Garden design in 2050 – considering climate change

Trees are essential to good garden design of the future

Garden design in 2050 – a futuristic perspective

Listening to a futurist on the radio as I was driving this morning has made me wonder what garden design and landscaping could look like in 2050. I found it remarkable that throughout the discussion, there was no mention of climate change. Surely a futurist should be considering this as pre-eminent in his theories, unless of course he is a sceptic. Sustainable gardens are totally in sync with a futuristic view, but it takes time for change to happen.

As an authentic sustainable garden designer, I believe that I am definitely ahead of the pack. Firstly, I solidly believe in climate change: there are too many scientific models that prove this to be the case; secondly, I have eliminated all hard landscaping from my designs. This means that if a client is unwilling to listen to my sustainable advice – I walk away. My business integrity does not allow for compromise in the area of hard landscaping.

When I consider the direction that the national landscaping industry is taking landscape design, I shudder at the implications that these flawed designs are having on the environment and climate change/global warming.

Hard landscaping is predominantly concrete, unless you use terracotta pavers, but these are traditionally laid over concrete for stability. This then causes significant, expensive drainage issues that need to be addressed. Concrete is also the world’s second-highest carbon contributor to global warming, and concrete abounds in so many expensive gardens.

A futuristic landscape designer needs to be aware of the changing climate. The two poles are melting which will lead to a real increase in sea levels, with some projections talking about more than 15 metres. That’s not going to happen overnight; it will, one hopes, be a slow transition. But we need to start considering all of these factors, so that we, as garden designers, can lessen the impact and provide gardens for our clients that are in sync with climate change.

I have noticed, and so have other like-minded environmentalists, that many locally indigenous plants are already succumbing to these significant seasonal variations. I have also noted that some of these deaths can be attributed to mitigation strategies to divert water from one place in the event of a deluge, so that where the excess water has been diverted then becomes a poorly drained quagmire, with only time being the factor that enables drainage to occur. A large stand of magnificent Allocasuarina verticillata, one that was fully mature, recently died on a local farming property because of human intervention to shift unwanted water. It was where the water was redirected that the locally indigenous plants died from sitting in slops for too long.

Humans are causing all manner of environmental destruction, without any capacity to consider the sustainable aspects of their behaviour. But of course, their bad practice isn’t evident for a few years, until the next really heavy rain, severe wind event or even a drought, comes along again.

I question some of the advice being given by some certified arborists about protection of tree species for land clearing for construction. Either the advice is flawed, or there is a lack of proper follow-up at the construction site, because too many trees that were retained are toppling years after construction because of mismanagement of their care from the outset.

All of the above considerations will become even more relevant as time progresses towards 2050. Retaining trees in optimal health should be considered a priority by all councils. They are imperative in the sequestering of carbon. As a sustainable garden designer I really put big emphasis on recommending trees in client’s gardens. They are essential for heating and cooling within the home, but each tree is also part of the world-wide bigger picture of carbon sequestration.

Deforestation is having a massive impact on our environment. Trees assist with the hydrological cycle through evapotranspiration. They are also magnificent sponges, when appropriate plants are used for poor drainage, helping to soak up flooded areas after high rainfall, cyclones being an example. Once these magnificent, valuable stands of trees are removed, it takes a great many years to regrow to the same size. Humans playing with nature are causing so much degradation that is totally unsustainable – it cannot continue.

And I predict that people will become more aware of the vulgarity of many of the current McMansions that are nothing but a token to concrete and revert instead, to the more sustainable, natural option that is intended to be enjoyed from within the garden itself. The concrete jungles are so disgustingly hot from radiated heat off the concrete or pavers, that people can only view their gardens from inside their air conditioned box. This isn’t what a garden is supposed to be.

By 2050 it is possible that robots could lay concrete. Currently CAD systems provide plant names for landscapers who don’t know about sustainable plant selection. So by 2050, the current trend for unsustainable gardens could be taken over by robots having gardens designed by computers. Is this the direction we want to see for our children’s future external living?

2050 is only 30 years away. But the escalation of the melting poles is a major point for concern. We all need to make ourselves better informed about how we can work towards a more sustainable future, and starting with the garden has to be a major consideration in this thinking. Currently gardens are part of the problem. This needs to change. It’s up to quality garden designers to show leadership and consider with all of our projects, the importance of designing gardens with climate change in mind.

