Gardens with Plants

GARDENS USING MASSED PLANTING VS ‘GARDENS’ OF PAVING, DECKING AND MASSED STONES:

A COMPARISON

The gardens of today, in the new subdivisions, are full of virtually nothing but hard landscaping. Paving, decking and white river pebbles are the order of the day. And many of these ‘gardens’ are being done by landscapers. And unfortunately, because they are so ‘easy’ to do, home-owners copy them, so the proliferation of these substandard gardens is becoming overwhelming. New subdivisions are just full of them.

Have you ever noticed that after about 3 years, if the home owner is lucky, the few typical strappy leaved plants that were added to the hard landscaping die, leaving nothing but the hard landscaping left? Is this really a garden?

I am an avowed plant person, believing that there is a plant for every position. This knowledge is only attained through years and years of working with plants and soils. This action is called gardening! If these so-called professionals, who construct ‘gardens’ of nothing but hard landscaping with a few nominal plants had gardened for as many years as I, then they may know a thing or two about plant selection. Most of my plant knowledge is empirical, but my industry, landscape design, SHOULD be based on empirical knowledge and not academia. And for a landscape designer to be able to call him/herself professional, considerable plant knowledge should be mandatory.

A designer is born, and a plant person learns through experience and research. Both of these characteristics are essential to the well-versed landscape designer of any worth.

Big garden design companies have a variety of different trades within the company – including a horticulturist. But not all businesses want to work as a company. The sustainable advocate, like my business, doesn’t need all of these different trades because construction is kept to a minimum.

Gardens that use plants en masse are far more sustainable than one that is modelled on those too commonly seen in suburbia today. Hard landscaping is not sustainable as it uses a lot of energy in the process of construction. The finished product is lifeless and provides nothing whatsoever of value to the environment. In fact, large areas of paving have a significant negative impact on the environment in the form of run-off, expensive drainage systems and lack of rainfall being utilised on site in a natural way.

As a sustainable landscape designer, I am horrified when doing an initial consultation with a new client, to be asked to provide a garden using the very products that I abhor. These people want their gardens to look like everyone else’s. Why? Unfortunately their houses are cloned and look just like their next door neighbour’s, except maybe a bit bigger, and so they then want their garden to look like just about every garden in the sub-division. People are becoming more and more like sheep; it’s easier this way as thinking about things is too hard, so just follow the leader! If only they realised that the leader is flawed.

Sustainable gardens are a haven for birds and so many other fauna, essential to a healthy ecosystem. Children need to grow up with the experience of birds in their garden, lizards, bees and ants. These critters are all part of a healthy soil biota, biodiverse plant life and pesticide and herbicide free zone.

Do people really think that there is little maintenance with the tasteless ‘garden’ that they espouse? If they only realised that a truly sustainable garden, once established requires far less maintenance and irrigation than the mass produced version.

Massed plants, once established and properly spaced by a real professional, become living mulch. Debris from these plants is put back onto any open space, so that this also forms ‘forest mulch’ on site. Massed plants, using plants for different purposes, i.e. nectar for small birds, seeds for bigger birds, any rocks from the site utilised within the design to provide habitat for lizards and so on are all part of the sustainable experience. And this experience is so much more rewarding than the treeless charade being mass produced in so many new gardens.

The mass produced inert garden is forever full of weeds. The pebbles are a magnet for weed seeds and once germinated, the weeds are difficult to hand-pull from the stones. So home-owners use the ubiquitous herbicide, glyphosate, little realising that any tad hint of spray drift has a profound effect on grassy foliaged plants. So these few, sparing plants either die, or look shocking for the rest of their life, until someone eventually removes them.

As a multi award winning landscape designer, I am fed up with seeing these awful gardens being ‘professionally’ constructed by so-called professionals. Because they have no plant knowledge, they are just copying everyone else. The client is paying them to provide the labour [brawn] for a job they could do themselves but can’t be bothered. There is no skill in these gardens, just pure monotony.

2015 Landscape Designer’s Conference

A Summary

I attend every conference held biennially, commencing with visits to a collection of different gardens for the delegates to peruse. I personally find this the most interesting part of the whole conference. But the speakers, with the exception of only one, were this time very interesting and inspiring.

