Saturday, September 23, 2006

bobby's reflections
Western Australia is famous for it's unique flora, with over 6000 species endemic to the region.Maria and I arrived in mid-September,springtime downunder.On the drive in from Perth airport one's eyes greedily devour the new flora.This devouring is confined, at first to the embankments and roadside margins of the motorways.Later we discover that roadside margins are a rich souce of native flora in W.A.
One is struck by the strange and exitic , at least to our eyes, the emerging tall spikes of the grasstrees,Xanthorrhoea preissii,and the exhuberant palm like fronds of the Zamnia. The ground is carpeted with cape daisiesArctotheca calendula, a weed from South Africa,now as common as our daisies and spread throughout Southwest Australia,causing many problems for livestock.
Another outsider but this time a welcome one to Australians is the large trellis type tree, the Norfolk Island Pine,Araucaria heterophylla,which has been adopted by the Australians as a symbol of their past maritime history.George Seddon, the well known writer and commentator, suggests it's popularity was due to "its striking verticality in a mostly flat continent , together with dark green foliage that reads well in the strong light intensities of most of Australia."While we were there a relation of this pine ,the Wollemi pine was found in some remote valley in South East A
ustralia . It is now being launched on the gardening market.For patriotic reasons alone it should prove popular in Australia.
Green is a colour that we take for granted in Ireland. One can imagine the sense of longing Europeans had for this colour amidst the bright grey greens of Australia.Any way all along this coast on the beach esplanades ,in suburban gardens,in municipal parks the green distinctive Norfolk Island Pine stands as some kind of antipodean symbol.My sister's front garden has one.This became our landmark when ever we might feel lost.Here it is known as a christmas tree and it is used as a christmas tree in December.The nostalgia for green European forests must be very strong.
The flora of Perth's suburban gardens seems to be of Mediterranean or South African origin,that is on first observation.Nearly every garden has Osteospermum spreading out to its manicured lawns.It seems because South Africa and S.W. Australia have a similar geology and climate that plants in one region will do well in the other.This is true but with a an ecological health warning .Many of South Africa's bulbous species have become S.West's worst weeds.When we continued our journey further south towards the more temperate humid regions around Busselton and Albany we often found the fields and woods over grown with Watsonias,freesias,Arum lilies and Lupins. When we were there the weather was as cool as any cool Spring day in Ireland.One begins to wonder that with global warming how many of our tender and well behaved plants will grow robust and play truant across the Irish countryside.Rhododendron Ponticum and Gunnera have already shown the way. Last summer in the West of Ireland's most prominent garden I saw gunnera for sale in pots while along Connemara's coastal roadways they are spreading unchecked.
Australia has a unique flora and fauna and is becoming rapidly aware of how much it is threatened by cavalier introductions of foreign species.Introduced species can have a catotrosphic effect on a native ecosystem.Little grows under Rhododendron on a western hillside .
W.Australia has a about 1000 weed species all brought in by European methods of agriculture and horticulture.Often where the plough went the weed followed .Some weeds are a nuisance .The capeweed mentioned above is unpalatable to stock and spreads aggressively suppressing native plants.But the case against introduced weed species is not conclusive.Willows which populate many of Melbourne's streams can retain more sediments and nutrients than native euclypts can. Yet the argument against willows seems to have been won as on a walk along the suburban River Merri in Melbourne notices were announcing that the willows were to be removed by the local council.
In W.A. another strange proactive strategy is taking place to combat the destructive influences of introduced mammals,like foxes and cats.It was discovered that the gastrolobium plant , a member of the pea family,is poisonous to mammals but not to the native marsupials .So the government department of Conservation and Land Management"C.A.L.M."has dropped many carcasses containing a poison called 1080 [ an extract from the gastrolobium plant] within their extensive national parks.The fox population has dropped 40% since the programme has started.At every national park path or carpark the public are warned not to bring their pets into the park because of the 1080 project.So the native plant species are striking a blow in defence of the native marsupials. I trust that the native bush will once again be teeming with tiny or even big marsupials.
The fascination that West Australians have for flora swings from the giants of the forest to the tiniest spring flowers that grow all over the forest floor ,the wheatbelt and the bush.Throughout much of the southwest stand the last remnants of ancient forests which escaped the axe and chainsaw of the loggers.The greatest are the Tingle trees found in the Valley of the Giants ,near Walpole.These are regarded as the tallest and greatest of the eucalyptus trees.they have a rough reddish bark and the oldest have like some old , very old granny developed pimples and carbuncles which give them a somewhat comical look.These trees soar up to 75 metres and are 400years old.Why have they survived for so long ?A miracle of nature?Partly.They lie in a protected valley open to the prevailing rain laden winds from the cool south,remember this is in the southern hemisphere.So if Australia is becoming drier this little enclave still recieves enough rainfall to ensure the survival of these few hundred arboreal giants.How long will they survive?W. Australia'sC.A.L.M.hopes for a very long time, because they have invested in a spectacular tree top walk .For some reason that I cannot fathom Australians love viewing nature from above and so their tree top walk soars 40 metres into the canopy of the forest.Itis about 600 metres in length . It is an exhilirating experience, that is if you dont suffer from vertigo.I found it a little unnerving when the metal walkway began to throb .Some nervous walkers were forced to crouch down on the walkway .The source of this shaking was a forty year old male, who should have known better, try ing to frighten his teenage daughters. His wife arrived with younger children and with one withering look all silliness ceased.One arrived at the end of the walk with a sense of satisfaction and relief .The other arboreal challenge in a nearbye Karri forest is to climb the 100 metre Goucester Tree.I was relieved to find that all climbing on the day that I arrived to climb was not allowed because of high winds.I even took a photograph of the notice of high winds,to prove I was prevented from realising a cherished ambition.!
A few days after being in the dizzying heights of the Tingle Trees we turned our attentions to the tiny orchids of the Stirling Ranges.The Orchidaceae is the world's largest plant family ,containing over 30000 species.We usually associate orchids with the epiphytes of the tropics, but all of the orchids of S.W. Australia are terrestrial ,that is they grow out of the ground.There are about 200 species, mostly found in dappled woodland and as we found they are discovered very close to roadside verges at the edge of woodland.In these woodland habitats the orchids are found throughout S.W. Australia but in the Stirling Ranges we took a guided tour .At 9a.m.on Weds Oct. 2nd we found ourselves in a minibus with 20 other flower "bods"many totally conversant with the minute differenttiations of the Orchid world.The prima donnas of this orchid world are the Spider Orchid s, who boast such names as Dwarf, Zebra,Wispy,Purple-Veined,Fringed Mantis, King, and many more esoterically descriptive names.Our guide ,Aileen , was good humourously accepting of all nomenclatures,thinking it was all rather arbitrary since nature in the work of the European bee was now cross pollinating most of the orchids ,leading to unknown and spectacular looking Spider Orchids.Much debate was spent on whether a certain orchid was a Leaping Spider Orchid or a Broad Lipped Spider Orchid or some such conversation.However on our tour we came across a possee of excited photographers all gathered around a spot ,complete with tripods and massive lenses.This must be important.The rare King Spider Orchid was found , a wonderful discovery, but growing beside it was The Esperance King Spider Orchid.Esperance is over 300 kilometres away .How did the seed come this far? One of the most acceptable theories was that it came on the wheels of the huge roadtrains that pass by every few minutes.Who were we to suggest otherwise?
The orchids are found all over the bush like woods of S.W. Australia in spring.They are wonderful to discover and one feels priveleged to be in their company for just that on e flowering moment in their short lives.

