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The Value of Natives

So what did you all do for your weekend? I certainly didn’t get a day to play in the garden but can’t really complain as I spent the day with the best gardener in the world: Ma. We headed down to the Leschenault Community Nursery which is just north of Bunbury. The nursery had a particularly exciting guest speaker – Sabrina Hahn from Hort with Heart. Strap yourself in, this is a long one.

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Okay, I zoomed in… but look, a celebrity!

For those of you who don’t know of Sabrina, shame on you. Ha! Sabrina is a passionate gardener to say the least, which you might notice in her involvement in ABC radio. Now that i have brushed shoulders with a celebrity I must say, she is brimming with excitement for everything in the garden. Sabrina is relateable and honest. Throughout the talk she made it clear that every little bit we do in out yards (that isn’t paving or plastic lawn!) will all make a positive impact on our environment – so don’t be afraid to get out there and give it a go, whether you are a perfectionist or a lazy gardener it’s all the same. She’s also bloody hilarious.

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If you think I’m crazy, here is proof – Sabrina draws quite a crowd!

To start us off Sabrina made it very clear how if we neglect our soil, our plants will never flourish. She’s not wrong, without improving our impoverished sand on the Perth coastal plain we are setting ourselves up to fail, and the same goes for heavy clay soils in agricultural land. The benefits of building up organic matter in your soil through compost, manure, hugelkultur, is we improve the nutrients available for plants to establish and bloom, help the soil retain water and reduce water repellancy and set up a microscopic eco system of beneficial bacteria and fungi that will keep our plants healthy and happy.

Interestingly, on discussion of this same topic with avid gardener Graeme Mitchell, I get the impression that people who don’t build up their soil ‘because natives are hardy’ have almost completely missed the point. Graeme drives the theory that if you choose the right plant for the right location you will need to contribute less to the soil, and that by starting out with the bare minimum you can respond to the plants behaviour as to what you need to add to the soil, rather than overloading with particular nutrients the plant isn’t benefiting from. So personally, regarding native plants especially, I believe we need a mix between these two ideas.

Sabrina encouraged throughout the talk that native plants hold a great purpose in our garden by helping to reestablish our native fauna. Bees, lizards, birds – I’m not species-ist.  Sabrina brought along a guest speaker, Johnny Prefumo AKA the frog doctor who was absolutely, brilliantly knowledgable and again had so much passion.

He spoke about some obvious things, but hey we all need a reminder, and I also learned some fantastic new things.

  1. Build all three storey’s in to your garden where possible to give a range of fauna an opportunity to seek safety in your yard. If you can even plant just one tree, a variety of shrubs and ground cover you will be contributing enormously.
  2. Consider the time and colour of your flowering plants. By having a constant supply of flowering plants – lets call this ‘chain flowering’ – you ensure there is a constant food source for the ecosystem you are building.
    While we are often drawn to red and orange flowering plants, yellow, blues and violets are plants that attract and feed our smaller animals and insects.
  3. Plant in a staggered arrangement rather than a straight line and include prickly plants. This will allow small birds to fly between plants for protection. A great option is a hemiandra.
  4. Our native frogs don’t really live in a whole lot of water. Provide some water, yet better still provide damp protected soil for frogs.
  5. Plant LESS grevilleas! I’m allergic, and I bet you know at least one other person who is. Gravellia are poisonous and so only a few bird species can consume them. Insects and many birds avoid them for this reason. Encompass an aray of plants where possible.
  6. Avoid pesticides where possible, as these will kill also our good bugs or fungi that we are working so hard to establish. Give nature an opportunity to find a balance as native predatory insects will move in if given the chance. Long term, your garden will be able to control and sustain itself.

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Spend the day at a native nursery and see an amazing variety of plants you’ve never even noticed!

I think its really important to say that up until this point, I always felt a huge divide between those of us who are native gardeners and those who simply aren’t. The truth is you can encompass some natives in your garden around your exotic and well loved plants. It does not make you a non believer! You won’t be shunned here!

Some statements through the presentation really stuck with me. We shouldn’t be afraid that we don’t have a place or enough space to make a difference. By working together we can create high quality green spaces that will help cool down our suburbs, save us water and money, protect our soils from synthetic fertilisers and help our community to reconnect.

Don’t be deterred by the drive by the Water Corporation to reduce water usage. Long term, establishing a good eco system and recycling water where possible will SAVE water down the track by helping our land hold water rather than drying up or running off down drains never to be seen again. If you are establishing a new garden – apply for a watering exemption to get yourself on track.

And don’t forget, enjoy the whole experience, and follow your heart.

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Ah, nothing better than spending the day with mum. Smile Mumma bear! (she’s going to kill me for this one!)

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