Planning your Garden

Planning a garden can be an exciting time. It is a time to dream of flowerbeds humming with bees, the croak of frogs at night, the scent of foliage as you brush past or after rain. There are as many garden variations as there are gardeners. And a garden can be as odd or as interesting as you wish. Who is to say that a garden wall covered in crockery mosaics, or using old washing machine or farming equipment as decorator items is wrong? Or the dedicated fruit and vegetable gardener with everything enclosed by wire mesh to keep out the birds? Or a hundred garden gnomes? If it gives you and your family pleasure, while also helping the environment, then that is a good thing.

Planning a garden means different things to different people, and it all depends on how you view the world. Are you a visual person, and meticulous with details? Perhaps sketching up a plan for your yard will be the way for you. More of a freeform thinker? The traditional mapping out a garden bed with the hose might work for you. No time and little interest in gardening? Maybe an expert can be called in to help you. Random plant buyer and non planner? Even knowing what will work in your garden can help you steer your impulses towards things that will work in the yard.

Lorikeet in Grevillea Robyn Gordon

lorikeet in grevillea Robyn gordon

It doesn't really matter what sort of person you are if you don’t have a good idea of what you are dealing with for your yard. For novice and experienced gardeners alike the basics are important. Even an expert can get your garden wrong if you yourself do not have some idea of what you need.

Now is also a good time to look around the neighbourhood and see what is growing well, or what just isn’t working. For new suburbs you can get a feel for what might work in your yard, and there is probably a good chance of other houses similar to yours as well. For an established house and garden, a walk around is also helpful. Are they cursing weeds down the road or lopping a nuisance tree? For both old and new houses seeing how others have done it is helpful- both in terms of what to do, but also what not to do. A visit to local botanical gardens such as Cranbourne or Melbourne will also help, and staff are usually happy to help. Cranbourne Botanic Gardens have volunteer experienced plant and garden people that do guided tours, and these are well worth it to help form a picture of what you like and don’t like.

The planning time is also a time to assess what you have. If it is an established garden, it might be worth waiting for a season or two and see what comes up. This is important in say Spring, when most things look their best. It would be a shame to dig up something that is quite attractive or a prolific fruit bearer by accident. The established garden is also likely to have bulbs planted at some stage, and Spring will be the time most of them show. Even if you don’t like them, possibly someone else might, so you could dig them up and donate to friends or schools or fetes. Many natives and non natives have only one show of flowers, so if you don’t know what it is, wait for Spring at least.  Asking a neighbour is also useful, they may have admired your rare orchids that spring up, or a magpie that nests in a gum tree. Even a rental house may offer some surprises in a grevillea bush that flowers all year with no care at all. Many of these elements are worth preserving.

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Recycle

Recycling is a good way to help the environment and save you money and get some garage space back. The more things we can keep out of landfill the better. Remember, it’s not just you getting rid of stuff that someone else may treasure, but also exploring the recycling goods to use yourself. Make sure then when you donate however it is reusable – many charities waste money sorting through rubbish that they then have to pay to send to landfill.

Two great ways to recycle garden and kitchen scraps is a worm farm and composting. Worm farms will digest kitchen scraps, just keep the farm cool in summer. Or compost, using a bin or even just bury it in the garden.

Local councils usually have a waste and recycling programme, as well as regular kerbside pickups. Check these out on your local council website for more details. There are also programmes that recycle electronic items such as phones and batteries, so look these up for one local to you. Make it easy to recycle by having a small bin for recycling in the kitchen, so materials can be thrown straight in.

There are a few things that you may do unthinkingly that have some bad effects on the environment, even though you may not see them. Pouring petrol, paint or solvents on the soil will not make them go away. The many chemicals in these liquids will soak down through the soil and reach the water table, and possibly poison your own trees. Otherwise they keep on soaking right through to groundwater, and spread from there. Once in groundwater, many break down into even more toxic chemicals. Contaminated groundwater is extremely expensive (millions of dollars) to clean up, and can often just not be done. Many places rely on groundwater for drinking, agriculture or irrigation. Chemicals poured on the ground can travel a long way from their spill point, reaching rivers, streams and the ocean, and poisoning people and creatures on the way.

Along the same lines, don’t pour or wash solvents and rubbish down the stormwater drain. These are all connected to rivers and eventually the ocean, which bears a heavy load already from human activities. Don’t make your yard a further burden on the environment by thoughtless waste disposal.

