Harry Clarke On economics, politics & other things

April 26, 2013


Filed under: biodiversity,gardening,native plants — hc @ 9:18 pm

On my local golf course a year or so ago I noticed a three metre high tree with bright yellow flowers that, after some weeks, were followed by attractively marked fruit.  I broke a small piece off and asked a few knowledgeable locals what it was but no one knew.  Finally I took the piece to the Kuranga Native Plant Nursery at Mount Evelyn on the outskirts of Melbourne for an ID.  They told me it was a type of Geebung namely Persoonia linearis  (image here) that is native to NSW and Victoria.  It is not that uncommon – and relatively easy to cultivate – but very difficult to propagate from seed or cuttings.  Kuranga didn’t have one available at the time so I put one on order and, after more than a year, Kuranga sent me a note saying they had it.  A long chase but I got it over the weekend.

Kuranga is well worth a visit if only to see the vast array of native Australian plants on display there.  Staff there are friendly and helpful.  I always buy far more than is sensible.  They had some Persoonia pinifolia for sale that, according to my native plant bible (Wrigley & Fagg) are the most handsome of all the Geebungs – take a look at these.  Yes, I’ll try those too.

For some reason (????) the euphonically named Geebungs are called snotty gobbles in South Australia and the NT.

January 19, 2013

Native gardens & fire

Filed under: conservation,gardening — hc @ 10:10 am

A friend of mine told me that he recently cut out all of his native plants to reduce fire risks. He owns a country property in an area with high biodiversity value. His house and property were threatened by the bad bush-fires we had in Victoria recently.  The same sentiments are expressed in this Canberra Times article – keep natives out of your backyard! I don’t agree with these views for three reasons: (1) We have a responsibility to protect native plant and animal communities particularly in rural areas; (ii)  There are many fire-resistant native species and information about such species (for particular parts of Australia) is widely available; (iii) The layout and design of gardens is important as well as the plants you choose.

Planting natives in your garden is a water and fertilizer-friendly way of conserving local biodiversity and provides an ongoing source of natural beauty, colours and textures. Native gardens can be adapted even to a formal traditional style if that is your cup of tea.  But of course if you do have a native garden you need to be aware of fire risks by appropriately choosing fire-resistant species native to your area and by designing the garden and maintaining the exterior of your property appropriately.

It alarms me that people will use any excuse to avoid accepting their conservation responsibilities.  There is a type of environmental “realist” ethic that is widespread that says let’s be practical and accept that total devastation of the local environment is an inevitable consequence of living decently.  It isn’t and this view reflects intellectual laziness, diminished aesthetic values and, of course, contempt for our native flora and fauna.

November 2, 2007

Australian National Botanical Gardens

Filed under: biodiversity,gardening — hc @ 11:03 am

Damien Eldridge sent me this link to the parlous state of Canberra’s Australian National Botanical Gardens. Jobs are being cut – 30% have disappeared over the past 20 years – and solvency is threatened by mounting water bills ($600,000 annually) and increased electricity charges. The claim is that the gardens are being poorly maintained.

These gardens are a unique Australian institution and the largest collection of native Australian plants – about 1/3 of all species – in the world. There is an enormous range of species covering a wide range of habitat types – rainforest gully plants and dry country plants within a short distance of each other. I am surprised at how few academics from the Australian National University use the gardens as it is within walking distance of the campus.

The article suggests that too much use of the gardens is being made for recreational purposes. I don’t see that. I am a regular visitor to the gardens when I am in Canberra. Its an obviously important place to look at flora (and avifauna!) but also a pleasant place to meet up with friends to have a coffee. I cannot see much conflict between these roles – investing in garden beds to provide paying customers should be one way of cross-subsidising the important conservation and scientific work the gardens provide.

It would be a national tragedy if this unique national asset was damaged or lost for what seems to be a fairly paltry amount of money.

October 25, 2007

Australian native plants: Flannel flowers

Filed under: gardening — hc @ 12:48 am

Where I grew up in a less-than-distinguished part of Sydney’s north shore our house was built on rocky outcrops close to bushland. I remember my father being keen on retaining whatever native plants existed on what was really an otherwise desolate block – one thing he retained for years was a self-seeding clump of flannel flowers (Actinotus helianthi). I have had an interest in them since though I’ve never tried growing them because of (misleading) tales I had heard about difficulties of doing so.

