Monday, 17 February 2020

Celebrating: the launch of the Growing Illawarra Natives website!

This is the blog post I've been wanting to put up for...what...four or five years! Whooohoo!!!

Over that time, we've been celebrating all sorts of amazing things: plants, national parks, private gardens, ecological communities and committed plant people.

And all those things are truly wonderful. But in the background the Growing Illawarra Natives website has been ... percolating. Being developed. Preparing. And now, after all these years, here it is: we're ready to launch. And it's your chance to come along and celebrate!!!  

We hope you can join us at the launch. Here are the key details:

When: Saturday 14 March, 3pm-6pm
Where: Dapto Ribbonwood Centre, 93-109 Princes Hwy
Access: easy access by bus or from Dapto train station, and off-street parking is available at the Ribbonwood Centre
What: There will be snacks, plant displays, speeches and live music by the Cabbage Tree Combo

There will also be some very special prizes to give out at the launch. 

  • A signed copy of Wollongong's Native Trees by Leon Fuller
  • Two bottles of Spirit of the Illawarra Plum from the Headlands Distilling Co. (
  • A stunning photograph by nature photographer Keith Horton 
  • An established White Beech (Gmelina leichhardtiana) sapling, ready to grow in your garden. 
It's going to be a wonderful day. Hope to see you there!!!!

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Try growing: native grasses of the Illawarra

I can't believe I haven't done a post about native grasses before! There are so many local native grasses, over fifty species by my reckoning, and they are diverse enough that they can be used in a wide range of ways in gardens and landscaping. 

Perhaps it's the diversity that's been putting me off: when you think about it the options are huge. There are spreading turf-type grasses that can be mown or left to range free: 
Here's a patch (not technically a lawn) of Pygmy Panic (Panicum pygmaeum),
which is an excellent lawn option that copes fairly well with shady conditions.
Image by Emma Rooksby.
Here's a clump (not technically a lawn either!) of Saltwater Couch
 (Sporobolus virginicus), growing in the sandy conditions it prefers.
Image by Harry Rose, reproduced from Flickr under CC BY 2.0

This image shows a mix of plants in what could be called an overgrown
lawn, but is probably not technically a lawn either - more of a meadow!
The predominant species though is Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides),
which can definitely be made into a lawn. Image by Emma Rooksby.
(Aaand it's starting to look like one of the reasons for the delay on this post was the lack of good photos to showcase our amazing local 'lawn-able' grasses as they deserve.)

But back to the topic at hand. There are clumping grasses that can add texture to areas of groundcovers, or soften the line of a path: 
The fabulous (and well-known) Tussock or Tussock Grass (Poa 
labillardierei), here used as a decorative groundcover beside stairs.
 Image by Mat Misdale.

I can't resist adding another shot of Tussock, this one showing what
great textures its foliage creates when mass-planted.
Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved. 

This beauty is Barbed Wire Grass (Cymbopogon
), a tough clumping grass related to
Lemongrass (though sadly not aromatic!).
 Image by Tony Rodd, reproduced from Flickr 

under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 
And then there are taller clumpers, some with distinctive and decorative flower- and seed-heads that make them suitable as feature plants: 
Kangaroo Grass (Themeda australis) is a clumping grass whose distinctive
flower-heads can reach up to around 1.2m high. It can be used singly or
 mass-planted, and will spread by itself (some management may be needed).
 Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
Kangaroo Grass can be great as an edging plant in areas where taller
species will fit in well. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Large, almost bushy, and with fabulous arching foliage and seed-heads,
Stout Bamboo Grass (Austrostipa ramosissima) is a landscaping favourite.
These plants were photographed at Wollongong Botanic Garden by
Kath Gadd (all rights reserved), looking a bit dry but still healthy.
Many of the species mentioned above can also be used in native meadows (see separate post on this site), grown together and allowed to reach their natural height. They can also be combined with other similar plants, such as sedges or rushes, strap-leaved plants like Spiny-headed Mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia) or Flax-lily (Dianella) species. 

I'm not sure whether to mention inconspicuous grasses, though there are many. And of course there are also lots of almost-weedy-looking grasses, plenty of very-similar-to-each-other grasses and even a couple of allegedly unattractive grasses. The above is probably enough to be getting on with, and most of the species are not too hard to buy locally either, though you might have to ask around a bit on the Saltwater Couch!  Happy growing, and please send me a photo of your native lawn if you have one!!

Saturday, 28 December 2019

How to: create a frog-friendly garden

A few years back I attended a workshop on Illawarra's native frogs, presented by Dr Phillip Byrne and other researchers from the University of Wollongong, and funded by Wollongong City Council. It was amazing! Wonderful! Inspirational!! 

And yet for some reason it has taken me since then to get around to writing about frogs and gardens. 

Perhaps it was my dire lack of funky frog photos? The complex copyright/attribution issues around the workshop? Or simply the fact that frogs have never been top of the pile for me gardenwise (am I froggist??)? Who knows, but here's a short post on gardening for frogs, drawing on a wide range of sources including that workshop and also my personal experience. 