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Reuse

It’s heading into Christmas, and in the frenzy of present buying it is worthwhile to pause and think about the impact of so much buying. Will it end up in landfill by next Christmas? Maybe you can reuse something and give it a new life as a present, even if it is a present to yourself. This holiday season is a good time to declutter, and maybe some of your clutter can be reused, rather than ending up in landfill.

There are many opportunities for reusing material in the yard. Sometimes it needs some imagination and a little work, but you may be able to create something artistic for the yard out of a discard material, or at least save on more waste going to landfill.

If you can’t think of a use, or don’t care for a recycled look, then consider that there are others who might. Putting things out on the kerb with a ‘free to good home’ often moves things on quickly. Other places that can reuse your unwanted items in include opportunity shops and local landfill reuse stations, often known as ‘tip shops’. Just be aware that these are often looked on by people as a dumping ground, so don’t give them things that are broken, dirty or are really rubbish. Mostly staffed by volunteers, and with the proceeds going to charity and the community, they don’t want to lose money by taking having to take rubbish to landfill themselves.

Another option is a freecycle group. Many local ones work within a council area, and there are many swap groups on facebook as well. Join up for free, and post your material. Usually there will be somebody that will take it off your hands. You may even find something that would work well in your yard.

Other reuse options include common ones like using egg cartons for seeds, or toilet rolls as seedling raisers, with the idea of planting the entire thing in the soil. This has many benefits including reusing a waste material, reducing root disturbance and not purchasing a pot. Items such as the clear plastic fruit containers and trays may also be used in this way, although not to plant in the ground. The ones with a cover (strawberry tubs for instance) can also be used as a mini greenhouse for propagation or seed raising.

There is also the option that if you do need to buy something, at least try and buy something that has been made from other materials. You can get plastic benches made from recycled plastic, pots that biodegrade or are made of timber by products, or cleaning agents made from the waste from orange juice processing. By purchasing these products you help support recycling programmes as well as reducing landfill material.

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Make it a Planet Friendly Christmas

Christmas is often a time when a lot of things get wasted and discarded – unwanted presents, wrapping paper, leftovers, your peace of mind… the list goes on. Traditionally a time to think of family, perhaps this year extend this theme of family to our planet. Reducing waste by using recycled materials or giving non waste producing gifts can give you a feel good factor that is a present in itself. Use the list below to inspire you for gardening and non gardening friends and relatives.

  1. Bee hotels and nesting boxes – can be ordered online, or homemade. Bee hotels encourage beneficial insects into the garden to aid in pollination. Nest boxes for various birds, bats, and possums can also be ordered online.
  2. Worm farm – if you have one, gift some worm juice and castings to your friends. Or buy them a farm and worms from a hardware shop. There are many composting options such as bokashi buckets so people living in flats can recycle as well.
  3. A raised garden bed – these are ideal for the less mobile.
  4. A load of mulch or fertilizer. An offer for a few hours help would be appreciated as well.
  5. A voucher from a gardening or cleaning firm (Jim’s provide a range of services) can be a great gift for when time and energy fade, or a difficult task such as cleaning gutters keeps getting put off.
  6. A hamper related to the persons interests. These can be packed into a clean pot or a hanging basket. Some ideas include

    1. Propagation: some rooting hormone, a bag of propagation mix, and some small pots and labels;
    2. A selection of native bush foods such as chutneys, jams and spices. These can be found in larger supermarkets;
    3. A magazine subscription or a selection of magazines, and a nice cup, biscuits, tea bags or coffee;
    4. Membership to your local Australian Plants Society, a copy of Growing Australia magazine, and a plant or two.
  7. A voucher for an experience. These have a wide selection and are available online. Some include chocolate tours, drag racing and the like, or tickets for things such as movies or entry to a park.
  8. A bunch of flowers is always appreciated, and some from the garden are lovely.
  9. For keen propagators, a selection of cuttings would be welcome.
  10. Make your purchases count – giving a donation as a gift via World Vision, or buying a calendar from a wildlife shelter or other charity.

Don’t forget that Christmas can be a lonely time for some, so a friendly smile or a chat can make a big difference.

 

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Spring Plant Sale Sept 3rd

Springtime is close, and the time is near for the Native Plant Sale!! Make sure you come up for a visit on 3rd September at Wilson Botanic Park, Princes Highway, Berwick. We open at 9am, and close around 3.30pm.

