[from The Creek, October 2008 – by Liz Barraclough and Angela Kirsner]
Bush gardens, wildflower gardens, natural gardens – the words suggest relaxing, peaceful places, gardens at home in the local environment, that provide habitat for local fauna – birds, lizards, frogs, insects…
Indigenous plants are the backbone of such gardens – the plants that occur naturally in a particular site or local area, that have grown here in plant communities since before European settlement. Each area has its own suite of indigenous plants that have evolved alongside each other to form complex, interrelated plant communities.
An indigenous garden can include trees, lawns, shrubberies and flower beds. The difference is that these are created using the local flora.
Most indigenous gardens are not ‘purist’ – most combine indigenous plants effectively with other Australian natives or exotics. But every contribution by gardeners towards using indigenous plants is valuable in restoring habitat and supporting local plant communities.
Mt Martha’s indigenous plants are many and varied, ranging from tall trees – Eucalypts, Casuarinas, Banksias – to grasses, reeds, creepers, and tiny ground hugging wildflowers. They provide great richness for gardeners.
Why plant indigenous?
There are lots of advantages, for both the gardener and the local ecology.
Planting indigenous helps to restore the plant communities of the area and maintain the genetic diversity of our local plants.
- Because they are ‘at home’, indigenous plants are generous. They grow well and often seed themselves or spread vegetatively, making the garden come alive and linking it with the broader landscape.
- They have adapted to the local conditions over millennia and are well suited to the soil, topography and climate. They don’t need fertilising and, once established, require little watering or maintenance, though they can be shaped and pruned if you wish.
- They provide habitat that is adapted to the needs of the local fauna. Many local birds, mammals, reptiles and insects depend on bushland vegetation for their survival. Indigenous garden plantings extend this habitat and contribute to wildlife ‘corridors’, providing links between fragmented areas of natural habitat.
- Indigenous plants retain and work with the microorganisms in the soil.
- Indigenous plants have fewer pest outbreaks. They support the balance of species that forms a healthy ecology, and this includes both insects and their natural predators – all vital links in the food chain.
- They won’t create problems by invading bush or heathlands and becoming environmental weeds.
- Our indigenous plants are what gives Mt Martha its particular character – the reason so many of us came here in the first place. They help to tie our gardens in with the broader landscape and extend their sense of space and belonging.
How local is ‘local’?
The large majority of Mt Martha’s indigenous plants are species that are also found in many other areas – some far distant. Each local area, however, has its own unique variant of the species. Maybe the leaves vary in size, or the flowers are a slightly different colour, or the growth habit different. These local variants are genetically adapted to the particular conditions over a few square kilometres or less.
When planting indigenous, it’s important, therefore, to use plants grown from locally collected seed. There are a number of local nurseries that provide these plants.
Note that a plant that is indigenous to the area may not occur on all sites – plant communities vary depending on moisture, soil type and prevailing weather. Some general principles
- Keep any remnant vegetation on your site, including dead trees where possible – they are wonderful habitat.
- Talk to local enthusiasts, check local reports and vegetation maps and plant lists.
- Visit local bushland remnants to see how and where plants grow and group. Use indigenous plants in numbers and combinations that resemble the structure of local remnants. Where possible plant different strata, e.g. trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges, ground cover.
- Where possible, encourage remnant vegetation to spread naturally onto your site. Control weeds and watch for indigenous seedlings from seed already stored in your soil (some seed remains in soil for many years). For example, mowing helps to keep weeds controlled – but if you stop mowing and hand weed, local seedlings often appear.
- Transplant indigenous species from sites that are about to be cleared to nearby safe sites, if they have no chance of survival where they are growing.
- Provide food plants for a range of fauna (including mammals, birds and insects), not just for conspicuous species such as honeyeaters.
- Provide a permanent water source for birds that is safe from cats.
- Don’t use poisons to control insect pests – aim to provide habitat to attract birds, insects and spiders that will keep pests in check.
For more information see the Mornington Peninsula Indigenous Planting Guide