Let's start with some frog images, courtesy of Garry Daly, before we get into the details.
Dwarf Tree Frogs. Who doesn't want some of these in their garden? 
Image by Garry Daly. 

Possibly even cuter than the Dwarf Tree Frogs, this is a Leaf Green
 Tree Frog. Image by Garry Daly. 

Maybe slightly lower in the cuteness stakes, but check out their gorgeous
eyes! These are Peron's Tree Frogs, a species that regularly ventures
into suburban gardens in the Illawarra. Image by Garry Daly. 
So: on to the details. Gardening for frogs. 

Rule number one in gardening for frogs is: they need water. 

Rule number two in gardening for frogs is: different frogs need different sorts and amounts of water. Anything from small areas of moisture to ponds and pools of different depths. Different ways to get into and out of the water. Different places to hide when they're in or out of the water. (Oh dear, this is all reminding me of why I didn't do a frog post before!)

But if I had to sum it up, I'd say: provide a pond of a good size (1m plus across), that has a deeper section in the middle, shallow natural edges planted out with rushes and sedges, and a few rocks and branches that reach into the water from the sides. Add more rocks and logs around the edges, and use native water plants to purify the water and keep leaf litter off the water's surface. Shrubs or trees growing overhead should shade around half of the water's surface, to keep the water cool. No fish, please! And - above all - say goodbye to artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. These are bad news for frogs, and for our natural environment more generally. 

That's about it, before getting into more detailed advice about what the different local frog species need. I'm not going to go there, though I'll keep updating this post as time goes by with more specific resources. 

And to finish, here are some shots of the frog ponds at the University of Wollongong, where the extraordinary Anthony Wardle has done so much to provide habitat for local frog species. More than any of the words above, these images should give you some good ideas on how to garden for frogs.  

If you're in any doubt on how to proceed, head down to UOW and see for yourself how many different frogs are hanging around on campus. The uni even has a fantastic list of fauna seen on site. Check it out at: 

In such incredibly hot and dry times, it's more important than ever to create and maintain habitat for the frogs, toads and other native fauna who share these special places with us. 

Friday, 13 December 2019

Celebrating: some astonishingly tough local native plants

It's incredibly dry, and many plants around the place are suffering as a result. They, and we, desperately need rain. But it's amazing to see just how tough some of the local natives are, and how well they are coping. Here are a few shots taken recently that show a few established species looking pretty comfortable. 
The Ribbonwoods (Euroschinus falcatus) around
the place generally look OK. This is a naturally
 growing specimen on Gooyong St in Keiraville.
These Ribbonwoods were planted in Nyrang Park
 in Keiraville, and are all doing well. Nyrang Park
is a great place to take a wander and admire local 
native plants as well as a fascinating array of exotics.
Not the best shot sorry, but the tree in the centre
is a Koda (Ehretia acuminata). It is very difficult to
photograph because it loves to grow in company.
It's one of the region's deciduous trees, but sadly is
little known and little grown!
The classic Lilly Pilly (Acmena smithii, or Syzygium smithii in some
people's books). This one is growing in full sun on the top of Saddleback
Mountain, and it's perfectly happy. 
And what's this? Check out the whitish-pink flowers
all over it. Yes, it's a Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus
), growing in good conditions on the escarpment
 in the Tarrawanna area. They don't normally get this
tall in gardens!!

In the right spot, even some of the ferns are still looking fairly happy, though of course many have died right back where they are exposed and don't have access to moisture. 
I'm not game to identify this one, but think it is most
likely a Tree Fern of some sort. Note the Cabbage
Palm (Livistona australis) frond centre right. 
What a beauty! This is a Strap-leaved Water Fern (Blechnum
), ID kindly confirmed by Kevin Mills. I've never seen it in
cultivation but think it's a gorgeous little thing. 
This one's a Shiny Shield Fern (Lastreopsis acuminata), the most
commonly seen of the local Shield Fern species. It was growing
in subtropical rainforest on the escarpment, in a shady and sheltered
 spot. Plants in more exposed areas look much less happy!
Local plants are well adapted to local conditions, though of course of those conditions change, and change rapidly, it's going to be a real challenge for them. For now, let's hope for good rains soon.   

Monday, 28 October 2019

Try growing: anything but Lantana!

It's been a while, sorry, but things have been busy. And this is actually a post about a plant that you definitely don't want in your garden, or anywhere nearby. However, if you do have it, please be aware that it actually makes good habitat for small birds and needs to be removed with care.