There will be something for everyone- plants to buy in tubes and pots ready to go straight into your garden. As usual a book stall specialising in Australian plants, wildlife, insects, gardens and other odd topics. There will be a great raffle with some unusual prizes, including a bee hotel. Our member’s gardens will be pruned to show off in a floral display. There is also food and drink available so you can make a day of it and explore the park as well.

The Wilson Park group will also have a plant crèche set up so you can leave your plants while hunting for more. A limited supply of boxes will be available.

We also have a special offer! This year anyone becoming a new member of the group will receive a free potted plant. Have a chat with the Wilson Park APS members in the tent crèche to find out more.

Hope to see you there!

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Reduce your Environmental Impact

Reducing your impact on the environment is at once easy, and sometimes very hard. Easy because you are not doing something – not buying a new thing or the latest gadget. Not getting swept up in a craze, and thinking before you purchase something. It is far easier not to have something that needs recycling or reusing. Easier for us – nothing to think about, and easier on the environment with less going to landfill.

However we live in a consuming society, and the pressure to consume is enormous. Shopping centres, the TV, advertising, marketing, peer pressure- it is a constant force that so strong that you may not even be aware of the pressure on you to buy a certain thing.

And yes, once you get it home, you have something! It might have cheered you up in the purchase, but having more things creates its own unconscious pressure. To look after it, to store it, to use it, to dispose of it. Resist these pressures and try and simplify your life.

The benefits of a simple life are many – less hours are needed to work to pay off purchases. Less clutter means you can have a smaller house that is more economical to run. You can spend the money on things that really can give you joy – holidays, the garden, charity.

In terms of the garden, there are many opportunities to reduce consumption. Some ideas include:

  • Use less or no fertilisers because you have a worm farm or compost set up;
  • Don’t use pesticides or herbicides;
  • Mulch your garden to reduce to need to water;
  • Borrow or rent tools or machinery if you are not certain you will use them frequently;
  • Swap produce with others – share a glut of lemons, or swap zucchini for a few cuttings;
  • Try propagation – it is an easy way to multiple your own and other peoples plants. If you end up with a few, they can always be gifts as well;
  • Take care in planting – a happy plant lives and doesn’t waste the purchase price;
  • Replace the lawn with mulch or a low growing native grass or alternative such as dichondria and native violets in shady areas;
  • Buy in bulk – bulk mulch and manures can reduce the amount of plastic bags and will be cheaper. Perhaps a trailer of mulch can be shared;
  • Some garden equipment is just not necessary – leaf blowers for instance, just use a broom. It is better to get some exercise and save electricity and reduce noise pollution.
  • For a new item, see if you can borrow one or hire it to see if you like it, or think you will get a lot of use out of it.
  • Sweep pathways and driveways instead of hosing them, and follow any water restriction recommendations. Plant beds of plants that all have similar water needs, and be ruthless about moving one that requires more than others.
  • Aim to have most of your plants in the ground if possible, and cut down on the number of pot plants. This saves time, and water, and reduces expenses like potting mix and the pots.
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Sustainability

Everything that people do to survive has an impact on the environment. While for the most part we cannot change the world, we can help our little corner of it. We have seen the impacts of agriculture and industry, of city and suburban living and its often total destruction of the previous ecosystem. Your yard is your chance to turn this around in a small way. By starting to think about the environment in your yard, you and your family will gradually develop a greater awareness of the environment as a whole.

Don’t underestimate the power of your yard and home. For young children, the chance to see nature, to smell the earth, to get dirty and to see that food both comes from and returns to the earth is important. At any stage of life, the growing of something of beauty is an act of creation that can give great joy. We are often told to use mindfulness to reduce stress, and the simple act of slowing down to admire a leaf or watch a bee in a flower is a moment of peace that is free for everyone to enjoy.

The sustainability mantra of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ is probably a familiar one. For people that lived through the Great Depression the expression ‘use it up, make it do or go without’ was also a way of making sure that they squeezed every bit of use out of an object before it was cast aside. Today we live – at least in the developed nations – in a land of plenty, where many items are so cheap it is not worth the price or impossible to repair them. In times of high incomes and busy lives, the act of consumption can be a leisure activity, filling our lives with endless piles of things that clutter the house and add to stress rather than relieving it.

With an excellent waste pickup service in Australia, we are both lucky and unfortunate. Lucky because we live in a clean, safe environment without piles of debris, and wealthy enough that no one has to scavenge through landfill or live in one to make a living. There are many countries where waste pickup and disposal is haphazard. Unfortunate, because we don’t see the results of our consumption, the rubbish is out of sight and then out of mind. Sure, we recycle, but landfill space is at a premium, particularly when no one really wants to live near one.

