Saturday, 8 September 2018

Garden inspiration: a threatened species

It's Threatened Species Week this week, so I thought I'd share something a little different. This is a plant I'd have like to under 'Try growing'...but it's unlikely to be with us for much longer. 

The plant is Scrub Turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens) and it's a tree that's threatened by the invasive Myrtle Rust (Puccinia psidii) to the point that it has been given a preliminary listing of Critically Endangered in New South Wales. Here are a couple of plants in relatively good health. Most look much more miserable or have actually died. 

Scrub Turpentine can become a fairly
large tree. This is the largest healthy one
 I've seen in recent years. 

This little specimen is growing in
 central Wollongong near Woolworths.
 The yellow spots on some of the leaves
are patches of Myrtle Rust.

These leaves are Myrtle Rust-free,
which is a very unusual sight these days.

I wish I could tell you to pop a couple of these in your garden to create shade and give food for the birds. But unfortunately Myrtle Rust, discovered in Australia in 2010, kills its new growth and generally stops established plants from producing fruit. It also attackes the new leaves, and particularly the seedlings. Very few plants seem to have resistance, although one plant in the Berry area has produced fruit recently so we shouldn't give up hope just yet. Perhaps, with ongoing research into the species, I might be able to recommend growing it in a decade or two's time. 

At least one Scrub Turpentine is still producing viable
 fruit, so there may be some hope for the species. 

Threatened Species Week is a time to reflect on what we can do to protect threatened species, and also avoid adding to the number that are under threat. Keeping an eye out for unusual pests or problems on the plants in your garden, and being careful to avoid invasive or weedy introduced species, are a couple of small steps we can all take. 

And here's an article by the Invasive Species Council that tells the sad tale of Myrtle Rust's spread in Australia, and makes some suggestions for preventing similar disastrous incursions by other species in future. 

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Try growing: Illawarra's native orchids

OK so I've posted on native orchids before, but more from the perspective of what just happened to be growing in the garden. A few years on and I've learned that there are a lot of orchids native to the Illawarra region that do well and look good in cultivation.

The most obvious candidate is the well-known Sydney Rock Orchid (Dendrobium speciosum), which can be seen in full flower right now in gardens around the region. It grows naturally on rocks, but can also be grown on tree stumps or in well-drained spots directly on the ground. Around 75% sun is about ideal, but plants can cope with more or less sun than that. Keep them on the dry side, as overwatering can damage or even kill them off. 

Sydney Rock Orchid flowering well in full sun.
Image by Kath Gadd.

It's fairly easy to obtain plants of this species. Much less so for some of the other Dendrobiums, although several are also excellent and interesting garden plants. One, the Bridal Veil Orchid (Dendrobium teretifolium) has a spectacular display of delicate, spidery-looking flowers in early spring. 

The delicate flowers of the Bridal Veil
Orchid. Image by Carl Glaister.

Some local orchids are as appealing for their scent as their appearance. Foremost among them is the Orange Blossom Orchid, a small orchid that grows on tree trunks and produces beautiful white flowers with a distinctive orange scent.  

The flowers of Orange Blossom Orchid.
Image by Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.

Orange Blossom Orchid grows naturally on the trunks of
native trees such as this Red Cedar (Toona ciliata).
Image by Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.

It is hard to get hold of plants, but they are very rewarding to grow if your garden has a suitable tree to host them. They do best on a rough-barked tree, in semi-shade conditions. Occasional watering during spring and summer will help them along. 

All the orchids described above grow naturally on rocks or tree trunks (or both). But there are also many species that grow in the ground (and these are known as terrestrial orchids). A few of these can be cultivated without too much effort. One that is well worth trying is the Blunt Greenhood (Pterostylis curta), a ground orchid with pretty little bonnet-shaped flowers. If you can get hold of a plant it should be with you for many a year, grown in a pot or in well-drained soil.

Blunt Greenhood flowering well in
 August 2018.