Mother koala with Bub on her back. What is to happen to them?

 

 

SUSTAINABLE GARDEN DESIGNER VERSUS LANDSCAPER?

A quality garden designer, specialising in sustainable landscapes, should be a professional Horticulturist; that is, they should have a large repertoire of plant knowledge so that they can use plants where difficult conditions prevail. Conversely a landscaper often doesn’t have this knowledge. Most landscapers come from the building trade, where they learn to make retaining walls – usually concrete rendered and usually on flat sites. They will use decking en masse, because they cant fill the space with plants because they don’t have the knowledge. They know very little about plants, and so build walled gardens so that they can fill these with soil to plant the few plant varieties that they know. So these gardens are all about hard landscaping and not plants.

Above: Depth in garden design

Garden designers who have been ‘taught’ how to design gardens often lack absolute confidence when offering advice – their design skills don’t come naturally like a designer born and bred. They have learnt the basics of design that becomes commonplace amongst ‘taught’ designers. And once again, the tutors too often have limited plant knowledge and design skills, otherwise they would be making a lot more money in their own business, than teaching students the rudimentary principles of garden design. A natural designer knows how to question these principles to come up with something really special. Its called lateral thinking.

Then there is the designer who uses the CAD system. Computer Aided Design systems provide plant lists that are traditionally eastern seaboard centric, so that many of the plants are inappropriate for areas other than Sydney or the sub-tropics. And once again, the range of plants is poor, so users of this system can be easily picked because of the plants that they use. And CAD designs lack the personal touch of a free-form designer. Landscape Architects use these systems all the time.

Above: A sustainable garden

I never want anyone to be able to say ‘that’s an Alison Aplin garden’. Each garden needs to be individual, to accommodate the existing façade of the home, the soil type (as I don’t use hard landscaping to enable planting in boxes), the needs of the client, and the garden needs to be aesthetically pleasing throughout the year. A garden should never collapse in winter as this is the most important time of the year to determine the backbone of a garden and to see how well designed it is.

As a specialist in my field, I am of the opinion that my industry needs regulation. It needs government intervention because I am concerned about the direction that the landscaping industry is heading.

In my post on Concrete, I have alluded to the overwhelming use of concrete within landscaping projects. The ramifications to our environment from this overuse are obscene. Listen to the people who speak passionately about climate change – they are all leaders in their field; they are people worth listening to and following.

I see many gardens done by other landscapers – many obviously aren’t garden designers because they lack any design or cohesion. A landscaper will often do what the client asks them to do. Whereas a good garden designer has the ability to offer a range of suggestions and take the client with them.

Poor quality workmanship amongst a number within the landscaping industry is having a detrimental affect on the better performers in the industry. And I am seeing it too frequently. Those who provide quality designs and work to a high standard should be able to stand apart from those who do shoddy work. But currently, the whole industry is intermingled, with the poor projects costing as much if not more, than those of high quality.

Landscaping Victoria’s members, who now refer to themselves as ‘Master Landscapers’ have some poor performers amongst their membership. We chose to leave the Association for this reason – to make a statement. Some members  charge a fortune for ugly hard landscaping. These concrete gardens are unbearably hot in summer with the wrong sort of trees for shade; the hard landscaping causes excessive ambient temperatures, and expensive drainage is required as no rain is utilised on site – it is all directed into the storm water systems. Why would a landscape designer, specialising in genuine sustainable landscapes, want to be part of the ever-increasing vulgar gardens being created that are really nothing but ostentatious concrete and paving with a few token plants as a gesture to the ‘garden’. No idea whatsoever about biodiversity; essential to a real, sustainable garden.

Before commissioning a garden designer or landscaper, the consumer needs to do more homework. Google searches can help, but in the instance of searching for Timandra Design & Landscaping, Ad-Words appear before our actual website, promoting a particular business as providing beautiful but cheap gardens. And it is landscapers like this whose work we get called in to fix after they have walked away from the job. Accountability for landscaping work is imperative. A good, ethical landscape designer provides quality quotes for the proposed work. And ask about their long-term accountability for the work that they provide, during the consultation.

