[from The Creek, Feb 2009]
Merricks Beach Garden was open to the public in November 2008 as part of Australia’s Open Garden Scheme. The garden was created by Rohan Cuming, of Peninsula Bushworks, and Richard Aarons. This article is taken from the Rohan’s notes for visitors and also draws on posters developed by Richard.
When we started in 2004, this two-acre block was the fenced corner of a paddock with cars sinking to the axles in winter, soils cracking in summer, and howling, salty winds. Once, it was part of a vast woodland that extended along the coast and to the hills inland.
The garden reconstructs the vegetation that grew here, as far as we can deduce, before European settlement. Apart from a pocket of herbs and vegetables by the house, the rest is indigenous.
The brief called for a sustainable, low maintenance landscape, with indigenous plants to provide shelter, shade and privacy and attract wildlife, whilst retaining views to the surrounding landscape. There was to be open space for recreation, with lawns and paths, a streamline pondage, and a vegetable garden. The work was to run alongside the building of the house and shed.
The block was wet and poorly drained, so we made a series of low mounds and shallow swales to redirect the water. We now have a streamline that floods with rain, and shallow ponds that spring to life with frogs, hold water for a time, then drain away.
To minimise disturbance and compaction of the soil, after this initial excavation work all vehicles and machinery were kept off prepared areas. Any areas that had been compacted were deep-ripped before mulching.
The site had the full suite of grass and broad leaf weeds. We sprayed, followed-up with spot spraying, then wheel-barrowed 100 truckloads of mulch to blanket the ground.
A rabbit-proof boundary fence was essential. Dense plantings of tree canopy, understorey and ground cover along the fence line provide some barrier to weeds from the surrounding pastureland. The garden abuts the foreshore reserve and the plantings follow the natural progression inland from coastal vegetation to coastal woodland.
We planted grasses first in this windswept world – Kangaroo, Wallaby, Weeping, Plume, Reed-Bent, Love, Spear, Tussock, Mat Grasses. They provided protection for the next plantings, of shrub and tree seedlings – Peppermint, Messmate, Manna and Swamp Gums, Blackwood and Black Wattle, Drooping Sheoak, Coast Banksia and Boobialla. Soon we had our first shade. As protection grew, we added more herbs, groundcovers and wildflowers – Bidgee-Widgee, Kidney Weed, Violets, Running Postman, Vanilla Lilies.
We used no water to speak of, and no fertiliser.
The most altered landforms were the hardest to revegetate. In summer, the mounds cracked in deep chasms. We filled them with mulch and continued to put in new plant varieties to increase the diversity and find the best balance.
Gradually the fauna moved in ¬– a wallaby, a blue-tongue lizard, a copperhead snake, a tortoise in the ‘stream’, swamp rat runways in the grass and more birds with every visit. Blue wrens in the grass, a white-faced heron in the pond and a black shouldered kite above were early visitors.
A koala has settled in and rarely leaves the place. He has done the rounds of the eucalypts since the first, at about 1.5 metres, could hold his weight. It took these trees almost six months to grow past his severe prunings before he returned on another lap.
We now have a small forest and woodland track, secluded corners, lots of shade, and lots more flowers as plants mature. Little of the initial 10,000 square metres of bare mulch remains exposed.
Little maintenance is now needed, 4 or 5 hours a week of hand weeding and planting, with some pruning and infrequent grass cutting. The lawn is weeping grass and kidney weed.
The plants have all been propagated, under permit, from seed and cuttings collected over many years from remnant indigenous vegetation in this area, on roadsides, foreshores, bushland reserves and private properties. We have planted over 100 species so far, and some 15,000 individual plants. Our objective is to have as much as possible of the flora and fauna diversity self-propagating and self-maintaining