Landfills are today, in Australia, managed well, with legislation to ensure this keeps happening. However we face a long legacy of poorly planned landfills that will continue to contaminate groundwater for generations, and produce methane gas for decades. A finished landfill can be landscaped to parklands and are often almost unrecognised for their history. Yet under the rolling grass is a pile of material which has to be managed to reduce or prevent air and groundwater contamination. Somewhere, buried and nearly forgotten, is your waste.

“Between 1996-97 and 2006-07, the volume of waste produced per person in Australia grew at an average annual rate of 5.4%. In 1996-97, Australians generated approximately 1,200kg of waste per person. By 2006-07, this had increased to 2,100kg per person.

International evidence suggests that economic growth contributes to growth in waste generated per person (Productivity Commission 2006). Australia's economic prosperity over the past couple of decades has contributed to the growing generation of waste. Australians are among the highest users of new technology, and waste from obsolete electronic goods (e-waste) is one of the fastest growing types of waste (ABS 2006).”(Australian Bureau of Statistics)

More things, more possessions will not increase you and your family’s happiness. Spare a thought for the less fortunate, in our country and others, and try and lesson your personal impact on our crowded planet.

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Helmeted Honeyeaters

Always wanted to know more about the helmeted honeyeater? This critically endangered local bird is the topic of a meeting organised by Wilson Park Australian Plans Society, Sunday April 10th, 2pm at the Beaconsfield Neighbourhood Centre on O’Neill Rd, Beaconsfield.

The helmeted honeyeater has been a focus of conservation groups for many years, and this hard work has paid off – enough birds have hatched in the wild that new populations can be established. This is important to protect the species in the long term. The Helmeted Honeyeater is the only bird deemed to be endemic to Victoria and in 1971 was chosen as this state’s bird emblem. Currently they are the subject of captive breeding programs at Healesville Sanctuary and in Melbourne and Taronga Zoos, as well as a monitored wild population at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve. Bob Anderson will be talking about the work of the Friends of the Helmeted honeyeaters at this reserve.

The birds are the largest of the honeyeater sub species, and are a distinctive looking bird with a bright yellow ear tuffs and crown, with the rest of the bird a darker olive colour. It is very territorial, and a pair will breed up to three times in the July – March breeding season.

They are quite specific in terms of the environment and vegetation they prefer. The birds prefer dense vegetation along riverbanks, subject to flooding and dominated by mountain swamp gum with a dense understorey of scented paperbark and woolly tea-tree, and of sedges and tussock grasses. Key habitat elements include the presence of peeling bark, closely spaced eucalypt stems and dense undergrowth.

The main plant species to be found in the preferred areas include tussock grasses and sedges, as well as: Eucalyptus camphora; E. Ovata; E. viminalis; Leptospermum lanigerum; and Melaleuca squarrosa.

They feed on lerps, invertebrates, nectar and sap. The chicks are fed on insects scavenged from peeling bark and mulch.

They face many threats from loss of habitat and predators such as foxes. The Public Meeting at Beaconsfield Community Centre next Sunday (10 April at 2.00 pm) will explore the possibilities of bringing the Helmeted honeyeater back to the Beaconsfield/Berwick area. There are sections of the Cardinia Creek valley where the vegetation appears to be very suitable, but two key issues remain:

  1. How can we protect the birds from the predators that are already there?
  2. Are there enough local residents prepared to assist the Helmeted Honeyeater Recovery team by, for example, erecting and maintaining fences and/or helping with any supplementary feeding programme?

If you can’t get to the meeting, please consider donating or joining the Friends of the helmeted honeyeater. More information can be found on their website http://www.helmetedhoneyeater.org.au/ . For more information on native plants, please visit http://www.apswilsonparkberwick.org.au

Information for this article sourced from Wikipedia, the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater website, and www.zoo.org.au. Photo courtesy of Alex Smart.

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Garden Planning

Planning a garden can be an exciting time. It is a time to dream of flowerbeds humming with bees, the croak of frogs at night, the scent of foliage as you brush past or after rain. There are as many garden variations as there are gardeners. And a garden can be as odd or as interesting as you wish. Who is to say that a garden wall covered in crockery mosaics, or using old washing machine or farming equipment as decorator items is wrong? Or the dedicated fruit and vegetable gardener with everything enclosed by wire mesh to keep out the birds? Or a hundred garden gnomes? If it gives you and your family pleasure, while also helping the environment, then that is a good thing.