If you are considering taking the next step in approaching a business to manage your project, consider what this business has to offer. How long it has been in existence, photos of work and testimonials – Houzz is an excellent source here, as the testimonials are genuine and not made up by the business, and whether the business has an experienced garden designer who is also a professional horticulturist (qualifications for this) and whether the business provides the landscaping and maintenance. A genuine sustainable advocate is an even greater advantage because sustainable gardens will become the norm in years to come, as people realise that the current concrete jungle trend is really totally out of sync for such a hot and dry country as Australia.

A quality, award winning garden, overseen by professional garden maintenance providers, can be seen at www.timandrabythesea.com.au 

 

We need to talk about concrete!

Did you know that the environmental impacts of concrete are out of control and that the carbon dioxide produced from the production of concrete are high on the list for fossil fuel emissions? Did you also know that concrete is the second most consumed substance on earth after water?

Composed of primarily cement (a powdery substance derived from the process called calcination where calcium carbonate  decomposes to form calcium oxide and carbon dioxide) and clay, when mixed with water, sand and gravel, it creates concrete.

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy production needs to be curbed if we believe the law of conversion of energy. With this latter law, energy can be transformed from one form to another, but is unable to be created or destroyed. In other words, the energy of this isolated system remains constant. Therefore without access to an external energy source, there is not an unlimited amount of energy available.

We are currently using the available energy at a rapid pace. It cannot continue. Fossil fuels are definitely a problem, but so is concrete production. Cement manufacturing is highly energy – and – emissions intensive because of the extreme heat required to produce it. It also releases a significant amount of CO2.

Concrete is used throughout the building industry for homes and commercial premises. It is the most widely used building material because of its strength in many situations. So if this use continues, then the external element, within gardens, needs to be considered. Is this outside use appropriate?

If retaining walls are required, in my area, Cypress Pine is a wonderful product sold as sleepers, as an alternative to rendered concrete retaining walls or garden boxes. Its longevity is around 100 years I have been told and it is naturally bug resistant so has none of the toxins as does treated pine. These sleepers can then be used as the retaining wall. Old fashioned? Is there a problem with this, if it is in sync with nature? There is, in my opinion, no place for concrete. I don’t need to use concrete in my designs, because I work with nature and use what is naturally occurring.

Another form of retaining is where a site has naturally occurring large rocks or boulders that require only small machinery to move them in to place. Anything that requires cranes or large machines should be totally avoided, because these machines are destroying the natural ecology of a site. This is unsustainable practice. These rocks can be placed in judicious spaces along a slope to help bind the soil, in conjunction with appropriate plants that act as soil binders. Small rocks can be used here to help hold the soil while the plants are young. And when the path is taken across the slope, the steepness is considerably reduced. The rocks then become a feature within the curves of the path.

The continuous use of concrete is strongly atypical of a normal, sustainable garden – it is not clever garden design; it increases the project cost considerably – it is unnecssary especially considering the environmental impacts. And this style of landscape design by Landscape Architects and Landscape Designers is becoming the norm. Clients are asking for gardens with raised garden beds, usually rendered concrete, on flat sites, which is a worry. People need to be made aware of the negative impacts of this extensive use and stop requesting it; they also need to use Landscape Architects and Designers who are aware of environmentally sensitive issues.

The right way to design a garden, and this is my opinion, but it wins awards, is to suit the plant to the site and soil. Not modify the soil to suit the plant that you want to grow. It’s the same as a person wanting to grow Camellias where they have alkaline soil. The naïve will try to change the pH of the soil by adding sulphur or peat – this is a very slow process. Why not put the Camellia in a pot where the soil can be regulated properly? And then put a plant in the ground that is suited to that position – and it should thrive!

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionery, a ‘garden’ is ‘a piece of ground devoted to growing flowers, fruit or vegetables’. There is no mention of rendered, raised planter boxes or concrete en masse. A garden is about plants.

As a Designer there are so many more sustainable alternatives to concrete – its just a matter of changing direction and taking the client with you. If you have a passion, and confidence in what you are talking about, the client will respect the advice when sustainable alternatives are suggested and why.

We all really need to start becoming more aware of the excessive use of concrete. And it is excessive. We need to start the conversation with others about this worldwide problem – it has to stop. We are all now fully aware of the impacts of fossil fuels, with the exception of those who lack any capacity for common-sense, so we need to make the world more aware of the effects of concrete. It is a major global problem that, in my opinion, needs addressing now.

