Saturday, 15 June 2019

Garden inspiration: Wollamai Point

I've been doing 'garden inspiration' posts for a few years now, and hoping they touch a few hearts and get a few new species planted. But to be honest I'm not really sure what inspires who to do what these days! It's a strange old world where a simple plea to look after local plant communities can turn out to be just another salvo in a toxic Culture War.

But still, the amazing local bushland and parkland areas around the Illawarra are pretty inspiring! Here are a few shots from Wollamai Point on Lake Illawarra to get you thinking. It's a beautiful spot for a wander or just to sit down and contemplate nature. 
She-oaks and other trees fringing Lake Illawarra.

A crazy tangle of Native Hibiscus (H. diversifolius)
plus She-oaks and vines, growing along the main
path through the vegetation at Wollomai Point.

There are quite a few interesting and rare plant species on this site, including the rare White-flowered Wax Plant (Cynanchum elegans). It's a wonderful spot to explore. 


This is Resin Vine (Aphanopetalum resinosum), a good garden
 substitute for Jasmine species. 

Black-fruited Sedge (Cyperus tetraphyllus), a tough sedge but one
 vulnerable to weed invasion. We saved these plants (for now!) from
 being swamped by Winter Grass (Ehrharta erecata). 


The trunk of a massive Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla)
- these guys are just sooo hard to photograph.

The pictures show just a tiny proportion of the plants that grow at Wollamai Point, and many of them are eminently suitable to use in local gardens. I hope many more people will soon have local rainforest species in their gardens!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Get active: participate in Wollongong City Council's Environmental Sustainability Review!

Do you want to see more local native plants grown in Illawarra gardens? How about more local native street trees? Better protection for the Illawarra escarpment and the remnant bushland still growing in our suburbs? And how about local policies and strategies that put environmental sustainability first and foremost? 

Then (if you live in the Wollongong local government area) you've got a chance to have your say on these issues and more? 

Wollongong City Council is reviewing its Environmental Sustainability Policy and Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2014-22

The consultation process starts with a community workshop on May 29 - you can sign up here. After that, once updates have been drafted by Council staff, there should be an opportunity for public comment. 

This is a good chance to advocate for more local native street trees, more effort to conserve and protect remaining areas of natural vegetation and for stronger efforts to reduce Council carbon emissions and waste. Gratuitous plant images below, seeing as you've read this far!

Grey Ironbark (Eucalyptus paniculata) growing in Towradgi, and providing
 at least a bit of shade on a wide street. Image by Emma Rooksby.

One of the more commonly-grown native trees
is Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus). These
trees are growing in Mount Pleasant, flanked by
Coastal Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa), native
 sedges and (yes) some Murraya (M. paniculata).
Image by Leon Fuller.

Rarely seen in cultivation, but still a
magnificent tree, Ribbonwood
(Euroschinus falcatus) could be much
 more widely grown in the region.
Image by Byron Cawthorne-McGregor.
The Illawarra escarpment, with Coachwoods (Ceratopetalum apetalum)
 in full bloom. Image by Leon Fuller. 

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Try growing: local Illawarra ferns

Native Australian ferns were all the rage in the seventies - growing in gardens, bathrooms and of course in home-made hanging macrame pot-holders. You could get Hare's-foot Fern (Davallia solida), Mother Spleenwort (Asplenium bulbiferum, also known as Hen and Chickens) and of course good old Fishbone Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia), which is now a dreadful weed in many parts of Australia. Ah those were the days!

It's hard to find a good range of local ferns now, but a select few are widely available. Some of the most versatile, like Bird's Nest Fern and Maidenhair Fern, are regulars at certain large hardware shops, while the Tree Ferns are often sold by native plant nurseries.


One of the classic native ferns that grow in the region, Bird's Nest Fern grows on rocks or trees, or sometimes on the ground, and can reach up to 2m across. Baby plants are minute, and may be found growing on damp spots in gardens, even on shady brick walls. It's a great display fern for a rainforest garden. Image by Emma Rooksby.

Maidenhair Fern can be seen growing in gardens around the Illawarra, usually in damp areas with dappled sun. Here it's happily paired up with Native Violet (Viola hederacea). Image by Emma Rooksby.

Straw Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi, also called Cooper's Tree Fern) has a very slender trunk covered with distinctive lozenge-shaped marks where the old fronds have detached. It prefers damp and sheltered areas, but will cope with part sun in these conditions. Image by Emma Rooksby.

Rough Tree Fern (Cyathea australis) grows well in the Illawarra region, and will be fine in full sunlight as long as it gets regular moisture. Growing lower plants around its base will help retain soil moisture by preventing evaporation. Image by Emma Rooksby.

If you look around you may find other local ferns for sale. Wollongong Botanic Garden's GreenPlan Nursery regularly has these species, and quite a few others. 


