Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Try growing: local timber trees

I don't imagine there are many gardeners out there who would want to grow a tree for its timber, but in preparing for the Illawarra Festival of Wood, I found out a bit about local timber trees. It was a fascinating journey, and I was surprised to find that both there are some great timber trees around, but also that most of them are not in cultivation at all. Here are a few of the most amazing and promising trees, many of which are also very well suited to use in gardens and on verges (hint hint). 

Red Cedar (Toona ciliata) is a well-known and important timber tree with straight- grained reddish timber used extensively for furniture and boatbuilding. Cedar-getters were among some of the earliest Europeans working in the Illawarra, and largely denuded the region of the species. Luckily its local population is recovering relatively well, although there are almost no very large specimens. Here's a great image of a Red Cedar plank from the Love of Wood website.
White Beech (Gmelina leichhardtii) suffered a very different fate from Red Cedar in this region and across eastern Australia. It is a large, slow-growing tree with beautiful white and purple flowers and big purple fruit. Its white, easily worked timber is highly resistant to decay, and was used for house and ship building. It was devastated by logging and it is now very rare in the region. Plant one today and help provide beautiful timber for generations to come!
White Beech timber is almost unavailable, but here is an image from the website of Wollongong's Florez Nursery.
llawarra Plum Pine (Podocarpus elatus) is a much-prized timber tree for many fine woodworking uses such as furniture, plywood, turnery, carving, kitchen utensils, musical instruments. A slow-growing tree, it is unavailable along the east coast, and both uncommon and unavailable in the Illawarra. I had trouble even finding a good photograph of the timber, but here's a shot of the tree so you can get a sense of how good it would look in a larger garden or on an acreage. It can even be kept clipped and grown as a hedge.

A mature Illawarra Plum Pine growing in the
hind dunes at Perkins Beach in Primbee.
Photo: Byron Cawthorne-MacGregor.

Ebony (Diospyros australis and Diospyros pentamera) are small, handsome trees are related to the African and Asian “ebonies”. They have shapely dark green leaves and cast a dense shade, making them useful as street trees. The timber is an attractive black or black streaked with brown figure, hard and close-grained. It is used for piano keys, finger boards for violins and cellos, billiard cue butts, inlay, carving cutlery handles. Only small trees grow in Illawarra, to around 8m high. The timber is not available, and again it's almost impossible to get a photograph, so here's a shot of a lovely Myrtle Ebony (Diospyros pentamera) growing at Perkins Beach in Primbee.
Myrtle Ebony at Perkins Beach in Primbee. 
Photo: Leon Fuller.
There are many other local trees that make good quality timber, including several of the eucalypts, such as Blackbutt (E. pilularis) and Grey Ironbark (E. paniculata). One use for such trees is to protect the edges of an area of natural vegetation from weed invasion, an approach that has been tried with some success in the region. The trees can be harvested when their work is done. More on that another time!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Garden inspiration: Illawarra Festival of Wood

It's been a hot dry spring so far, and not great conditions for many gardens. Trying to take appealing photographs is all but impossible at the moment, so apologies for the dearth of colour.  

For something different, you will be able to pick up an interesting carving, learn how to make your own garden tools, and buy native plants at the Illawarra Festival of Wood, coming up this Friday 6 and Saturday 7 October.  
Mallee Designs' Kath Gadd will be on hand with a range of local native plants and other goodies such as her amazing copper bird baths. And there will be lots of other stalls, workshops on making everything from bowls to chopsticks to milking stools, and a range of displays. Plus live music! I'll be there on the Friday afternoon and happy to talk all things local native plants. A partial list of plants is available from the Mallee Designs website (but there will be more!)

In other news, the deadline for commenting on Wollongong City Council's draft Urban Greening Strategy has been extended to COB this Friday 6 October, so if you haven't yet written in to support more street trees, more trees on private land and better protection for our urban vegetation, there's still a chance to comment. Every voice will help!

OK, one photo. This Brown Kurrajong (Commersonia fraseri) was flowering spectacularly despite the dry down at Stuart Park a week or so ago.
Brown Kurrajong (Commersonia fraseri) is
such a tough plant, and great bird habitat too.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How to: Grow a hedge using Illawarra natives

I'm not much of a hedge grower myself, but hedges are a useful element in many gardens, and a good way of creating a natural screen. There are quite a few Illawarra natives that can be used in hedge form, though unfortunately many have not been tested. Most are rarely seen as hedges. 