Alison Aplin

Who dictates our garden styles?

This is a personal perspective from a serious sustainable landscape designer and should be read in this vein. The post is designed to be contrary and to make people think!

Most people have a tendency to copy trends with their gardens. A few individuals are brave enough to design their own garden that is different – and it is these gardens that buck the trend, that stand out.

When you look at the gardens that the English put forward at places like the Chelsea Flower Show, their gardens often have a much more simplistic and natural style about them – plants are used to make the pictures. So why are so many Australian gardens about the use of hard landscaping en masse with structures and decking used instead of plants?

McMansions as homes have come under a lot of scrutiny and criticism. Mostly because they make a statement – “look at me, I’ve got money!” Unfortunately gardens have followed this style to ‘complement’ the garishness of the homes. What has happened to ‘understated beauty’?

Consider the gardens that win the awards in Australia through the Landscape Associations and Landscape Architecture. With the exception of a  few, where specialist sustainable designers enter their gardens, the bulk are an expose of manufacture. And the bulk of these landscapers are from the building trade, many with little or no knowledge of plants and their ongoing care. With their knowledge being based on structures, walls and so on, no wonder the bulk of the award winning gardens are so artificial.

When home gardeners view these winning gardens, the assumption is that this is the way to do it. And so we get the home-owner do-it-yourself makeover that is a rendition of something that they have seen that the media fussed about because it won. These manufactured gardens look artificial, with plants often lasting less than 5 years.

If the home gardener just kept their ideas simple, then they would have a much better garden, and be proud of their efforts. There is so much competition in life these days with everyone trying to outdo others, the simplistic aspect of living is being lost. Gardens should be simple places of enjoyment. Not ‘Tea Houses’ or broad expanses of decking, concrete walls, with chunky chairs and tables for plants!

I feel that the encouragement through the awards processes, for both display gardens and real gardens, is enabling the artificial building aspect of gardens to be seen as the norm. I believe that we need to turn back the clock and realise that all of this totally unnecessary energy use is having a seriously detrimental effect on our environment and we need to reconsider what a good garden really is. The question needs to be asked “Are we making gardens, or extending our homes?” which of course is most definitely the case. And the McMansion owners are encouraging it. Obviously, I am not a supporter.

Fencing vs plants as windbreaks

I have become aware of issues that are arising in client’s gardens following the erection of new fencing. These fences that are causing the problem are probably the dearest; but they are causing issues with wind turbulence.

Any solid structure, and this includes fences, that blocks the force of wind, will cause wind turbulence on the other side of the fence in the direction of the wind. So the more expensive fences that are being erected, with the extra panel in timber fences, in-between the small gap, is actually causing problems with gardens in the wind path.

If erecting a fence, the best option is one that allows some degree of wind through. Colourbond fences also cause problems for the same reason as the timber fence with the extra panel. And they are dearer because they are more solid.

Plants provide the best wind barrier because they filter the wind, allowing some of the force of the wind through the foliage. But in really windy spots, these need to be correctly selected species that also require formative pruning while young if native plants.

Staking plants for too long is not a good idea, especially with native plants. If the plants are tipping with the wind, either they haven’t been formative pruned, or they are inappropriate to the position and they aren’t anchoring because the soil is wrong for the plant.

My advice is not to be coerced into paying that ‘little bit extra’ to get that so-called better fence, because it is actually the wrong decision if in a wind zone.

An oft misused word

One hears the word ’sustainable’ bandied around a lot in many businesses. But how many people really understand what the word means, and the implications of doing the exact opposite? I want to be a leader in bringing about change in how we address landscape design for both domestic and commercial sites.

Sustainable development, now referred to as ‘sustainability’, according to the World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, is “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In other words, future generations should be no worse off than the current generation with current practice. Also for consideration is the robustness and stability of ecosystems, so that they can continue to flourish unimpeded.

A sustainable garden, from the outset, works with the site as it presents. It is a completely different concept to the typical manufactured garden with rendered retaining walls, masses of immaculate paving, lavish lighting and so on. There are minimal earthworks; retaining walls are only used if absolutely necessary – in fact I like to work with slopes using plants to bind the site; I use aggregate as an alternative to pristine paving and I don’t use lighting as this frightens the birds. But good design is paramount with a professional sustainable garden – these gardens need real flair, to make them stand apart from Joe Blog’s down the road.