Prickly Rasp Fern (Doodia aspera) is one of the toughest native ferns and will grow in relatively dry, exposed spots. It tends to form wide clumps, given the chance. The reddish colour of new fronds is a great feature of this species. Image by Elena Martinez.

Rough Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum hispidulum) is as tough as regular Maidenhair Fern (A. aethiopicum) but has larger fronds with an interesting shape. This plant is growing in part sun in Mangerton. Image by Emma Rooksby. 

The unfortunately-named Gristle Fern (Blechnum cartilagineum) is another fabulously tough local fern (well, tough for a fern at least!). It is one of the larger ground ferns, and can form clumps a couple of metres across in good conditions. 

Jungle Brake (Pteris umbrosa) is a bit harder to come by, but amazingly decorative if you can find it. Its large, dark green fronds can reach up to 1m tall or even taller. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Sadly, some of the real cuties are difficult to buy. Here's just a sample of a couple of them. 


If only Necklace Fern (Asplenium flabellifolium) were available in nurseries. It's such a pretty little plant, and will ramble around next to rocks or fallen logs, creating a green carpet effect. It's a great place for lizards to hide. Image by Elena Martinez.

The ever-fabulous Fragrant Fern (Microsorum scandens) doing its thing up a large rainforest tree on the foothills of Mount Keira. This fern is very ornamental with its climbing habit and the different shapes of its fertile and non-fertile fronds. You can see it growing on a Tree Fern at Mount Keira Scout Camp (near the swimming pool). Sadly it's very hard to obtain. Image by Emma Rooksby.

And last but not least, Rock Felt Fern (Pyrrosia rupestris) will grow on rocks, trees, logs and even in the ground. It too has differently shaped fertile and non-fertile fronds, which make quite a contrast. This plant would be popular if only people could get hold of it. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
These ferns have a million and one uses in gardens and landscaping around the Illawarra region. In rainforest gardens, cool damp areas alongside houses or underneath shady trees, or as feature plants indoors or out, there are just so many options. If you're aware of a nursery that stocks the less available detailed here, or others, please do take a moment to share the good news!

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Garden inspiration: Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens

The Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens on the escarpment in Mount Pleasant are a local treasure, and well worth a visit when they open on the weekends and on Tuesdays. The formal parts of the garden are very special and full, as you'd expect, of Rhododendrons, Azaleas and other stunning exotics. 

[I should have included a few Rhododendron pictures here, but forgot to take any.]

But I go there for the native plants, and the wonderful well-preserved bushland and rainforest at the back of the site. It has the advantage of being completely fenced off, so is not suffering the same damage from deer that is affecting the rest of the escarpment. The formal gardens and the lightly landscaped area above them are particularly good places for seeing local specimen trees.

A grove of Cooper's Tree Ferns (Cyathea cooperi) growing in the formal
part of the gardens, surrounded by exotics.

Rough Tree Fern (Cyathea australis), happy in a shady position in an
 area of landscaped rainforest plantings.
There are many Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus) in the landscaped areas
 of the park, right near the entrance. They are stunning trees when not grown
 under power lines and pruned into miserable, stunted shapes. 
And this is a Brush Mutton Wood (Myrsine howittiana,
 formerly Rapanea howittiana). You don't usually see
 them looking so large, handsome and tree-like, but this
just shows what the species is capable of in the right conditions.
Slightly cheating, as this shot is from an earlier visit,
 but the Illawarra Flame Trees are numerous in the
 Gardens and some flower wonderfully. 
There is, or there was, a large Buff Hazelwood (Symplocos thwaitesii) in these gardens. Buff Hazelwood is uncommon in the Illawarra region, so it was handy to have a tree that could be easily visited. But I and my walking companion spent about two hours diligently hunting for it without success. So I can't post a photo of it! Here's a shot of the search party. 
In search of the elusive Buff Hazelwood.
There was a consolation prize, though outside of the gardens proper.
Is it me you're looking for?
You can find out more about the Rhododendron Gardens at this site. They are maintained by volunteers, so if you want to get fit and contribute to your local community and environment, this is a good place to do so!

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Try growing: Whalebone Tree (Streblus brunonianus)

If you want a local Illawarra tree for your garden or verge, you're spoiled for choice! Wollongong is home to a surprising number of small, tough trees that will grow almost anywhere across the coastal plain and escarpment. One of the best is the Whalebone Tree (Streblus brunonianus). It's very hardy, and generally grows as a dense small tree 3m to 6m high, with small dark green leaves. Sometimes plants will take a more shrubby form, which is useful for hedging; lower branches can easily be pruned off to create more of a tree form. 
This Whalebone Tree is growing in lightly dappled sun on the lower slopes
 of Mount Keira. It has developed this shape with no pruning or other
 management by humans. 

Whalebone Tree also has an interesting, sometimes
 quite decorative trunk. 

