and function.
- Native plants are ugly. What can one say. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Frankly speaking I find boring buxus, depleted birches, agapanthus borders and conifer hedges to be sad and ugly.
- You cannot mix native plants with exotic species. Such a strange concept. Designers use plants from all over the world when establishing exotic gardens. As long as plants are selected for environmental conditions (ie. soil type, rainfall etc) as well as form and function) geographic origins of the plant are of little consequence.
- Native plants need no maintenance. Native plants need maintenance if they are to maintain their form and function in modified environments and well as looking good. Non management increase fire and other risks whilst management reduces risks around the house and other assets.
Unfortunately many within the landscape industry fuel these concepts. Establishing landscapes in Australia is not easy unless established with high inputs such as water, soil and maintenance or, by using plants that have evolved and survived naturally for thousands of years.
As our society becomes more aware of environmental issues and the carbon footprint we leave, don’t let your garden be judged by future generations as being a folly or a drain on reserves. Creating a garden your grandchildren will be proud of makes sense.