I was the former owner/designer of Australia’s first and only Ecotourism garden; it was a wonderful learning experience going through the rigorous certification proceedure. And I have been able to adapt so much of that experience into my current model for sustainable landscapes.

I have attended many of the Landscape Designer’s Conferences held biennially in Melbourne. Most of the speakers are from overseas, with an overriding consensus of opinion amongst these speakers being the movement back towards sustainable gardens.

I am a regional landscape designer. Often our sites are large, and so as a genuine sustainable advocate, I break up these sites with plants. Plants are essential for carbon sequestration, provide biodiversity to a garden and when correctly used, aid the ecology of the site, especially in areas with drainage issues.

A good sustainable landscape designer needs to have a massive repertoire of plant knowledge in order to be able to effectively handle any difficult site with plants that will work in that situation. I use plants to soak up poorly drained areas and plants can be used to bind sand on coastal dunes.

Some earthworks are often required initially, but it needs to be minimised. I have seen too many photos of large excavators being used on sites to place massive rocks into situation, in the name of sustainability. Significant engineering and construction is taking place in these gardens – the whole ecology of the site is being eroded with these actions.

A true sustainable garden uses an extensive range of native plants [but they can also be exotic as long as there is variety] suited to the soil for increased biodiversity to the site; limits earthworks; minimises all construction and has no hard landscaping. It should also provide insulation to the home as climate change concerns become more evident. It’s that easy. I like to call a sustainable garden, because of its modesty – elegant.

Alison Aplin

Trees in the landscape for native gardens

[post based on a native garden perspective]

I admit it; I am an unabashed tree lover! As a landscape designer, I find it frustrating when people can’t understand the need for trees in their gardens. The usual negative comment from the client is ‘the leaves will be a nuisance in my gutters!’ Clients who love trees from the outset or are happy to be guided into their use, end up with wonderful gardens. But some people are hard to convince.

Most people don’t understand that the vertical aspect of trees within their garden actually makes their gardens appear bigger – because it’s a further dimension that is being addressed with plant material. And the vertical accent also creates depth in a garden which is missing in most novice and too often professional gardens that are created.

Consider walking into a garden, as you do, without trees. Your eyes are constantly kept at ground level or a bit higher. Real trees, those above 5 metres, cause you to bend your neck to look upwards into the canopy. The art of taking a path to go under the canopy of the tree is without doubt one of the greatest means of creating depth in your garden. And canopies can be raised as the trunk grows, enabling you to walk underneath.

Trees are wonderful for insulating the home. Evergreen trees, as in the Eucalypt, Cupaniopsis anacardioides or ‘Tuckeroo’, tall melaleucas like Melaleuca styphelioides, Agonis flexuosa, Allocasuarinas and Casuarinas and so on, are great for the eastern or western boundaries. The deciduous tree, indigenous to Australia and South East Asia called Melia azederach or ‘White Cedar’ grows to around 12 metres tall with a spread of around 6 metres. It grows mainly along the northern aspects of the eastern seaboard, but I have grown it well in areas that receive considerable frost. Given some summer irrigation, this tree is excellent for providing summer screening of windows on the northern side of the home, while allowing winter sunlight in, for those wanting to keep the native garden theme ‘pure’.

I have always noticed that children prefer gardens with trees in them. They seem to have a better understanding of the creation of different spaces within a garden, with trees helping to break up not only the vertical aspect, but also different areas within a garden. I find that if you can make different rooms within the garden, this also adds to the appeal of the area, and the use of trees here is essential.

There are some marvellous smaller Eucalypts that can be used, for example, Eucalyptus victrix, Eucalyputs pauciflora ‘Little Snowman’, Eucalyptus gregsoniana for colder climes, and Eucalyptus leucoxylon ‘Goolwa Gem’ which is a low growing form. I have a passion for plant research, which ensures that I choose plants that will work well in either my own garden, or that of my client. It is important to consider their original habitat when trying to work out which plant to use in the garden. For example, the much used but invariably badly grown Eucalyptus caesia seems to do well for a couple of years and then ultimately fails. I never use this plant as I find it too unreliable.

