Stephen RyanUnder siege

My blog about those who make the decisions on what will be declared weedy and that they weren’t doing the science created quite a lot of comments from you gardeners out there.
I had those who stood up for Oxalis and those who suggested that I should scientifically prove my stand on the subject. The fact that the N.S.W. government changed the legislation when I pointed out that native species would be banned I think proves the point that the science wasn’t done and any of you in said state that are growing Oxalis tuberosa (New Zealand Yam) are probably criminals!
Oxalis tuberosa New Zealand Yam

Oxalis tuberosa New Zealand Yam – contraband in NSW?

It is indeed a very complex issue and I won’t even pretend to have all the answers but if I notice an anomaly I feel that it is my duty to point it out. Shoddy science has no excuses!
All this got me thinking about the moral and legal issues around gardening and I have to say I am seeing quite a few worrying trends in the way we are being dealt with by the powers that be.

Way back when I was a kid gardening and the great out doors was a completely different place. It was still seen as a worthy thing to enjoy, what with all that fresh air and the fun of growing lovely things to look at and to eat, even though we were spraying arsenate of lead, Rogor and DDT. all over the place and planting Pampas Grass and Agapanthus till the cows came home!
Me as a young boy - with lizard

In my childhood garden with pet lizard Stumpy

Those days are mercifully over but it would seem that the moral and legal minefield of gardening is tipping so far in the other direction that unfortunately some people are petrified to do anything and are giving up gardening altogether. What a shame!

Lets look at some examples: Water usage was a huge problem during the recent long drought and who were the first to feel the crunch, the gardeners of course. Since when is it a waste of water to save a plant from dying? Plants are green, they create a pleasant environment in which to live and the water used isn’t polluted as it is when used in many industrial applications. Plants actually produce oxygen and if we stop planting them and put in a Yucca and some gravel we will be creating the deserts that the Government as well as ourselves are rightly scared of. Also if I don’t water my carrots and they die I will have to buy carrots that some other bugger watered and with no flavour and added food miles as well.
Why is it logical to tell home gardeners that they can water for specific times and at specific times if the plants time could well be up before theirs is! People with children weren’t told when they could wash them for goodness sake. If they were really serious they would give us a daily allocation per head per household and we could use it as we wished. So if I wanted to forgo a showering (and loose some friends in the process!) and use that water on my garden I should be allowed to.
I had some serious water bills throughout the drought and no one queried me, the water board just took my money! I must point out that I didn’t need to forgo showering as I had special dispensation as my garden was seen as significant so I could use more and I did. I will not feel guilty for my passion so when golfers play on “Browns” instead of “Greens” I might take notice. As I live in a very fire prone area I think that is also a good reason for keeping my garden green
I also object to pundits who suggest that certain plants will COPE with drought; I want my garden to be thriving.
Finally in the water debate you have the Water Authorities telling us to plant drought tolerant species and the DPI. telling us that such self sufficient plants could very well be the next weed they will need to ban. Talk about mixed messages.
Succulents weren't the answer after the big wet.

Succulents weren’t the answer after the big wet.

We were encouraged to waterproof our gardens by planting succulents and had them turn to snot with the wet weather that followed the drought.

Natives were suggested as a panacea to all our problems but as we all know not all natives are drought tolerant (think Tree Ferns) and non-local species that have a close relationship to a local endemic could easily muck up the gene pool.
Some even suggested that our plantings should be of endemic species, which is re-vegetating, a wholly laudable thing to do but not gardening and with the sort of weather we have been having over recent years many wild plants are struggling and even dying in the bush. When I can find the locally provenanced endemic lettuce I can grow I’m on board, otherwise around here it’s Mountain Pepper and road kill as the only local edibles.
Marcus Harvey in his well written article talks about the new costs that will be incurred by Western Australian gardeners wishing to import from other states so I won’t got into detail about this unfair impost on gardeners but will only point out that when something is over regulated or overly expensive all it does is drive people underground if they are really determined to get some wanted plant. So the rules will be to some extent counter productive, as they won’t even know about the smuggled plants. Wouldn’t it be better to make it as cheap and easy as possible so that everyone will find it easier to follow the rules?
Lets encourage appropriate and logical legislation to protect us and our environment before gardening is hounded into extinction. 

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Stephen Ryan

About Stephen Ryan

Stephen Ryan grew up and still lives at Mt. Macedon in Victoria where he has run his nursery Dicksonia Rare Plants since 1980. He was for 3 years host of Gardening Australia on ABC TV and is a regular on Melbourne’s 3CR. Sunday garden program. He has written 4 books and innumerable articles for magazines both in Australia and abroad and is also a sought-after speaker at garden clubs.

2 thoughts on “Under siege

  1. Absolute wisdom and truth, there, Stephen. I know you speak for gardeners, but also on a wider scale, many things we used to do unfettered and without “fees” are now being disallowed, regulated to the back teeth and harvested for every possible bit of revenue. Yes, some practices needed reining in ( ie spraying with poisons) but now we must pay and pay. Remember when you could burn household rubbish in the back yard or take it to the tip for free? And we were once allowed to park on suburban footpaths, now a hefty fine applies. You’re right. When something is over regulated or over expensive, people get subversive. A friend was quoted an exorbitant fee to “legally” scatter her sister’s ashes at sea. Guess what she did!

  2. Hi Stephen,

    I’ll add my disgruntled voice here simply to say that gardeners need a body (maybe in one in each state) through which they can focus and present their concerns. Bureaucracies don’t respond to individuals. No-one else is going to do it and the public servants and vested interests who drive policy won’t take any notice unless there is someone at the negotiating table presenting the gardening public’s views. The recent fee hike in WA is a good case in point. As I commented in my article on this if you don’t have an ABN or a lobby group you have no rights. Gardeners need to move with the times because this is not the time to remain passive consumers.
    Cheers, Marcus

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