For at least the last 3 conferences, the overwhelming consensus of opinion has been towards sustainable landscapes. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Art and Nature: Conflict and Harmony in the Landscape’, but each speaker, the bulk of whom were international, continually referred to the sustainable aspects of their work and often the fact that it can be difficult to get clients to understand the need for this shift. But it is not just clients who are not absorbing this move; landscape designers themselves do not appear to have a proper understanding of what a sustainable landscape really entails. As the winner of last year’s Landscaping Victoria ‘The Sustainable Landscape’ and the owner/designer of Australia’s first and only Ecotourism garden, I feel that I have at least a modicum of knowledge and experience to substantiate this claim. And I have been invited to assist with the classification for ‘The Sustainable Landscape’ for future entries in the Landscaping Victoria awards process.

One of the gardens that we visited was Phillip Johnson’s own private garden at Olinda in the Dandenong Ranges. He was also a speaker at the conference. His manner of delivery is inspirational, robust and ‘ebullient’ as a friend of mine suggested. But I take issue with his concept of sustainable, and I feel that the international speakers may have also been rather surprised with his take on sustainability. His own garden is so highly engineered that it is most definitely not sustainable. The massive earthworks machinery that would have been required to move into place massive rocks alone is unsustainable. I think that the thought process is that if the rock is locally sourced, which I believe in this instance they were, that then it is OK to use them and place them with heavy duty earthworks machinery. This is not so. Sustainable landscapes are about using the site as it presents, not reconstructing the whole site to accommodate whims in the form of a billabong – no matter how good it looks.

The international speakers were Martine Reine-Cano, a German who hails from Buenos Aires; Helen and James Basson, an English couple working in Southern France; Thomas Doxiadis who works in the Greek Isles, Xavier Perrot from Brittany who works with Andy Cao on international projects, and Diana Viesner from Columbia, South America. The Australian speakers were Phillip Johnson and Viesturs Cielens from South Australia. Phillip was inspirational about his billabongs which really are remarkable – but not sustainable. The other chap – I turned off. I thought he was a bore.

I find at these conferences that there is a strong degree of modesty associated with the delivery by the international speakers. It is not quite the case with Australian speakers which is disappointing. I personally think that Australia has been left well behind the rest of the world in relation to how it manages sites for landscape design. There is far too much intervention and hard landscaping.

One of the international speakers, James Basson alluded to the entrenched habit of creating outdoor rooms with outdoor kitchen. I have thought for many years that this practice is obscene; it is refreshing to hear that others are of the same opinion. And in many respects this practice is an Australian phenomenon. So maybe the Australian landscape designers need to rethink how they manage sites, so that they are less ostentatious, because it really is just an ugly display of wealth. Why not donate this surplus money to some worthy cause in the name of philanthropy?

Throughout the garden visits, there was evidence of repeated use of Brachychiton rupestris, the Bottle Tree and a Kurrajong. Many of these plants hadn’t factored in the eventual width of their girth and will barely last in their current position. What is the point in planting these trees, only to have to remove them because of inappropriate initial placement? It suggests a considerable lack of horticultural knowledge when this happens. And plants make a garden, so this knowledge is imperative to any worthy garden designer.

A very salient comment made by Thomas Doxiadis was about the effect of climate change leading to zone shifts. Our current climate is broken into zones. With the increasing incidence of climate change, all these parameters that determine our zones will change. He made reference to the massed migration from troubled Middle Eastern countries and the effect of this on the world. But he also commented that Australia may very well end up having mass emigration to cooler countries if climate change isn’t resolved before the earth’s temperature gets too high. AND these migrants will be the wealthy looking for a better climate i.e. ‘economic migrants’.

I would dispute a comment made by James Basson in his first talk that ‘a garden should never be flat’. I have designed many a flat garden and with the right interpretation of the site, they can look absolutely fabulous. And for a sustainable fanatic, his comment was wrong because he would have had to manufacture the site to change the flatness. Sustainability is always to leave the site as it is.

And a quote that I particularly enjoyed, said by James Basson once again and quoting Penelope Hobhouse ‘You have to be old to be good at garden design’ suggests that at my age, I am just about there! Penelope Hobhouse has been a speaker at earlier conferences; she is a remarkable mature aged landscape designer who is highly regarded worldwide. And she is right – it takes years and years to learn our trade; plants take many years to learn, not only the plants’ botanical name but how it grows and what conditions it likes for optimum growth. And a good designer needs to have a massive repertoire of plants to draw from for different situations. This is what differentiates a good landscape designer from a dull, bland designer – they know a lot of plants to make their gardens come alive.