Trees that have an open canopy allow filtered light in to the plants growing underneath. Unfortunately, many a good tree specimen is ruined by the incorrect placement of plants underneath. Many gums have magnificent bark and/or trunks. The pictured Eucalypt for example has very interesting trunks, worthy of being made a feature; so to me the most ideal planting under this specimen would be the use of massed native grasses or grass like plants. And Lomandras are of the lily family and are not grasses. But they, en masse would look wonderful under this tree.

For those of you who don’t have any trees in your garden, try just one, a variety with an open canopy, and see what a difference it makes to your garden. Trust me, I can guarantee that you will be pleased with the result.

Ecotourism explanation

ECOTOURISM – WHAT IS THIS?

Timandra by the Sea is now an Ecotourism certified tourism destination as a Nature Based product; as a natural, sustainable garden, Timandra fully qualifies for the Ecotourism mantle.

Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015).  Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.

The purpose of Ecotourism is that the tourism is directed towards natural environments that are intended to support conservation efforts while being able to observe wildlife. Timandra has wildlife in abundance.

Ecotourism also addresses issues associated with climate change. We have wildlife now but with the increasing worsening of climate change, what will happen to this wildlife if CC continues to cause such extremes of climate. These extremes include the see-sawing from El Nino to La Nina and cause havoc to vegetation which then affects local wildlife populations.

Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. It includes the recognition of the rights and spiritual beliefs of Australia’s Indigenous People within our community so that we can work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

In Timandra we have solar panels on our roof and numerous rain water tanks with catchments from both our home and a large shed.

Eco Travel Tip

Start your green holiday at home! Before you leave make sure all electrical equipment is turned off at its source and that there are no leaking/dripping taps. If you have a gas hot water system you can even set this to the lowest setting or turned completely off.

Eco Garden Tip

When considering the layout of your garden, always work with the site as it is presented – and not make big changes to the levels. If you have a big slope to contend with, sustainable practice means that you retain this slope and work paths through the slope with planting to bind the bank. If you need a level area for children’s play, consider only levelling a portion of the slope and not the entire site. But once you level areas on a slope you then have significant issues with retaining walls and drainage problems. If you need a play area for children, it is really better to find an alternative spot other than this slope as a play area. Retaining walls and drainage are costly considerations and are not worth the money spent on them as they often break down after a few years. Sustainable practice ensures that your garden will last. It is manufacturing of sites that often cause break-down.

Juxtaposition of plants – what does this mean?

Juxtaposition of plants” – what does this mean?

The average plant buyer, when in need of a plant, goes to their local nursery and looks for something that takes their fancy. The usual plant that attracts attention is one with pretty flowers. I’m sure that this is why roses are so popular with many – people love the flowers.

Using the rose as the illustration here, consider what a rose has to offer other than its pretty flowers. Any thoughts? Personally I can’t think of anything other than the flower! So my comment here is – why bother growing them! They are dormant for 1/3 of the year at least, they get disease which requires attention, they are maintenance guzzlers, and without flowers they are absolutely nothing – just prickly sticks.

And there are a lot of plants in a traditional nursery that are exactly the same. The flowers look good, but this is the only redeeming feature of the plant. The foliage is dull or maybe sprawling and needing constant control, the shape is dumpy and so on. Tho the dumpy shape can have its uses in the garden, especially for breaking up areas of the site.

As a landscape designer, I would never select a plant based solely on its flowers. A plant needs to offer a lot more than mere flowers. But this truism is very difficult to get across to some people, hence the bad gardens that we see too often.

The juxtaposition of a plant refers to the placement of plants next to each other. If the existing plant in situ has broad leaves, maybe like Lambertia orbifolia, then a good neighbouring plant could be a fine leaved bottlebrush, like Callistemon viminalis or one of its cultivars. Not only does this bottlebrush grow in different soils, but the weeping habit of the fine foliage is a wonderful contrast for the more rounded Lambertia.

Good garden design, for both exotic and native gardens, is about contrasts with plant textures, colours etc. In a shady place under trees the very useful Plectranthus argentatus is a wonderful foil for plants like Correa baeuerlenii, Dianella tasmanica ‘Splice’ or even some of the hardier native ferns. The Plectranthus is light grey and hairy; it has blue flowers but to me it is the foliage that sets this plant apart.

Unfortunately these plants are not common to most local nurseries. You may have to visit specialist native nurseries to find some of these beauties.