Here's a small grove of Whalebone Trees growing together at the base
 base of Mount Keira. Not the best photo sorry!
This tree is unfortunately still uncommon in cultivation, at least around the Illawarra. But it makes a stunning small tree, and can be pruned to shape. Here's a tree that self-seeded in Keiraville and has been pruned into a standard form. 
This tree is around ten years old, and is
 perfectly happy growing in the spot where
it germinated. Image by Elena Martinez.
The flowers and fruit are also interesting, though not spectacular. Established trees attract all sorts of birds and insects.
These fruit bring in all sorts of birds, and they don't stay
 long on the tree as a result of their popularity.
Do you know of a Whalebone Tree in someone's garden or on a verge? How is it doing? 

Monday, 25 March 2019

Garden inspiration: Ken Ausburn Track

The recent rain was pretty inspiring at the time, but it's also done amazing things for the plants in Illawarra's bushland areas, and I couldn't help sharing a bit more inspiration after a bushwalk on the weekend. 

The Ken Ausburn Track, which is one of the tracks that heads up Mount Keira from the Wollongong suburbs, is full of interesting and inspiring plants, as well as having much-feted ocean views, art works and industrial heritage. It's a good place to spot some plants that are regionally or even nationally rare, and to see some more common species at their finest. 

The track starts from the corner of Northfields Avenue and Robsons Road in Keiraville, just near the University. It's pretty steep in parts, but from here you can ascend all the way to the summit of Mount Keira if you have the time and inclination. Even sticking to the the lower slopes, there's plenty to see if you spend an hour or two wandering around.

Lots of colourful fruit on the Red-fruited Olive Plum,
and complemented by the bright yellow flowers
of the (introduced) Senna shrub growing behind it.
There's a native Senna (S. acclinis) that will grow and
 flower just as well.
This is Native Cascarilla (Croton verreauxii), a shrubby small tree with
distinctive orange or red old foliage. It's tough, easy to maintain and
attracts many species of bird.

Another distinctive small tree of the region is Bonewood (Streblus
 brunonianus
). It is extremely hardy and, like Native Cascarilla,
it attracts a range of bird species.  
The above species are all relatively common and easy to see along the track. Much rarer, and at least as garden-worthy are plants like Brush Wilga (Geijera salicifolia), Ribbonwood (Euroschinus falcatus) and the Red Kamala (Mallotus philippensis) that I featured in an earlier post. In fact, this whole area is really special, and deserves a lot more protection than it is currently receiving. 


Brush Wilga is a handsome small tree with a fairly dense, dark green canopy.
It will bring in a wide range of birds and insects to gardens. 

Image by Elena Martinez.

The Elephant Weevil (Orthorhinus cilindrirostrus) is one of the many
 species of insect that can be found on Brush Wilga. Look closely at
 almost any tree and you'll find at least one insect or bird hanging out!

 Image by Lisa Mulqueeney.
And of course there's much more on the walk than trees. 

The occasional views are spectacular.
The paths are interesting. 
And the understorey is always full of unexpected features!
But if you want to get an idea of some of how Illawarra's rarer trees look at their best, this is one of the top spots to see them. 

A few other takes on the Ken Ausburn Track are out there, including this one from Bushwalk The Gong, which includes a shot of the route. 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Garden inspiration: Rain!

Another long dry spell in Illawarra has finally been broken with some decent rain. What more inspiration could you want to get out in the garden, or perhaps take a wander in a local nature reserve, and see how the plants are doing? You might prefer to wait until it's fine again, but the rain is making many plants look just beautiful at the moment. 
If you go down to the woods today...
Some plants' leaves really catch and hold the water droplets. 
Coffee Bush (Breynia oblongifolia) leaves hold the 
raindrops beautifully.

Sheoaks (Casuarina and Allocasuarina species) also hold onto
 the raindrops. 

Orange Thorn (Pittosporum multiflorum) does't show
 many individual droplets, but it glistens in the rain.

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum aethiopicum) is another
 'glistener.' This patch of ferns is quite sparse at the
 moment but will look lush and green in a few weeks.
And random late entry the Small-leaved Bleeding Heart, which has
 raindrops aplenty on some leaves, and none on others!

An interesting rain-related phenomenon is that of the foaming tree. Here's a blog post on the reasons why this may happen. 
A Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) producing soapy
 foam during rain. This could just be a completely
 natural process, or the result of the rain interacting
with chemical pollutants that have built up on the
 tree's trunk during a dry spell. 
And of course, rain really gets things happening in the plant world. Rain, particularly with a thunderstorm or two attached, helps some seeds to germinate. New seedlings, and indeed many plants, tend to grow better with natural rainfall than with town or tank water. 
Seeds of Giant Pepper Vine (Piper hederaceum) starting to germinate
 after a bit of a rainy period. 

Seedlings enjoying the rain. (You can't actually see them singing, but
 I'm sure they are!)
Of course it's also a great time to put in new plants if you have them. Hope you find a few ways to enjoy the rains!