Alison Aplin

29-9-15

202020 VISION

 202020 Vision

Our cities need more plants and trees

They’re good for our health and productivity, keep cities cool and reduce pollution. People even heal faster when they’re around them. Yet, so often, plants and trees are overlooked when plans are drawn and concrete poured.

Our mission is to create 20% more green space in our urban areas by 2020.

Yes, it’s big, it’s hairy and it’s kind of audacious. But that’s what makes it worthwhile. If you don’t try big things, big things never happen. And the benefits of more green space are just too big to ignore.

The 202020 Vision is one big collaboration to make our urban areas 20% greener by 2020.

 

 

Managing Frost In Your Garden

It is the lack of through-breeze that is probably the most significant factor in whether a frost will settle in your garden. My former garden in the Clare Valley of South Australia is situated in a low lying pocket in a region that is relatively high in altitude. Because of the topography of the region, this garden is situated in a dumping ground for gale force winds from the west. In order to reduce the impact of these winds, windbreaks had to be planted along the western boundary.

Unfortunately this also reduced the through-breeze, with the frost settling more readily in such a garden, than maybe the garden next door which was left more exposed. Because this former garden experienced frosts as low as -­10ºC, the objective was to manage the frosts through wise plant selection while limiting the gale force winds, desiccating to an exposed garden.

It is remarkable how the canopy of trees can have a profound effect on air movement – even the framework of deciduous trees is better than nothing. Not only is this framework essential in a summer garden, especially for those further inland, but this framework also proved its worth in the garden over the years during winter.
Under-planting beneath these trees in garden beds exposed to the east is more likely to be frost affected than those facing west. This is because the easterly facing areas thaw more quickly than on the opposing side, and it is the quick thaw from the sun that often causes damage to plants.

Frost damage is more likely to occur when the plants have been well irrigated in autumn, and even during dry winters. When nature is left to manage on its own, it is remarkable how effective this can be we just need to be more observant of how this is being done.

The leaves of plants are full of cells. When these cells are full of water (following supplementary irrigation), it is this water that swells when frozen. If the cells are kept dry, as nature intended (when it doesn’t rain for instance), there is no water to freeze and hence swell and so the damage is significantly reduced.
‘Black frosts’ are far more damaging than the rime frosts that are more evident. These ‘black frosts’ are prevalent when drought is impending and are usually associated with a dry winter. Nature intended the affected areas to remain dry for a reason, so that the damage to the plants’ cells is reduced.

Black frosts’ are often not noticed until a few days later when a particular plant can appear blackened. Vehicles that are left out overnight will have ice on their windscreens whereas none will be evident on the ground in such a frost. They are always higher off the ground with the damage occurring above ground level. Don’t irrigate your garden in frost prone regions during winter – it is dry for a reason.

Another very important strategy to consider is how you irrigate and manage your garden during the growing season. In frost prone areas, it is essential to “harden” the plants leading up to winter. The best way to do this is to irrigate your garden very infrequently, say every 4 weeks, but for at least 3 hours at a time. This is the best way to harden the wood of susceptible plants, and it is remarkable how well this strategy works.

Once the night temperatures drop in autumn allow nature to take its course. If your garden needs extra water at this time, it is suggestive that you have chosen the wrong plants for your site which are not compatible with the climate, the soil or both. New plantings can be hand watered to get them through til winter sets in.
Gardening is not hard if you allow nature to have more control. The role of the gardener is really only to observe, and give a guiding hand where necessary. The sustainable garden isn’t heavily pruned or controlled in any way. It can still have its formal elements, but even these are more natural and uncontrived. Leave nature to take control and enjoy the pleasure of observing.

Declining groundwater is a big problem for Australia

Opinion
By Derek Eamus

Groundwater is extensively used right across the Australian continent, which is why we should take very seriously a new study which says supplies are on the decline, writes Derek Eamus.

The loss of groundwater stores poses serious threats to humans that need it to drink, crops that are irrigated with it, and natural ecosystems that rely on it for their survival.