Planning a garden means different things to different people, and it all depends on how you view the world. Are you a visual person, and meticulous with details? Perhaps sketching up a plan for your yard will be the way for you. More of a freeform thinker? The traditional mapping out a garden bed with the hose might work for you. No time and little interest in gardening? Maybe an expert can be called in to help you. Random plant buyer and non planner? Even knowing what will work in your garden can help you steer your impulses towards things that will work in the yard.

It doesn't really matter what sort of person you are if you don’t have a good idea of what you are dealing with for your yard. For novice and experienced gardeners alike the basics are important. Even an expert can get your garden wrong if you yourself do not have some idea of what you need.

The end of Summer is also a good time to look around the neighbourhood and see what is growing well, or what just isn’t working. For new suburbs you can get a feel for what might work in your yard, and there is probably a good chance of other houses similar to yours as well. For an established house and garden, a walk around is also helpful. Are they cursing weeds down the road or lopping a nuisance tree? For both old and new houses seeing how others have done it is helpful- both in terms of what to do, but also what not to do. A visit to local botanical gardens such as Cranbourne or Melbourne will also help, and staff are usually happy to help. Cranbourne Botanic Gardens have volunteer experienced plant and garden people that do guided tours, and these are well worth it to help form a picture of what you like and don’t like.

The planning time is also a time to assess what you have. If it is an established garden, it might be worth waiting for a season or two and see what comes up. This is important in say Spring, when most things look their best. It would be a shame to dig up something that is quite attractive or a prolific fruit bearer by accident. The established garden is also likely to have bulbs planted at some stage, and Spring will be the time most of them show. Even if you don’t like them, possibly someone else might, so you could dig them up and donate to friends or schools or fetes. Many natives and non natives have only one show of flowers, so if you don’t know what it is, wait for Spring at least.  Asking a neighbour is also useful, they may have admired your rare orchids that spring up, or a magpie that nests in a gum tree. Even a rental house may offer some surprises in a grevillea bush that flowers all year with no care at all. Many of these elements are worth preserving.

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Beneficial Insects

Bees are not the only pollinators in the garden, there are many other insects that a gardener should encourage. A garden can be a haven and a refuge for insect life, a little oasis in suburbs that must feel like toxic deserts to many creatures.

Beneficial insects perform many roles in the garden. Pollination by spreading pollen from one plant to another is done by bees, butterflies, moths, some flies, and wasps. Predatory species are often the larvae stage of more familiar bugs such as ladybirds. However other larvae that eat aphids include lacewings and hoverflies. Other predators are praying mantis, ants, spiders, parasitic wasps, some beetles, tachinid flies, dragonfly nymphs and there are several species of scale parasites. Many of these lay eggs on other pest species and their young then eat the living pest creature. Other smaller insects in the soil perform tasks such as breaking down rock into soil, digesting plant material, recycling and aerating soil. These include various worms, ants, beetles and millions of micro organisms.

There is a complex cycle of predator and prey in any ecosystem. While a garden might be a simpler system than nature, it is important that the overall picture is understood. For instance, an aphid infestation will attract predator insects in time, but if it is sprayed, the spray may kill predators as well. The aphids will breed up again, but the next time there will be fewer predators available.

Insects require a number of factors to make your garden a home. Food, shelter, water and a chemical free environment.

Food: for a variety of insects plant a range of flower size, colour and flowering time. For those that have herbs or vegetable gardens, the umbelliferous heads of flowering fennel, carrots and parsley attract insects.

Native groundcovers such as running postman, hibbertia and goodenia species attract moths, butterflies and bees. Grasses and rushes such as wallaby grass and lomandra and dianella provide shelter for butterflies and moths. Shrubs such as correas, grevillea, epacris, banksia, bursaria, acacia, and kunzia provide nectar. Climbers such as hardenburgia, clematis and pandorea have small flowers for the tinier insects. Trees such as eucalypt, acacia, and callistemon and melaleucas provide masses of flowers for nectar.

Shelter: provide undisturbed areas of flat rocks with overhangs, small logs and bark, natural mulch, and areas of undisturbed garden. Some people might like to build an insect hotel, with hollow stems of plants, wood with holes drilled in them, pine cones, and clay-sand mix in open ended containers.

Water: a tray with pebbles and water provides a safe perch for insects, as does a mud filled bowl.

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