If you're keen to find out more about local native orchid species, or grow some for yourself, you could do worse than visit the spring show of the Australian Native Orchid Society (Illawarra), which is on next weekend 8-9 September at the Old Courthouse in Wollongong. You can see a range of orchid grown in pots, talk to orchid experts, buy orchids and even have your ratty old plants repotted and looked after for a nominal fee. 

There are also some good online resources on cultivating Australian orchids, particularly Brian Walters' article Starting out with native orchids.

Happy gardening!

Post script. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't also orchids on display at the Illawarra Grevillea Park, which is open this weekend and next from 10-4. Bonus plant sales and guided walks too!

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Get active: support a vision of Wollongong Botanic Garden with more local native plantings!

OK I know most of us just want to have a quiet time enjoying the good things in life and a spot of gardening. But for those in the Wollongong LGA, or who visit the area, there's an important opportunity right now to help determine the future direction of Wollongong Botanic Garden. 

A quick snap of Bangalow Palms (Archontophoenix
) in the rainforest gully. 

A draft Wollongong Botanic Garden Masterplan has been released for public consultation, and we have until Monday 3 September (yes, only two weeks away!) to provide comments. 

Tthis plan recommends something really significant: expanding the garden's existing collections into the Kooloobong Oval area with rainforest plantings that help link the rainforest walk area of the gardens to Mount Keira. (See p27 for the key bullet points.)

Mount Keira and the Wollongong Botanic Garden are very close to each other physically, but at the moment there's limited connectivity between them. Imagine how good it would be if you could walk from the rainforest areas of the gardens to the Ken Ausburn Track at the base of Mt Keira through continuous native plantings!

And, I'm sorry to say it, but this vision is currently under threat, because the University of Wollongong has proposed a voluntary planning agreement that would convert the ovals area to a synthetic turf area leased to the University for 20 years.

Please have your say by September 3, through the Wollongong City Council website or by emailing councillors.  You could support the proposal to keep the current uses of the ovals area, and extension of rainforest plantings into this area, and to increase the links between the Garden and Mount Keira.

There are lots of other issues to consider in the draft Masterplan, around adding a cafe, what will happen to Glennifer Brae (keep the Con!) and so on, but the future of the ovals area is very much about Going Native in the Illawarra. I hope you'll find a few minutes to let Council know your views and support an extension of rainforest plantings in the ovals area! 

A healthy Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa) in the
woodland area of Wollongong Botanic Garden.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Garden inspiration: Wisemans Park and the Illawarra Flame Festival

Well it's been a warm and dry winter so far, and with the long-range forecast suggesting more of the same (or worse), it's hard to find natural areas that are looking inspirational in any conventional sense. That's to say, if you're after lush greenery and plants looking their absolute glossy, showy best, you will be disappointed almost wherever you look. 

But next Sunday August 19, there's a different form of inspiration on display at Wisemans Park in Gwynneville. It's the Flame Tree Festival, an arts and sciences festival that looks at how flame affects our lives. There are all sorts of presentations, performances and activities, all happening on or near Wisemans Park between 10am and 2pm. You can find out more about building in bushfire prone areas, shop for local native plants, or watch fire buskers do their thing. It's a family-friendly event and you can find out more here or on facebook

Wisemans Park itself is profoundly inspirational, though not in a glossy showy way. It contains one of the very few remaining pockets of Illawarra Lowlands Grassy Woodlands, a critically endangered ecological community that has been almost completely obliterated by development on the Illawarra coastal plain. Here you can see a range of understorey species like Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) and Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides), growing beneath striking local eucalypts like White Stringybark (Eucalyptus globoidea) and Forest Red Gum (E. tereticornis).

Kangaroo Grass understorey at Wisemans Park.
 Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0

As well as hosting a critically endangered ecological community, Wisemans Park also contains some unusual and endangered species. You might see a Scrub Turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens), a species that has been nearly wiped out by a Myrtle Rust that reached Australia less than a decade ago. And you could come across a Red Kamala (Mallotus philippensis), a pretty little tree whose viability is being threatened by the hordes of deer that are running rampant in the Illawarra. They just love eating its seedlings!