Yes, the plant is Lantana (
Lantana camara). A fast-growing woody shrub with prickly stems and poisonous foliage, flowers and fruit, Lantana has been declared as a Weed of National Significance. Rarely planted in gardens today, it is widespread in natural areas and often present on private property too. On larger properties and acreages, Lantana can be abundant.
Lantana camara flowers and leaves. Image by Alvesgaspar,
shared under Creative Commons license CC-BY-SA-3.0.
If you have Lantana on your property, or support bush regeneration in an area where it's prevalent, you'll be interested in this new paper on bird-friendly ways to remove Lantana. It was authored by local Bushcare champion Julie Marlow, with input from other Bushcare champs working around the Wollongong area. And it presents some useful strategies for removing Lantana bit by bit, replacing it as you go with native plants that provide suitable habitat for small birds.
Wendy Midgely from Midges Bush Restoration showing an image
of Lantana that has been pruned into a hedge shape to prevent
it from flowering or fruiting too heavily, while still providing
protection for small birds and nearby bushland. 
Annie Marlow, co-presenting the paper.

Have a read. And then please provide feedback! Julie's contact details are included in the paper.

Thank you!

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Celebrating: Wattle Day!

Well it's just about 1 September again, which is Australia's Wattle Day (after some tortuous history, summarised here by Alan Fairley)! I can understand why there was a bit of garment-rending around the date, given that different wattles (Acacias) flower at different times of the year.

But if you had to pick a day, 1 September isn't too bad. There are heaps of wattles in flower, in almost any part of Australia. In Illawarra, you're pretty spoiled, and might find a dozen Acacia species or more in flower at this time of year. Here are just a few of the locals:

A much-maligned Wattle, this is Two-veined Hickory,
(Acacia binervata), showing its delicately veined leaves and
a few emerging flower buds.

Only a baby, this Sickle Wattle (Acacia falcata) is growing in Mangerton.
It will eventually reach 3m or so high. In this region it grows naturally at
 Croom Reserve on sandstone-derived soils, and prefers well-drained soil.

The leaves and flowers of Green Wattle (Acacia irrorata), a bushy shrub
or small tree. It won't flower until later in the spring.
 Image by Byron Cawthorne-Macgregor.

Sydney Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia subsp. longifolia) with a visitor.
 This species is in flower now. Image by Charles Dove. 

Also an Acacia longifolia, this one is Coastal Wattle (subsp. sophorae), a
super-tough shrub for coastal revegetation. Looking at you Wollongong City Council!
 Image by Leon Fuller. 

One of the region's classic Wattles, this is Maiden's Wattle
 (Acacia maidenii), which can become a tall, shapely tree.
It is longer-lived than many wattles, and can reach up to
 40 years. Image by Leon Fuller. 

One of my personal favourites, these are the flowers of Black Wattle
(Acacia mearnsii), a tree to 10m that attracts all sorts of birds and insects.
A great shade and habitat tree. Image by Byron Cawthorne-Macgregor.

Gosh, yet another classic local wattle! This one is
Blackwood or Acacia melanoxylon. It is flowering now
 around the place. Image by Leon Fuller. 

One of the harder-to-grow local species, Sweet Wattle
(Acacia suaveolens) is a delicate shrub with arching cane-like
 stems and beautiful fragrant flowers. The seed pods are an
interesting grey-green-purple. Image by Tracee Lea. 

And last but not least, the small prickly leaves and contorted seed capsules
of Prickly Moses (Acacia ulicifolia) which prefers sandy soils, as in coastal locations
 or up on the plateau to the west of the escarpment cliffline. This plant is
growing at Mount Kembla. 
What Wattles have you seen flowering recently?

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Try growing: Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonoides)

Recently I've found myself talking with quite a few people who have vege gardens, and who really want to grow edible plants on the land that's available to them. The one plant we invariably seem to have in common is the wonderful Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonoides). It's a fleshy spinach-like groundcover that will do well in most vegetable gardens and can also make an attractive low-growing herbal border. 

If you haven't tried growing it yet, you really should! It's easy to obtain and to grow, and will be very forgiving of even quite 'enthusiastic' harvesting. Here are a couple of shots:

Warrigal Greens growing as a border plant. Image by Tracee Lea ©.

Not a plant grown for its flower.
Image by Tracee Lea ©.
The leaves and tender stems of Warrigal Greens are the bits to eat. Harvest at any time there are enough leaves to gather. 

Freshly harvested Warrigal Greens - yummo! Image by Alison Mellor ©.
You can just steam the leaves and eat them, use them in cooked dishes as well as or instead of spinach, or you can get a bit more creative. Here's a recipe for Warrigal Greens Pesto recently shared by Tracee Lea: 

Warrigal Greens Pesto
250g Warrigal Greens
1cup of Parsley
200g Macadamia nuts
2 tablespoons of lime juice
1 tablespoon of honey
3/4cup of parmesan cheese, grated
50 mls Macadamia nut oil
2 cloves of garlic

Rinse the Warrigal Greens in cold water. Pull leaves off the stem and soak in boiling water for 3-5 mins. (This will remove the oxates from the leaves). Strain the leaves and rinse in cold water. Peel the garlic.

Measure and add everything to the blender and blend until the macadamia nuts are like a paste. There will be small pieces of nut visible and that’s ok. Store in the fridge until ready to eat on damper.

Happy growing, cooking and eating!