That’s why a new NASA study is cause for concern, particularly in a dry country like Australia.

Two satellites, launched in 2002, are able to make detailed measurements of the Earth’s gravity field in the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE).

Short-term fluctuations in the Earth’s gravity field can occur in response to large-scale changes in sea-ice and sea-level rise. However, changes in the gravity field in terrestrial locations far away from oceans and ice have been detected. These fluctuations occur in response to changes in the total mass of water stored within lakes, soil and groundwater.

Using independent data sets, it is possible to remove the effects of lakes and soil water store from the GRACE signal, thereby providing, for the first time ever, large-scale assessments of the changes in total groundwater store within massive aquifers at monthly, seasonal, annual and inter-annual time-scales.

About 40 per cent of the world’s population live in arid and semi-arid regions where groundwater is vital for human consumption but also for the maintenance of ecosystem health. It is not widely understood that vegetation and many streams and rivers are supported by the availability of groundwater, either as discharge into streams and rivers or through groundwater uptake by plant roots directly.

Australia is of course a very dry country so it is no surprise to find that groundwater is extensively used right across the continent. Perth relies heavily on the Gnangara Mound aquifer for its water supply, but the water table has been dropping for the past 40 years or more because of reduced rainfall, increased extraction, and probably because of decreased recharge arising from vegetation water-use.

The Great Artesian Basin (GAB), underlying about 1.7 million square kilometres of Australia, contains about 65,000 km3 of water, but the water is up to 2 million years old so it is easy to extract this resource far faster than it is being replenished.

As the pressure in the GAB has declined and the water table drops, mound springs (where groundwater is pushed to the ground surface under pressure) have begun to dry up in South Australia and Queensland. Associated paperbark swamps and wetlands are also being lost and it gets more and more expensive to extract the groundwater for irrigation and other commercial applications.

On average, rates of groundwater extraction across Australia has increased by about 100 per cent between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, reflecting both the increased population size and commercial usage of groundwater stores.

The GRACE satellites have also been used to monitor the impact of the Australian millennial drought on the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). The MDB accounts for about 30 per cent of the gross value of Australia’s agricultural production. From 2001 to 2006, the total rainfall deficit (the difference between the actual volume of rainfall received and what would be expected in rainfall was the average) for the basin was estimated to be about 520 km3. Using GRACE data Marc Leblanc and co-workersshowed that there was an almost total loss of surface waters (lakes, rivers) within two years of the start of the drought but depletion of groundwater stores continued for six years or more after the start of the drought. Between 2001 and 2007, there was about 104 km3 of groundwater lost from the MDB. The average annual loss of surface water and groundwater was 20 km3 which is 150 per cent of the total water usage in a normal year. Despite rainfall rebounding in 2007 and 2008, the GRACE data showed a continued decline in groundwater storage.

The international study released by NASA showing declines in groundwater resources globally should alert us to the pressing need to manage groundwater resources sustainably. Australia is not immune to the challenges posed from declining groundwater resources.

Derek Eamus is Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Technology

The Lawn Revisited

The lawn revisited: awareness education and culture as public policies toward sustainable lawns

Abstract: Lawn has been used for landscaping, gardening, and beautification of homes and cities for a long time. The evolution of the lawn reflects important cultural and biophysical interactions between humans and nature. The American lawn, which was from Europe and has been a part of the American dream for home ownership and culture, has become an area going against nature for its extensively using chemicals and generated pollutions. Tracing how the lawn is becoming an important part of culture, this article focuses on more recent pollution and other environmental problems resulted from the lawn culture. It is argued, that awareness, education and changing culture of taste and preference can serve additional measures together with law and technological advancement toward sustainable lawn in the United States and the world. [Yaoqi Zhang, Bin Zheng, Ge Sun & Peilei Fan (2015). The American Lawn Revisited: Awareness Education and Culture as Public Policies Toward Sustainable Lawn. Problems of Sustainable Development, 10(1), 107-115]

Flower Show Gardens

Why is so much kudos given to flower show displays? How can they be called sustainable?

Why is so much fuss made about display gardens in flower shows? People who win awards with these shows appear to assume that this award is a pinnacle within the landscaping industry. I question this.