Gunning for an All-time Worst Photo Award
here, this is a Scrub Turpentine that is
growing at Wisemans Park.
If you come along to Wisemans Park on the 19th at 10.30am or 12.30pm, you can join botanist and horticulturist Carl Glaister on a guided tour of the park, and see some of its wonders for yourself. 

You can also find lists of species that grow in the area on the Illawarra Bushland Database, or head down to explore for yourself. Who knows, you might see some of the orchids that have been recorded in the area!

Tiny Rock Ferns and Vanilla Lilies, holding
on in weed-free areas of Wisemans Park,
 are some of the inspirational local plants. 

Another of the park's amazing eucalypts
is Cabbage Gum (Eucalyptus amplifolia).
Image by Byron Cawthorne-Mcgregor.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Try growing: Native Holly (Alchornea ilicifolia)

Native Holly (Alchornea ilicifolia) is one of my very favourite local native plants. It has an absolute heap of potential, but is almost never used in horticulture. So I thought I'd rant about it a bit here!

By way of introduction, Native Holly is a rainforest shrub, bushy or somewhat sparse depending on conditions and how it is treated. It generally reaches around 2m high as an understorey species growing beneath rainforest trees or eucalypts, but can occasionally become a small tree itself, to around 4m high in ideal conditions. It is named for its slightly prickly leaves that look like those of European Holly bushes (Ilex sp.)

A hedge of Native Holly at Wollongong Botanic Garden.
Here it is growing underneath eucalypt trees.

The main challenge for me with this species is finding nice photographs of it doing well in cultivation! The above is about the best I could come up with. I know of quite a few in gardens, including my own, but they are all young plants and have not yet established a solid form, either hedge, shrub or tree. The plants at Wollongong Botanic Garden are the exception, and well worth a visit if you are down there near the Towri Centre. 

Native Holly leaves are quite distinctive,
and not as prickly as they look!

The new foliage of this species is one of its main features. It can be a vibrant purplish- or pinkish-red, as in the shot below. The flowers and fruit are nothing to write home about, and certainly don't match the bright red fruits of European Holly bushes, but they do attract a range of birds and arthropods/insects. 

New foliage, showing the distinctive bright colours this
species can produce. This shot was taken in lowland
subtropical rainforest in the Berkeley hills area, which is
sadly now almost entirely denuded of its original forest.

Native Holly is outstandingly tough and can cope with most conditions around the Illawarra, though it prefers well-drained soils and somewhat shady conditions. Grown in full sun it will cope quite well, but the leaves may yellow a bit. Regular pruning helps to keep plants compact. 

One interesting feature of this plant I've discovered recently is that, although it is hard to propagate, new seedlings will pop up around the base of established plants. If you already have one Native Holly in your garden, this is a good way to get more!

A tiny young Native Holly.

Late addition: I should note that more comprehensive details about this plant and how to grow it will be included on the Growing Illawarra Natives website - when we launch it!!!

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Get active: ask your council to plant a local tree on your verge!

This blog is mostly about growing local native plants on your own property: your garden, your courtyard, your balcony, your acreage. But just one step beyond is the verge, a narrow strip of land separating urban blocks from the road, and just ripe for the picking (or planting!). 

Owned by the local council and managed by adjacent land-owners, the verge is a site full of potential for urban biodiversity, if only we could get our collective acts together. And this is perfectly possible! If you have a verge outside your place (and it doesn't have overhead power lines), chances are that you can work with your council to get a native tree or two planted. The council will probably prefer to do the planting, but if you volunteer for watering and weeding they are likely to give you what you want. 

A young White Aspen (Acronychia oblongifolia)
planted in Fairy Meadow as part of a street tree
 planting trial. 

