I scattered the berries of native cheery in my garden at the start of winter in the hope they would grow, not realising at the time that I was making a fashion statement of sorts.
Gardens come in many shapes and sizes – or should I say styles – and I have never set out to make radical change to the ones I have inherited over the years when I have changed homes. I’ve been content to leave things as they are.
All the same I have made a study of the history of gardening, and can hold my own in any discussion about the work of Capability Brown in 18th century Britain or the more formal styles seen in the grounds of French palaces like Versailles, to say nothing of my own favourite, the English cottage garden in which Miss Marple solves her murders.
When I left the cottage gardens of Britain for a new life in Australia I discovered a new style – that of the native garden that concentrated less on foreign, exotic plants than Australian ones.
It was left to gardening guru Peter Cundall to put me in the picture about the latest fad in gardens when he explained during a television program that instead of native we must now read “habitat”.
Cundall was filmed in a garden in South Hobart that was being returned to nature from its neatly manicured state. This, said Cundall, was what a habitat garden was all about.
Very simply, the habitat garden is designed to be an extension of the environment of a given area, whether it be a Hobart suburb or one in a country district.
The rule is that all plants have to be those found without 50 kilometres of the garden site which ensures that they are truly native and in many cases Tasmanian, endemic to these islands like our 12 species of birds found nowhere else on earth.
The previous owners of my home planted a native garden when the house was built in the early 1980s and I have been the beneficiary of a lovely spread of exotic wattles – Ovens wattle among them – and “Ned Kelly” grevilleas introduced from the mainland.
When I started to add to these, and replace plants that had died, I concentrated on plants handed out by my local bushcare group, like silver wattle, dogwood, silver banksia, stinkwood and prickly moses. A habitat garden was in the making without me realising it.
As my mainland grevilleas and wattles age I have decided to replace them all with native species found in Tasmania, blackwood being ideally suited to a marshy area at the bottom of my garden, where these acacias have survived when other plants have failed. These new shrubs and trees are attracting more and more birds to my garden, like crescent honeyeaters who are now as common as the resident new holland honeyeaters.
I’m fortune in this endeavour to have a nursery specialising in native pants, Plants of Tasmania, not far from my home where staff are on hand to offer advice on what might grow in my heavy, mudstone soil, which becomes waterlogged in winter and dries out in summer.
There’s another good reason to go one step beyond the native garden. Recent years have seen a mini-building boom in my valley with developers taking up options to covert what had been dairy farms to housing development. As I drive through the WaterworksValley the bush is vanishing right before my eyes but at least by establishing my own habitat garden I can help in forming wildlife corridors through my suburb to give its other inhabitants – like Bennett’s wallabies, barred bandicoots and ring-tailed possums – a home of their own.