It might be time for a local hedge renaissance! Here are a few species you could try:
The underused and underrated Native Holly (Alchornea
) makes a pleasant low hedge in part shade.
It can be grown under eucalypts.
White Correa (Correa alba) again! Yes, it's a great
hedging plant, and happy in sun or part shade. Its
abundant white flowers are a bonus in spring.
And another of my favourites, Orange Thorn (Pittosporum
), which is very like English Box, with slow
growth and small leaves, suitable for formal hedging.
Photo: Kath Gadd. 
This is Heath Myrtle (Baeckia imbricata) used as a low
hedge at Wollongong Botanic Garden. It is a fairly
fast-growing species, and while it makes an attractive
hedging plant, its tendency to become leggy is evident here.
There are a few other excellent hedging plants native to the region, including the super-tough Whalebone Tree (Streblus brunonianus) and the bird-attracting Flintwood (Scolopia braunii). Both of these species have the potential to grow into small trees, but with appropriate maintenance form appealing, dense hedges or screens. Bolwarra (Eupomatia laurina) is also worth considering, though it cannot be pruned to closely and tends to be 1-2m across. 
Bolwarra used to screen a house from the nearby
laneway. This plant has had minimal pruning.
Photo: Leon Fuller. 
 Some climbers and sedges also have strong potential as border plants, though not as hedges per se. Here's one interesting example:

Molucca Bramble (Rubus moluccana var. trilobus) is perhaps
a surprising choice as an edging or hedging plant as it is
quite prickly. But here it is being used in the Australian
National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. Nobody has complained
about it to my knowledge! 
And of course, as with hedging species generally, there are a few rules of thumb to observe: 
- the faster growing plants will reach full height sooner, but require more pruning and management down the track to keep to shape. Many will become leggy unless very carefully managed. 
- Slower growing species will take longer to reach a good shape and fullness, but are easier to keep in shape once they are mature. 
- Pruning is particularly important for larger-leaved species which can become leggy more easily. 
- Prickly plants can make good protective hedges but should not be used in areas where prickles or spines risk causing harm. 
- Many but not all Illawarra natives respond well to hard pruning. Check carefully before conducting a hard pruning. 
- Loose or informal hedges are attractive and interesting alternatives to very neat formal hedges, and often more appropriate for gardens where a naturalistic or informal feel is desired. 

Happy hedging!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Garden inspiration: National Gallery of Australia sculpture garden

I love wondering around the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The vegetation of the Illawarra and the ACT are very different, but there is enough overlap that quite a few of the plants in the sculpture garden also grow well around Wollongong. 

Here are a few plants being used in interesting ways to give you some ideas. 
Here's White Correa (Correa alba) as an informal hedge,
with She-oaks providing some shade
A mix of Tussock  (Poa billardieri) and
Sedges (Carex spp.) provide an appealing 
soft edge to a sandy path through the gums
Believe it or not this is an Austral Indigo (Indigofera
) that has been grown as a tiny tree. When
in flower it makes a truly stunning sight.
Also quite impressive is this large bed of Spiny-headed
Mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia), bordering another of
the garden's sandy paths and backed by She-oaks.
Yes, Canberra has ferns! This is a Shield Fern
(Polystichum sp.). A couple of species of Shield
Fern occur in Illawarra, though not the one that is
most common in the ACT area. It's a handsome plant!
And if you want landscaping ideas, here are a couple of interesting uses for eucalypts.
Here are some Brittle Gums (Eucalyptus
) gracing a paved courtyard, and
surrounded by Spiny-headed Mat-rush. The
gums help soften the stark lines of the building.
These gum branches have been used to form a
decorative background to some young Hairpin
Banksias (Banksia spinulosa), a plant that grows
on the plateau west of the Illawarra escarpment.
The wattles and many other plants were in flower but I couldn't see any species from the Illawarra area. Local plants that would grow well with these species include Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia subsp. sophorae), the winter-flowering Sunshine Wattle (A. terminalis) and the low greyish Straight Wattle (A. stricta). Blogger won't let me upload any more photos right now but I'll try to add some shots later!

With a bit of rain at last, plants in gardens and bushland around the region will be happy today. 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Try growing: Settler's Flax (Gymnostachys anceps)

I wrote about Settler's Flax (Gymnostachys anceps) a few weeks ago, as one of many shade-tolerant plants that grow well in Illawarra gardens. It's such an attractive and versatile species, and so underused, that I thought I'd give it a post of its own. 

Settler's Flax is a fantastic local native plant! It's one of very few local natives that are tall and strap-leaved, decorative and structural. It's the closest local equivalent to those tough succulent or palm-like plants that are so popular in low-maintenance gardens, such as Dracaenas or Yuccas. But it's all ours...and deserves to be used far more widely!

Here's Settler's Flax growing naturally at the Mount
Keira Scout Camp, among rocks and ferns. The strappy
leaves are very distinctive.
The long strappy leaves contrast well here with
the carpet of fallen leaves and the foliage of
the nearby ferns. 
(Photo: Kath Gadd)
Another shot showing the plant's
structural qualities 

(Photo: Kath Gadd)
Settlers' Flax prefers shady conditions, so can be grown on shaded verandahs and porches, and in gardens underneath canopy trees. It can also be used as an indoor plant, and can tolerate extremely low light levels with no direct sunlight and limited indirect light. Very few plants can cope in those conditions. 

The one challenge is finding Settler's Flax in local nurseries. It is gradually becoming more widely available, but you might need to call around to locate it. With Wollongong Botanic Garden's GreenPlan sale on today (Friday), you might be able to pick up a few plants there! You've got until 2.30 this afternoon...
The striking blue fruit are a great feature of Settlers'
Flax, and also attract birds. 
(Photo: Peter Richardson)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Garden inspiration: Urban greening

Have you seen Wollongong City Council's draft Urban Greening Strategy released at the end of last month? It is full of inspiration!