But this year – in Melbourne – I did. I planted a compact variety in a pot containing a fair bit of gravelly sand and a good quality (low phosphorus) native potting mix. The drainage was perfect.

It grew quickly to become a mass of flowers that has lasted weeks.

They liked more water than I had believed – they wilt demonstrably if deprived. Apart from that all I did was cut back the spent blooms after they flowered. They are a beautiful native flower that is easy to grow.

By the way the best flannel flowers I have seen in Melbourne are at the northern end of the Melbourne University’s student union. They are adjacent to one of the best flowering waratahs I have seen in this city.

This whole area features West Australian banksias and dryandras – there is at least one very knowledgeable gardener at the University! The Melbourne campus has some spectacular shrubs and trees – near the Old Geology Building are a pair of male and female Ginkgo Giloba, a source of the widely-used brain food. These trees are also the best I’ve seen in Melbourne.

I should mention that the Melaleuca blog is good on native plants – this are some of Mel’s favourite native plants.

March 10, 2007

Gardening with native Australian plants

Filed under: gardening — hc @ 9:53 pm

I posted earlier than I’ve been having fun growing Australian native plants from seed. I grew some Kangaroo paws – they are dead easy. I then had a shot at some Blackboys (Xanthorrhoea). I planted 32 seeds and now have 20 seedlings about 8 cm high. These extraordinary plants are incredibly slow growing – they grow a metre every 100 years – but will last 600 years. If I can persuade my kids to get their kids to look after these beasts (and by using cryonics to return me in about 100 years hence) I should see some reasonable garden shrubs. By the way the term ‘blackboy’ is the aboriginal term for a ‘black boy’ – it doesn’t seem racist to me though substitute the word ‘grass tree’ if it does. I never seek to offend indigenous Australians.

I went out to Kuranga Native Nursery today at Mount Evelyn – about 40 km north-east of Melbourne. It is a scenic area not far from the Dandenong Ranges. Kuranga has a superb range of native plants, as well as friendly and helpful staff and a restaurant where you can have a decent glass of pinot. I am not an intelligent native plant shopper – I admit my irrationalities – I go for novel and extreme rather than sensible plants that have a reasonable chance of survival. Kuranga has induced me (the bastards!) into half a dozen attempts to try to grow Banksia coccinea. This in my view is one of the best native cut flowers in Australia – long-lasting and gorgeous coloring – see the photo above. The plants I have bought last for 6-12 months and then, almost overnight, turned up their heels. I welcome advice.

Today I bought some cycads, a compact form of the Flannel flower (a tricky wretch that likes to be kept moist but suffers from fungal problems), one of two native Australian rhododendrons (a vireya species R. lochiae) which tends to become ‘leggy’ (OK dummy, prune it) but which has great flowers – I have never seen an actual specimen of the other Australian vireya, R. notiale. Finally, I got some ferns Kuranga were selling cheap and a Davidson’s (bush-tucker plum) – my previous effort died during the Melbourne winter – I will give it more protection this winter.

I recommend Kuranga if you are in Melbourne and I am not being paid to advertise.

January 27, 2007

In the wake of Australia Day

Filed under: gardening — hc @ 6:22 pm

I had a quiet Saturday making yet another attempt to grow Kangaroo Paws from seed. A few years ago I did the whole thing carefully – first soaking the pots in bleach and cooking the seeding mix for 30 minutes at 180 degrees C to kill bugs – and had brilliant success with dozens of healthy plants germinating.

So this year I meticulously did everything according to the book. I planted some mixed colour Anigozanthos flavidus and some of the short-lived, red and green Anigozanthos manglesii seed.

Of course KPs are West Australian plants so this exercise fails to reach my intent of planting only local native species. But the KPs that I have grown in the past were not so good this year because of Ink Disease that blackens the leaves, and because some of the species I grew only last for a few years anyway.

I’ve just learned that KPs regenerate from points below ground level so that the best way to get healthy plants is to cut them right back to this level once they have flowered.

Another thrilling Saturday in suburbia!

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