Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The Eddystone Point LighthouseBaby MarcIn 1952 a pregnant, cosmopolitan, young woman from Amsterdam sailed with her husband and 3 children to Australia to live as a lighthouse keeper's wife at Cape Schanck on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. There she and her family were introduced to a new life of isolation, wood stoves, copper baths, self sufficiency and correspondence schooling. They stayed there for a few months, and then moved with their new baby, my father Marc, to Eddystone Point on Tasmania's North East Coast. My Oma told us a tale of the fright she felt watching a blue tongue marching through the hallway of her cottage. Imagine being a sophisticated young woman from a very modern city, and finding yourself with your family in the midst of gales, snakes, chooks and firewood splitting. She grew to love the life, but couldn't bear sending her children to boarding school, and so moved from that place of kelp and granite. l doubt that a father spending his first 3 years of life somewhere can make it seep into the blood of the next generation, but the East coast of Tasmania has a special pull for me. I am most content when floating, surrounded by waving, slippery bull kelp, gazing on the world below, or wandering for hours looking in rock pools, losing entire afternoons marvelling at the multitude of textures and colours in the Granite sands, examining flotsam and jetsam. And then there's the botanising......

Much of the East Coast is home to Granite in Tasmania. Granite derived soils host a variety of plants not seen in the rest of Tasmania. Many of the plants here reflect those of the Granite lands in Victoria, a wonderful reminder of our State's past union. Then there are rare gems found only in small, isolated populations here, and nowhere else in the world. In my meanders there I have also seen strange forms of otherwise common plants. Blackwoods with giant 'leaves'. Trigger Plants and Pratias with white flowers. Wonderful, unique things that are worthy of conservation in their own right.

For indigenous Tasmanians this is a land of plenty, and for those of us who have come later it has proved to be the same. Every Summer my mother would miraculously squeeze 2 weeks worth of food, clothes and entertainment into our Kingswood, and off we would go. Cosy Corner in the Bay of Fires was our prime destination. Snorkelling for abalone, armed with a screwdriver and wearing a woolly jumper in the absence of a wetsuit, or walking the shores of the lagoons seeking additions for my macabre skull collection while my parents fished. I remember my first encounter with a Kangaroo Apple, Solanum laciniatum, there, being enticed by its tomato-like features, but discouraged by wary adults who didn't know how to deal with such a fruit safely. I have since learned the fruits can be buried in the sand and allowed to ripen until softened and a deep orange colour, well away from ravenous wildlife and then safely eaten, but are toxic until fully ripe.
Hibbertia riparia, Guinnea flower and Solanum laciniatum Kangaroo Apple.

I had the pleasure of a road trip with my little sister Belinda and her friend Trish, to Waterhouse on the North East corner of Tasmania, where we lay on a carpet of Pigface, Carpobrotus rossii, as Trish showed us how to pick the best fruits to eat and how to suck the inside pulp from the fruit. While we were enjoying the salty, sweet snacks she spoke of her great great grand father, Manalargenna sending smoke signals from Cape Barren to his family on the mainland of Tasmania. To hear such stories while in such a magical place brings a feeling of connection to the land, its bounty, history and language, that I think many of us are starving for. Next to our pigface picnic was another coastal edible, Coast Beard Heath, Leucopogon parviflorus. Here it was a full sized, well proportioned shrub, but was laying flat on the ground. The strong, salty winds had burnt off every shoot that attempted to grow upright, leaving this specimen and its neighbours looking very Dali-esque.
This species produces copious amounts of white acid/sweet fruits, with relatively large stones, through late Summer and early Autumn, but you have to be up before the seagulls to sample the best. For the horticulturally minded admirer to germinate these seeds we have to replicate the processes that they have evolved to undergo. Such a tasty fruit was designed to be eaten, and distributed by our feathered and furred friends, and to imitate the digestive tract we must ferment the fruits, then wash away the remaining flesh and soak in an alkaline solution, then sow the seed and await the following Spring to see it germinate. To have such a lovely plant in your garden is well worth the patience and effort involved. 

Further South, I recently had the good fortune to be asked to explore the flora of this area with some guides from a new East Coast resort. I couldn't believe my luck! To share the beauty of these plants with interested people within view of the majestic Hazards, all in the name of work! The garden and grounds of this development have been landscaped with native plants grown from seed and cuttings collected from natural vegetation on or near the site, by Tasmanian nurseries specialising in growing Tasmanian plants, like my training ground, Plants of Tasmania Nursery. These plants will have a great chance of thriving in the low nutrient, often dry soils there and tolerating desiccating, salt laden winds. Many of the plants in the resorts grounds are common throughout Tasmania. They include Tussock Grasses, Sagg, Kangaroo Apple, Native Cranberry, Pigface, Running Postman and a multitude of others. But these same species can also be found in the Central Highlands, on the West Coast and in the South. Would the same species collected elsewhere in the State have the same adaptations to climate, geology and other localised influences that prevail here? The benefits of choosing local genetics for gardening and revegetating areas of this site are many. The unique geology and climate of this part of Tasmania would favour plants that can make the most of the low nutrient, mostly well drained soils of the area, that will tolerate the salt laden winds blowing in from Oyster Bay and have evolved to have relationships with the other organisms in the area such as soil life, birds and insects.

The resort building is an intense piece of architecture and looks at though it is waiting to lift from the Earth and fly off into Oyster Bay. What better way to tether, or ground such a building, and allow it to nestle into the environment, than to wrap it with a blanket of Nature. The use of locally sourced native plants will soften the contrast of the man-made buildings, roads and paved surfaces with the surrounding environment. They will frame the stunning ocean and mountain views without jarring the gaze, and support the wildlife they have evolved with and existed alongside forever.

Calytrix tetragona, Fringe myrtle. Coles Bay.

The dominant tree on the site, the Black Peppermint, Eucalyptus amygdalina, grows naturally all over the State, but in a myriad of different sites that face differing climatic conditions, soils, herbivorous animals and insects. In the North West it can hybridise with nearby Eucalyptus nitida the Smithton Peppermint. In the Central Highlands it breeds with E. pauciflora, and on the Eastern shore it makes babies with the rare E. risdonii, the Risdon peppermint. On the site at Coles Bay it can hybridise with E. pulchella, the White peppermint. Would it be wise to mix up the genes from these differing populations? I would prefer to err on the side of caution and protect the unique characteristics of trees in healthy forests. After all, why are you deciding to plant local native plants in the first place? To support local ecologies and enhance natural values? To help your building settle into the landscape? I have recently heard whispers of someone doing a study on the effect of provenance on the germination rates of Eucalypts. Apparently some species will germinate faster or slower, depending on where the seed was collected. I can only guess at the reasons for this, but it's just another demonstration of the uniqueness of each part of our beautiful island.
If you would like some help to preserve the unique character of your land, while gardening or revegetating, please contact us, either on the email at the top of the page, or come and have a chat at the Tasmanian Farm Gate market on Sunday the 18th of July, and Sunday the1st of August, 9am - 1pm.

1 comment:

  1. The saddest part of this post is that much of what I know about my Oma I found out on the net. Like so many of us, I wish I had the wisdom to talk properly with her while she was alive. She was a serious, intelligent, deeply religous woman and I, then a ditzy hairdresser, felt intimidated by her intellect. I now imagine that she would have liked a deeper relationship with me, had I made the effort, and I feel lucky that she took the time to document her epic life for my family and others to share. See the link below to read more of her rich life. http://www.jandmgrist.com/oma/Oma1.htm