W.Australia is full of wonderful wild flowers but are many of them garden worthy ? As I stated earlier their gardens tend to be still very influenced by European tastes,with a great longing for the English garden evident everywhere.This fashion for a non - native garden leads to a high water , high fertiliser regime in gardening .Water is a precious commodity in an arid environment and fertilisers have proven to be toxic to many native plants especially to the Protea family.If gardeners in Australia could be persuaded to grow native it would save water and do much to conserve the environment.
The Perth Botanic Gardens ,situated in the picturesque King's Park, have taken a lead in returning to the native habitat as a source of inspiration for Australia's gardens.
One of it's recent projects was to return all bush in it's grounds to it's native plantings by removing all "foreign" plant introductions.
On Sept. 21st -24th 2005 The Kings Park Native Wildflower Show is its great garden event which broadcasts its advocacy of growing native species.When we visited the show the sun was shining down on a huge tented village ,resplendent with flags, set on the edge of a bush area with a vast colourfully planted native garden.This garden was a mix of many different styles cottage, formal,herbaceous borders,coloured pots and stone mulches. There was a missionary spirit about the exhibition .In the gardens there were large notices explaining how to garden native species ,while in the tents we explored exhibits about such subjects as how smoky water encourages plant growth ,how trigger plants grow in containers ,even in boots,the dangers of die back in the bush due to backpacking, and how native trees can remove harmfull toxins from the ground.
We were to see many of the plants in their native habitat in the ensuing weeks.The plants that caught our eye were the Kangaroo Paws, the floral emblem of W.A. ,Anigozanthus manglesii ,the prairie fields of everlasting flowers Rhodanthe manglesii, the charming little triggerplants Stylidium, and the brilliant blues of the Leschenaultia.

The shrubs were represented by a huge display of Geraldton Waxes ,Chamelaucium ,a popular shrub in W.A. so much so that it is now becoming invasive far from it's usual habitat.
Returning to the question of Native garden worthy plants .Yes it is an ideal worth aiming for the sake of the environment ,but will the gardening public be won over ?
From my point of view it will take a lot of persuasion .The native plants give a wonderful display in the down under spring ,but only in the spring . There are very few plants to carry on the baton in to the hot summers ,except those foreign thirsty exotics and it will be a long time before the public will give them up.
Untended native gardens revert quickly to looking very "bush" like and the Austrlian psyche has an inherent fear of the great beyond of the bush .
As we left the show the native gardens stretched in great stretches of colour across the bush area and the eye was caught by a little shack nestling in against an old sheoak.Maybe it is through such sentimental scenes as this the native plant argument will be won. More on this when we continue our garden oddyssey to Melbourne in the next article.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Tulips are at that fully giving stage, their petals wide open with stamens fully revealed to rvery passing eye and bee.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Melbourne garden portrays French chic with neat box hedges planted above native Melbourne bluestone rock. White roses tumble, probably Rosa Iceberg, through the black railings.There are two other companion houses done also in a black and white theme.

This an untypical front garden in the Churchtown area of south Dublin . Is it the way of the future front garden ? There is no lawn thus no unnecessary grass cutting and the owners having been weaned from the obsession of a lawn will save much pollutants from the lawnmower. The garden is pleasant and interesting , extremely low maintenace ,as the ground cover Geranium Phaem excludes all weeds .On a sunny day the garden will be alive with bees while the shrubs around ,many non-natives will each in turn strut its stuff in the appropriate month.

Monday, May 15, 2006