The strategy is out for consultation over the next couple of weeks, so if you live in the Wollongong local government area, it's your chance to have a say about urban greening in general and any specific topics under that heading that interest you. Have a look here; and comment if you have the inclination. 

These are just a few interesting facts from the Strategy: 

- Higher levels of urban canopy are associated with better health, cooler and more attractive streetscapes, higher amenity, and even higher property values. 

- Total urban canopy (tree cover) in Wollongong is 17%, less than half the Australian national average of 39%.

- While some suburbs (such as Coledale and Mount Pleasant) score well over 39% canopy cover, others are well under, with the new suburb of Hayward's Bay lagging badly at only 3% canopy cover. 

- There are 46,000 parcels of land (i.e. lots) in the local government area that have no trees on the adjacent verge. I can't tell you how many lots there are in total, but 46,000 is a large number to have no street tree!

- And last but not least, three quarters of the land in the Wollongong LGA is privately owned, so if we are going to increase urban canopy cover, adding more trees on privately owned land is essential!

All this says to me, and I hope to you too:

-  Plant more trees in your garden; 

- Plant a tree on your verge (or ask Council to plant one); and

- Give council some feedback on their draft strategy!!!

Here are just a few inspiring images of urban trees around Wollongong. 
Bonewood (Emmenosperma alphitonioides)
is a neat, symmetrical tree with beautiful
creamy flowers and orange fruit, great as
a street tree or specimen tree in the garden.

This is Swamp Mahogany (Eucalpytus
) growing happily in a street in
Mount Pleasant. So much shade for the
cars parked underneath!
And here is Bolwarra (Eupomatia laurina) used as a
screening hedge between houses. Urban greening -
with a bonus of privacy from the neighbours!
I look forward to reading all the community feedback on Wollongong City Council's urban greening strategy. And seeing what trees pop up in gardens and verges as a result!!

Monday, 17 July 2017

How to: Garden in the shade with Illawarra natives

Gardening in very shady areas is often really tough. And what happens when you try to limit yourself only to plants that grow locally? Nothing on the list!?! That can be a problem in many parts of Australia, but we are lucky in the Illawarra that the east-facing escarpment allows a lot of shade-loving plants to grow and flourish. And a range of other plants are happy in dappled shade as understorey plants beneath the lighter canopy provided eucalypts. 

There are heaps of local plants that are suitable, though not all work in all types of shade, and very few will thrive in full, heavy shade. But here are a few ideas to get your thinking cap on. 

Settlers' Flax (Gymnostachys anceps) is a tall strap-leaved plant that grows in deep shade, but can also cope with some light. It has bird-attracting blue fruit and a great vertical structure. 
This established Settlers' Flax shows the
characteristic long, upright leaves. 
by Kath Gadd.)
These fruit are only just starting to form and are still
green. Later they will enlarge and become blue. (Photo
by Kath Gadd.)
Several of the local ferns also cope with lots of shade, though they will generally also appreciate a moist position. 
The tough and versatile Prickly Rasp Fern, with its reddish
new growth. It will take part sun too. 
(Photo by Kath Gadd.) 
Sometimes Prickly Rasp Fern produces stunning foliage
colours. (Photo by Keith Horton.
Gristle Fern (Blechnum cartilagineum) may have an
unappealing name, but it's a great tough mid-size
fern and forms large stands in good conditions.
Jungle Brake (Peters umbrosa) is a larger and quite coarse-
leaved fern that copes with shade and dry periods. 
(Photo by Tracee Lea.) 
Last but not least, this is Sickle Fern
(Pellaea falcata), which looks and
grows similarly to the weedy Fishbone
Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia). Its
leaves are a bright shiny mid green. 
There are also a few shrubs that cope with lots of shade, and many more that like dappled sun. I'll focus on the more shade-tolerant ones here. These are generally suited for planting in the narrow strip between a house and the boundary fence, often a shady and difficult area to manage.

The Small-leaved Bleeding Heart (Homalanthus stillingifolius)
is a very hardy shrub to 1.5m with soft, heart-shaped leaves.
(Photo by Kath Gadd.)
Here are the flowers of Small-
leaved Bleeding Heart - tiny but
cute. (Photo by Keith Horton.)
This shaggy shrub is a Bolwarra (Eupomatia laurina), which
can actually become a tree, but is easy to maintain in
shrub form if preferred. It copes with a range of light
conditions including shade. (Photo by Kath Gadd.)
Bolwarra has fragrant white flowers and
interesting round fruit. (Photo by
Kirsten Vine.)
And of course the classic Orange Thorn (Pittosporum
, but previously Citriobatus pauciflorus).
It will grow in dappled to heavy shade and can be shaped
or hedged. It also makes excellent shelter for small
birds. (Photo by Kath Gadd.)
There are plenty other options but I don't want to go on for ever. I will cover more plants in a future post. Most of these plants are fairly easily available in the Illawarra region.