Dear Diggers (Festive Gardens 2017)

Contributions and feedback from our readers following the Festive Gardens 2017 issue.

Garden-worthiness

Dear Clive, I am a Canadian who moved to Australia in 2003. I have deliberately spent most of the past 14 years in the more arid and outback areas of this spectacular country. When people hear I am from Canada, a common response is: “Why did you ever leave such a beautiful country to move here?”

So where does this attitude come from? I believe it springs from a deeply ingrained belief system that is very troubling. In the Diggers Summer 2017 magazine, you begin the magazine by criticising Australian native plants, particularly the native trees! Most of the magazine is full of suggestions of low water use plants from other countries. Can you not see that you are part of the problem? You are regularly encouraging the Aussie attitude of “everything and everywhere else is better than here”.

I get the impression that you have never visited places like the southern part of Western Australia. You seem to pride yourself in being an Australian garden club but yet you hardly promote Australian plants at all!

My sense is that your views are like so many others here who spend most of their time in a small proportion of this country, clinging to colonialist ideas of the English countryside and gardens as being the ultimate example of what is good and beautiful. I am speaking particularly of your borderline hatred of eucalypts. It pains me to read of your ignorance of these amazing plants and the environment. You need to begin promoting Australian plants more and stop contributing to the Australian inferiority complex Sincerely, Elizabeth L.


Dear Elizabeth, Thanks for your well-argued letter. You have opened a can of worms that needs much debate. I think gardening is the ability to look at plants and decide, no matter how beautiful they are, if they fit in a garden setting? Have they good form year-round? Do they refresh me during 40 degree Celsius heat waves?
Answer: Eucalypts don’t.
Do they actually survive in different soils?
Answer: Most WA wildflowers don’t.
For the same reason that 99% of the food we eat isn’t native (because we choose our food from countries around the world). So too are our garden plants. Please tell me you only eat snakes, crocodile and macadamia nuts rather than beef, pork, potatoes and broccoli.
Regarding native plants that are garden-worthy; eucalypts may be incredibly beautiful in the bush, but are they really garden-worthy in the city?
I personally don’t want to look at bush outside my city front door. Gardening is an artificial construct and my version of beauty is obviously very different to yours. What I want of my garden is that it is cool and refreshing in summer, and for that reason I exclude arid looking plants — whether they are from WA or Chile.
Regarding suitability of native plants to fertile enriched city soils — I have been on wildflower trips to WA on at least five occasions. I have walked through the Stirling Ranges twice in the last 5 years.
I love their wildflowers, but I know their soil and nutrient needs are too specific to repeat, and so it is absurd to plant them in my garden.
Regarding alpine wildflowers — I also walk through the Australian alps on the mainland and in Tasmania, and can say that I have spent more than 2 years of my life walking through those alps photographing wildflowers. I have been to Cradle Mountain 33 times and walked the overland track three times.
My favourite plants are natives, but not ones that would succeed in my garden, such as Richea pandanafolia and Richea scoparia, but I would walk for 6 days to see these native plants in flower.
One of my most indelible memories is walking through a clustered avenue of Eucryphia trees in flower in February. They are planted at our garden of St Erth but they do struggle on the mainland.
60% of the trees planted at Heronswood are natives. These plantings are 150 years old, and come from our rainforests along the East Coast, such as Moreton Bay fig, Araucaria columnaris, Flame tree, and recently Ficus hillii, etc. They are drought-tolerant and shady with lush, green foliage. If you go back through your Diggers Winter catalogue or our book There Is No Excuse For Ugliness you will find lots of native rainforest trees listed.
You see, loving the wilderness doesn’t automatically mean it is worthy of planting in a garden.
That’s where Australian gardeners need to be a little more critical in appraising planting selections.
We need to consider whether a plant is worthy of planting in a garden? A eucalypt, for example, is the worst tree to plant for cooling shade. Take the temperature under this tree on the next 40 degree Celsius day and compare this with any deciduous tree.
In our seaside garden at Sorrento, Melaleuca lanceolata (Moonah) is the predominant tree and it meets my garden-worthy criteria. it has elegant form, good shade and provides wonderful protection for birds to nest. In difficult sandy soils, this native thrives along the coast from WA to Qld.
We recently pruned the trees of dead wood and now have an exquisite shady parkland to enjoy. Our favourite specimen is thought to be over 400 years old and its gnarled trunk is every bit as appealing as 1,000 year old olives.
What you say about “your garden is shaded by 100% natives!” — I would ask you to please distinguish, as a gardener, between what you see in the wild and what makes a plant worthy of a garden.
We have created two gardens in Victoria listed in international books of the world’s finest gardens. We have had hundreds of thousands of visitors and never have I been accused of being prejudiced against native plants. Best wishes, Clive

Where have all the wildflowers gone?

Dear Clive, I'm one of your members who lapsed my membership a few years ago owing to many of your political comments. I have since rejoined and started to come around to your thinking.

I know your dislike of Monsanto goes deep and I do not like to use glyphosate, however what alternative is there to eradicate serrated tussock on farm land?

Also, excessive use of fertiliser is another issue that is doing more harm than good.

In my youth growing up in Bavaria, the meadows used to be full of wildflowers for us to pick for the vase.

Years after the American influence of increasing fertiliser usage, the wildflowers started to disappear to the degree that the Government started to compensate farmers to go back to their traditional fertilising regime and put certain flowers under protection.

I love my garden. I also shoot, hunt and fish and waste nothing. You may be surprised that all my shooting friends are gardeners as well. Both go hand in glove. Yours, Alois A.

Dear Alois, I do not want to upset any of our members, but I feel strongly that all is not right in the gardening world, where we are impacted by climate changes, degradation of our soils, and the corporatisation of our food supply.
Thank you for your letter and it is delightful to have you back as a member. Best wishes, Clive

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