Many local tree species are already doing well on nature strips around the region, having been planted over the last thirty to fifty years. Here are photos of some of the standouts: 

Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) is a tried and true
native tree for a range of conditions. It doesn't
shed messy fruit and attracts a range of birds.
Image by Mithra
Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0

Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta)
 is a great small eucalypt that grows well
 on most soils of the region
.  Image by
Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Many rainforest species make great street trees.
Here is a Brush Cherry (Syzygium australe) doing
well in full sun on the escarpment foothills.
Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Boobialla (Myoporum acuminatum) does not always
 form such a neat shapely tree as this, but when it does,
it is one of the most attractive local tree species.
 Image by Byron Cawthorne-MacGregor.

And last but not least, the mighty Turpentine (Syncarpia
 glomulifera), a large tree, but one that provides outstanding 

habitat for local fauna. Image by Byron Cawthorne-MacGregor.

These are just a few of the local tree species that can be grown on verges. Councils might offer you Water Gum (Tristaniopsis laurina) or Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis anarcardioides), but these are already widely planted well outside their natural distibutions, so try asking for something different!

Let us know in the comments how you go!

Monday, 25 June 2018

Try growing: Native meadows

A while back, I did a post on native meadows. That was a 'garden inspiration' post though, and didn't provide that many practical ideas and hints. So I'm following up now with a guest post by Mithra Cox, with some tips and tricks on establishing a native meadow in your garden. Mithra says....

An alternative to lawn is the use of native meadows. They are hardy, low maintenance, create habitat, increase biodiversity, and best of all they look beautiful. They can be sprinkled with native flowers such as Native Bluebell (Wahlenbergia communis), Grass Daisy (Brachyscombe graminea), Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi) in sandy soils, or Everlasting Daisies (Xerochrysum bracteatum).

Different species will work better depending if you want longer or shorter grass, whether the area is in full sun or part shade, and your soil type. As a general rule, in a larger space, a taller meadow will look better, and in a smaller space or courtyard choose smaller species to match the dimensions.

For a taller meadow that only requires mowing once a year or so, try Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) and Tussock Grass (Poa labillardieri). These tall grasses can grow knee high or thigh high, and will work best in full sun and can be grown with taller wildflowers such as Everlasting Daisies, Grass Daisy and Flannel Flowers.

A natural meadow of Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra). This look
can easily be adapted to a garden setting.
Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0

For a shorter, softer meadow try Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides).  As its name suggests, this grass has a graceful weeping seed head, and is soft under foot.  It will do best in dappled or part shade, and when protected from the full sun does a good job of out-competing introduced grasses like Buffalo Grass, Couch and Kikuyu.

A Weeping Grass lawn does well in dappled shade.
Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Weeping Grass can be paired with gorgeous Native Bluebells (Wahlenbergia communis).  In a shadier spot, Weeping Grass can also be mixed with Native Violets (Viola hederacea or Viola betonicifolia), Basket Grass (Oplismenus aemulus) and Pennyworts (Hydrocotyle geraniifolia, Hydrocotyle peduncularis or Hydrocotyle tripartita).

This native lawn is biodiverse and very low maintenance (requires mowing twice in summer and never in winter).  Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Species visible in the above photo include Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides), Pennywort (Hydrocotyle tripartita), Kidney Weed (Dichondra repens), White Clover (Trifolium repens, a non-native), and Basket Grass (Oplismenus aemulus). These species would be a good choice for a courtyard garden or to the south side of a building as they are low to the ground and prefer a shady spot.

All meadows require very little mowing – in fact it is important not to mow them until your flowers have finished and have set seed.  Most native grasses have deep roots that make them resilient to drought. Many species respond well to burning instead of mowing, but that may raise a few eyebrows in the neighbourhood and we do not recommend it!

For coastal gardens, the Illawarra even hosts a salt-tolerant grass, Saltwater Couch (Sporobolus virginicus). It can be mown or left to grow naturally, as shown in this shot taken at Bass Point.