Installing Our Native Garden

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When considering plants for our garden, for me it used to be a simple process, can you eat it? Yes or no. If yes, plant it, if no ……..well, not so much. It took me a long while to understand that we can reduce the amount of work we have to do to maintain our garden by working with nature rather than against it and improving biodiversity can help that. For example by attracting insect predators rather than using sprays, and using native and introduced flowering plants to do this. I wanted to attract birds, and the birds I wanted to attract to the garden were the smaller insect eating birds to help out, and as with anyone you want to come and stay with you, you need to provide –

  • food
  • water
  • refuge, and in the case of birds -
  • nesting

We already have a self-refilling birdbath to provide water, but the rest was missing. After a bit of research, however, it turns out that by putting in some Australian native bushes and shrubs, they can provide nectar for birds and other pollinators, a place for the birds to retire to if they are being hassled by bigger birds and a place where they can nest!

The bed widened and the ditch for buried pipe irrigation dug

The best natives to put in are grevilleas, melaleucas and banskias (although callistemons help too) and to have different plant sizes from trees down to small bushes and shrubs so the birds can access different levels. We already have three large melaleuca alternifolia trees in the front yard so I wanted to get some different size plants in there.

We have recently expanded the size of the planting bed in front of the house from 700mm to 1100mm and ripped out a couple of pointless ornamentals. The area gets good morning sun, particularly in the warmer parts of the year, but it gets very little afternoon sun due to the orientation of the house.

To expand the bed we lifted the concrete edging, removed the grass, dug up the soil under the grass and then dug the concrete edging into its new position. This gave us more growing space and reduced the amount of mowing required in a single action!

Buried pipe irrigation installed

While preparing the bed and prior to planting any natives, I also installed buried pipe irrigation. Some of the bed is under the eaves and it can get pretty dry here, particularly during the heat of summer. Once the natives are established they should be able to cope but the trick is to provide an environment that will allow them to become established easily so I needed a way to keep the water up to them efficiently, hence – buried pipe! Once they become established I will leave it in place for the other shallow rooted ground covers etc. but will probably install deep pipe waterers for the larger natives in the future.

I wanted a mix of heights and species, which would be able to cope with a partially shaded environment and for better or worse, this is what I got –

  • 3 x banksias of various heights,
  • 1 x grevillea
  • 1 x callistemon (bottlebrush)
  • 1 x syzygium (lilly pilly)

I also got some native violets (edible flowers) as a ground cover and there will no doubt be other bits and pieces go in as well as time goes by, I already have my eye on some native wildflowers.

Natives Installed

All of the main natives, being woody rather than herbaceous, do better with a wood chip style mulch. A woody mulch encourages beneficial fungi in the soil rather than say, using sugar can mulch which encourages bacteria and is better for annual veggies and the like. So I decided that a wood chip mulch is what I needed to get hold of.

Mulch installed

I have noticed not far from our place that someone is dumping tree shreddings on vacant land rather than paying a fee to dump them at the tip. To take advantage of this I lined the back of the car with a tarp and went over there with the mulch fork which Linda had gotten me for my last birthday and wow! After 10 minute of work I had enough wood chip mulch to cover what turned out to be two thirds of the bed, a second trip netting the last third. The mulch fork worked so well it was a case of “where have you been all my life!”

Native violet, ground cover to be

So the bed is now expanded, irrigated, mulched and planted. If I really want to kid myself I can call it a tiny bit of Zone 4 or 5 on our permaculture design, but regardless of that it should provide a nice environment for native birds and some insect predators as well. We’ll see how it goes!

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