These display gardens do look clever and demonstrate well the designer’s capability – for putting plants together with other external materials like decking, walls etc. But the whole composition is transportable. How can these ever be regarded as gardens? To be truly commended for designing a garden and then putting this garden into practice takes significant plant knowledge, assuming that plants are used and not just hard landscaping. Look closely at the entrants to these events – most of them are young and aspiring landscape designers, newly out of design school. Once they have won an award or two they probably regard themselves as the best in the business.

I am not trying to be a kill-joy. But it takes years and years to learn what plants work in different soils and conditions. There are very, very few plants that work in all situations, when you consider drought, poor drainage and so on. And wouldn’t all of our gardens be totally boring if these were the only plants used? So it is up to the younger landscape designers to bide their time, like us older members, and learn the trade through diligence, research and empirical learning. There are no books available to hasten this experience. The book ‘Grow What Where’ is a good tool that I occasionally use, but plants are changing all the time, new hybrids come in and old species plants move out. It is totally frustrating trying to keep up with plant availability, but so be it – it is part of our business.

There are two issues that I feel need to be considered here. The first is the increasing promotion of display gardens in Flower Shows and the subsequent notoriety of the winners, and secondly is the portrayal of ‘sustainable’ gardens in these shows.

I come to the area of sustainability from a varied background. As a 60 year old, who has gardened for at least 40 years with numerous private gardens, most of which have been open to the public with Open Gardens Australia, I am an avowed specialist in sustainable gardens. I have won awards for this knowledge, in South Australia and in 2014 for the Landscaping Victoria Sustainable Gardens Award. I was also the owner and designer of Australia’s first and only Ecotourism accredited garden in South Australia which went on to win a significant tourism award. In this capacity, I feel that I have some justification for questioning the sustainability ethic of these flower and garden shows. The most recent award won by Timandra surpassed Phillip Johnson’s garden entry [of Chelsea Flower Show fame] in the same category. Timandra’s entry was totally sustainable, and through a thorough knowledge of the subject, it was documented why this entry was totally sustainable, with the visit to the garden by the judge proof of quality of entry. And there is no construction within this garden. Construction per se in a garden is NOT sustainable, and this is the very essence of the flower show display gardens!

It is a real challenge for landscape designers to design for their clients a garden that is going to not only look good, but grow into a masterpiece. And this can take years to come to fruition. Getting the plants right – the right plants for the soil, the climate, proximity to sea and so on. None of these issues need to be factored in with a display garden. They are either left in their pots and camouflaged as such or potted out in soil and disposed of after the event.

To me there is little skill in putting together these display gardens that don’t need to continue growing to really show the designer’s ability. So why do the landscape designers make such a fuss about winning awards with them? Is it because they haven’t won any ‘real’ awards where the gardens have had to perform in situ for at least 2 years in the ground. A good garden should last indefinitely when well-tended, not collapse after 2 years because of inappropriate plant selection – the basis of any proper garden.

Most gardens die within the first 2 years when inappropriately done. I wonder how long many of these display gardens would last if planted into situ in a client’s garden. Considering that they are based solely on their appearance and appropriateness for the look the aspiring designer wants to achieve and not relevant to any topographic situation why are these ‘gardens’ given so much kudos?

Surely there are others around who are questioning these flower and garden shows beyond just me? Why is there so much apathy in the landscape industry to have allowed this to become so predominant? The practice has been going on for at least 12 years in Australia that I can recall and has now usurped the genuine entrant in the awards process, the true professional who provides gardens for real clients with real soil and climate issues.

Alison Aplin
Timandra Design & Landscaping

 

The Dutch Ban Glyphosate – RoundUp

The Dutch ban glyphosate
David Low

It’s official, the Netherlands beat Monsanto in a long-debated motion to ban the sale of glyphosate-based herbicides.

The Dutch Parliament passed the law prohibiting private parties from buying Monsanto’s toxic herbicide, RoundUp, and is expected to go into
effect in late 2015. While the Dutch Lower House had initiated the law to ban glyphosate from non-agricultural use years ago, it seems Monsanto’s grip on the government “overrode” the motion at the time, but now residents of the Netherlands will be safe from the toxic pesticide. Two members of the Dutch Parliament, Esther Ouwehand and Gerard Schouw, submitted the motion, which influenced recent approval. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp, has been linked to many health risks including different forms of cancer, nervous system damage and birth defects among many other issues. The Netherlands now joins Russia and Mexico as the latest country to ban Monsanto’s RoundUp. Will this prompt other countries to follow suit?

