Tino CarnevaleMeet the locals

First impressions may not be everything but a good one certainly goes a long way. At first glance the front section of our new property resembled a disused industrial site, which to be honest is not my favourite gardening style. To rehabilitate this site and transform it into a native garden was going to be hard slog.

Sometime in the past someone had plonked in a few plants. Three, to be exact. They planted a nandina, a hydrangea and a viburnum, all plants that don’t have a place in my native garden. They had also attempted a stone wall but it seemed they had started but then lost all motivation and left it unfinished. The rest of the space, which was the majority of it, was compacted gravel road base.

The site starts to take shape

The site starts to take shape

When I was a kid I used to hang around at a place called Knocklofty, which means ‘windy hill’. It’s a long nature reserve in the foot hills of Mt Wellington. It dries out in the summer but its frog ponds are teaming with life in the winter months. It’s such a cherished part of the city that it has its own volunteer support group!

I’ve always loved the look of this kind of bush, basically dry sclerophyll. I wanted plants of local provenance for my front garden but I got excited and went for some of the rarer natives and things like the richea which I knew would probably suffer.

There is a popular myth that plants that are endemic to an area will thrive with no assistance at all and this is true to a point. However this view does not take into account the fact that plants are not mobile beings and they do suffer transplant shock. Many plant’s seeds will only germinate if the conditions are just right, thus giving them the best start in life. We as gardeners generally plant established plants rather than seeds and in the case of Australian natives which are considered some of the toughest plants on the globe, if you interfere with their roots they tend to cark it. Any young plant is vulnerable no matter where it originates from and needs adequate care until it is established.

Plant list

Plant list

There is an existing bed that is bordered by the eastern fence and the driveway and runs up the side of the house. This is being planted out with a range of bush foods like the native pepper and the lemon myrtle. The rest of the site is surrounded by a U shaped bed that runs next to the footpath, curves around in front of the western fence and wraps back along the front of the house. I built a stone wall to retain the higher side and used other large stones to border parts of the bed. All of these came from on site, some recycled and some freshly dug up. The only problem is that the area’s previous incarnation had been as a parking space and compressed road base is not the greatest medium for growing plants. Using what was left of the trees and shrubs removed from the back yard, I created a long pile of green waste and left it to compost down over months.

The last thing to do before planting out the bed was to scatter around a generous amount of blood and bone and then to mulch. I put down a thick layer of straw and blanketed that with gum bark mulch. Finally, it was time to plant!

It was a rough summer with strong winds, extreme heat and absolutely no rain. With spectacularly unfortunate timing, the young plants went in just before the early hot winds hit. Some have been lost, like the baura and richea, others badly damaged such as the leptospermum, but some, like the paper daisies and the silver leptospermum have done wonderfully. The spinning gum was the pride of the whole area but was recently brought down by a particularly blustery day and the neighbour’s dog.

Correa reflexa success!

Correa reflexa success!

It’s been interesting to see what has done well, mostly it has been plants from the south eastern part of Tasmania that have succeeded as they favour a drier climate.
The benefit of creating a healthy native ecosystem in some part of your garden goes further than just beauty. Enticing endemic species of birds and insects into the garden will help to control pests and aid in pollinating your productive plants.

Even with a sadly high attrition rate, I am still very happy with how the front garden is coming along. As I keep having to tell myself – That’s Gardening!

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Tino Carnevale

About Tino Carnevale

Born and bred in Tasmania, Tino's lifelong interest in plants and gardening stems from growing up on his family's small vineyard and olive grove. He studied landscape design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and has an Associate Diploma in Horticulture. As well as being a presenter on Gardening Australia TV, Tino teaches gardening skills to both adults and children, is part of the The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program and patron of the Tasmanian Weed Society.

9 thoughts on “Meet the locals

  1. Eugene on said:

    Ah well – different smokes for different blokes.

    I think native gardens are dull, uneventful affairs at the best of times with the exception being coastal gardens. Worse yet when you use endemic species, though I suppose the moral fizz is worth it for some.

    A local insect survey was done in a patch of bush up the road recently. In the hope of encouraging more endemic insects, the exotics were ripped out. It had a profoundly negative effect on the indigenous butterflies and bugs. They were using the exotics for sustenance.

    Seems to me to be a bit of a stretch to think that you are having a positive impact when the variables are so huge.

    • I think that there’s a lot of experimenting still to do about using Australian native plants in gardens, and Tino is adding to that bank of knowledge. Who knows when something indigenous that hasn’t been tried before will perform as an ornamental plant, even for those who think about gardening in a conventional way? Where you see dull, others (like Tino and me) see subtle beauty.

    • Jeffery Howes on said:

      Oh dear Eugene, what a negative reply.
      Fancy thinking native gardens are dull — obviously you have not seen any really good gardens using native plants OR have done a little bit of research to see the staggering variety of flowers and their colours of our native plants — your loss unfortunately.

      • Eugene on said:

        Dear Jeffery
        I know what they look like. I live amongst them. I’ve worked in native plant nurseries. I tour gardens and have seen the best. Your assumption that I’m not equipped to comment is incorrect. Regards Eugene

  2. Augusta on said:

    Good story as always Tino – you are one of my favorite presenters – but you might want to change “local providence” to “local provenance” for accuracy in this story.

    • And I should have seen it there too! Thanks Augusta for pointing that out – it’s now changed.

  3. Phileppa Doyle on said:

    Hi Tino, I’m planting an Australian native plant garden too, already enjoying wattle birds, rosellas and red rumps in the first stage, now 3-4 years old, and look forward to many more in the future. One baby wattle bird took a liking to me and when I opened the back door would fly up to the guttering then swoop over my head. How wonderful are native gardens in their diversity and the birds and insects they attract.

    I just wanted to make a comment, I’m sure you won’t mind, about young wattle birds. I had two drown in water baths and was told to always have a wood or rock ledge in the middle of the bath for the young wattle birds to sit on to dry out because, apparently, their young feathers hold water making them too heavy to fly.

  4. Jeffery Howes on said:

    Great article Tino – very practical.
    Well Done.

  5. Chris on said:

    I always love to watch other people’s gardens develop in their own way. I like how you’re featuring the pond for the frogs. It’s amazing what life is drawn to even the smallest amount of water in the garden.

    In my garden I incorporate natives as well as exotics, which I believe is what your backyard features as well – going by the recent episode of Gardening Australia.

    I look forward to seeing more.

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