Before purchasing any plant, if unsure about your find, always have in mind where you want to put it. It is essential to have an idea about both height AND width so that you won’t be forever pruning it because it grows too wide.

And consider also the idea of trimming the lower foliage of taller plants, to then enable smaller plants to be grown at its base. Once again, ensure that the width of the plants won’t be to the detriment of other plants in the mix.

I am a plant lover, but even in this guise, I remove plants that don’t perform. It is unfortunate that some plants just aren’t strong specimens from the outset. One problem that you usually only find when you pull the plant up, is girdled roots. It is very hard to tell when purchasing a plant whether there are girdled roots under the surface of the top soil. I have been caught a few times here which has been disappointing to find. Good nurseries shouldn’t sell these plants, but unfortunately every plant is worth money, and some get through by the wholesalers. This can happen with all shrubby plants, including trees.

In conclusion, I cannot stress firmly enough the need to choose your plant based on –

  1. the plant’s suitability to the soil in which it will be planted
  2. will the plant grow in the conditions of your garden i.e. if it likes full sun, then don’t plant it in shade
  3. what do the neighbouring plants look like? Will this plant provide a good contrast?
  4. the habit of the plant so that excessive maintenance is not needed
  5. colour, texture etc of the foliage because this is more important than the flowers

And for consideration for all readers is the fact that anyone can have a label printed – you don’t need to have any knowledge to have labels explaining growing conditions printed. So don’t rely on plant labels for information. Do your own research and you will be far better off.

Growing indoor plants

I am an avid lover of indoor plants. Even when it wasn’t trendy, I still had a house full of them. But of course, I am one of those who never follow trends – I prefer to do my own thing, or if possible, make trends!

So often we read recommendations for indoor plants to use that are for sub-tropical regions i.e. Sydney. Ficus lyrata, for example will not grow in the more southern climes. I only wish that it would grow in the more southern aspects of the country – it is a great foliage plant.

Even Spathyphyllum in the finer leaved form is doomed to death in the colder parts. The broader leaved form is hardier, but only just. I now don’t bother either.

I just think that the presence of indoor plants is warming to a home. And green is such a universal colour. Of course people who want colour indoors grow Cyclamens during winter. I don’t grow Cyclamens indoors – I prefer to keep them in pots outside for colour during winter around the home. Indoor heating just doesn’t work with them – they prefer the cold.

My all-round favourites are Aspidistra elatior the Cast Iron plant and Ficus elastica which is the Rubber Tree. The former is also an excellent plant grown in a shady place outdoors, whereas the Ficus should never be planted in the garden – the root system is horrendous once the tree really starts to grow – they cause considerable damage to any structure within their path.

Ficus hillii is another plant that I use indoors. But be warned; any change of position of this plant could result in all or some of the leaves falling. The plant will survive this change. Just don’t overwater thinking that it is because of a lack of water that the leaves are falling as this will then kill the plant.

I clean the leaves of these plants with a damp soapy cloth. Forget the products that are recommended for indoor plant leaves. Cleaning both sides of the leaves keeps them clean and stops dust settling. Spider mites will settle in any dust that remains on leaves for any length of time. Watch for scale and pick them off and also mealybug. But this latter is usually found in humid positions outdoors.

And your indoor plants need regular fertiliser. I use Seasol products applied as a very weak tea every second watering. I take the plant to the kitchen sink and water it in the sink until the water comes out of the drainage holes. I then put a knife under the base of one side of the pot, to tip it to the side, so that the drainage is increased. I leave the pot in this position for about an hour.

Plants that are understorey plants in a rainforest can make good indoor plants. Ferns, like the Maidenhair Fern are good choices here as is the Boston fern. Both do well with regular applications of very weak fertiliser. The native ginger, Alpinia caerulea also does well indoors for a period of time and then plants out well in a shady spot in the garden.

I don’t do palms – I find them too unreliable. And some of the unreliable factor can come from the supplier. The soil that they have been planted in for example, the size of the pot to the root system is also of prime importance. A pot that is too big is a real issue with indoor plants. It is better to have the pot on the smaller side and only re-pot to the next size up i.e. incrementally.

I can strongly recommend indoor plants to anyone who is a plant lover and who likes the appearance of warmth in a home – they are definitely not the minimalist look, but then this fad will also change in time.