Some Philosophical questions

GARDENS USING MASSED PLANTING VS ‘GARDENS’ OF PAVING, DECKING AND MASSED STONES:

A COMPARISON

The gardens of today, in the new subdivisions, are full of virtually nothing but hard landscaping. Paving, decking and white river pebbles are the order of the day. And many of these ‘gardens’ are being done by landscapers. And unfortunately, because they are so ‘easy’ to do, home-owners copy them, so the proliferation of these substandard gardens is becoming overwhelming. New subdivisions are just full of them.

Have you ever noticed that after about 3 years, if the home owner is lucky, the few typical strappy leaved plants that were added to the hard landscaping die, leaving nothing but the hard landscaping left? Is this really a garden?

I am an avowed plant person, believing that there is a plant for every position. This knowledge is only attained through years and years of working with plants and soils. This action is called gardening! If these so-called professionals, who construct ‘gardens’ of nothing but hard landscaping with a few nominal plants had gardened for as many years as I, then they may know a thing or two about plant selection. Most of my plant knowledge is empirical, but my industry, landscape design, SHOULD be based on empirical knowledge and not academia. And for a landscape designer to be able to call him/herself professional, considerable plant knowledge should be mandatory.

A designer is born, and a plant person learns through experience and research. Both of these characteristics are essential to the well-versed landscape designer of any worth.

Big garden design companies have a variety of different trades within the company – including a horticulturist. But not all businesses want to work as a company. The sustainable advocate, like my business, doesn’t need all of these different trades because construction is kept to a minimum.

Gardens that use plants en masse are far more sustainable than one that is modelled on those too commonly seen in suburbia today. Hard landscaping is not sustainable as it uses a lot of energy in the process of construction. The finished product is lifeless and provides nothing whatsoever of value to the environment. In fact, large areas of paving have a significant negative impact on the environment in the form of run-off, expensive drainage systems and lack of rainfall being utilised on site in a natural way.

As a sustainable landscape designer, I am horrified when doing an initial consultation with a new client, to be asked to provide a garden using the very products that I abhor. These people want their gardens to look like everyone else’s. Why? Unfortunately their houses are cloned and look just like their next door neighbour’s, except maybe a bit bigger, and so they then want their garden to look like just about every garden in the sub-division. People are becoming more and more like sheep; it’s easier this way as thinking about things is too hard, so just follow the leader! If only they realised that the leader is flawed.

Sustainable gardens are a haven for birds and so many other fauna, essential to a healthy ecosystem. Children need to grow up with the experience of birds in their garden, lizards, bees and ants. These critters are all part of a healthy soil biota, bio-diverse plant life and pesticide and herbicide free zone.

Do people really think that there is little maintenance with the tasteless ‘garden’ that they espouse? If they only realised that a truly sustainable garden, once established requires far less maintenance and irrigation than the mass produced version.

Massed plants, once established and properly spaced by a real professional, become living mulch. Debris from these plants is put back onto any open space, so that this also forms ‘forest mulch’ on site. Massed plants, using plants for different purposes, i.e. nectar for small birds, seeds for bigger birds, any rocks from the site utilised within the design to provide habitat for lizards and so on are all part of the sustainable experience. And this experience is so much more rewarding than the treeless charade being mass produced in so many new gardens.

The mass produced inert garden is forever full of weeds. The pebbles are a magnet for weed seeds and once germinated, the weeds are difficult to hand-pull from the stones. So home-owners use the ubiquitous herbicide, glyphosate, little realising that any tad hint of spray drift has a profound effect on grassy foliaged plants. So these few, sparing plants either die, or look shocking for the rest of their life, until someone eventually removes them.

As a multi award winning landscape designer, I am fed up with seeing these awful gardens being ‘professionally’ constructed by so-called professionals. Because they have no plant knowledge, they are just copying everyone else. The client is paying them to provide the labor [brawn] for a job they could do themselves but can’t be bothered. There is no skill in these gardens, just pure monotony.

Alison Aplin (Timandra Design & Landscaping)