Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chocolate lillies and Risdon peppermints, what a sweet forest!

Austrodanthonia sp, or Wallaby Grass, wearing her Spring finery.

I remember falling in love with the Tasmanian landscape as a Primary school student with an especially enterprising teacher, Mrs Jolly, who had the energy and wisdom to get her unruly rabble out of the classroom and onto the slopes of Mount Wellington. Wandering through these forests, meeting the Octopus Tree, eating snacks while seated on moss cushions, in the shade of grand Eucalypts gave me an intense feeling of wonder and belonging. The flanks of the same mountain hosted my cousins, sisters and I on bonfire and cubby house building escapades and wonderful adventures, and her silhouette was the backdrop to many of our early memories.

This love was compounded by growing up with the wonderful Howrah Hills behind my home. These hills are covered with a sparse dusting of Eucalypts, mostly White Gums, Bluegums and White Peppermints, but the folds of these hills host the special, beautiful and rare, Risdon Peppermint, and the understorey… where to begin! Orchids, pink, yellow, blue and green. Chocolate Lillies, Billy Buttons, White Flag Iris, yellow Rock Lillies, yellow pea flowers, white daisies. Lush green grasses, in a multitude of textures, that change to shades of gold and brown with the passing of the seasons. Bandicoots, Wrens, insects, and frogs, a perfect playground for the curious child.

Sadly, over the years much of this landscape has succumbed to development, the tadpole pond muddied by excavators, favourite orchid patches and ‘thinking rocks’ with views across the river, where a teenager could gather her thoughts, were levelled to create house sites. Almost every new house was landscaped with a generous amount of concrete, pine bark and little, pointy, exotic conifers. Not a lot of room for the diversity of creatures that inhabited the old landscape to make their homes! Witnessing this woke me to the fragility of our special places early in life. Now I would love to get onto these sites before the excavators, collect plant material and grow plants ready to put back into the environment once building work is completed. To create beautiful gardens which will support the wildlife that was there before we were, and to help the buildings and people settle into the landscape in which they live.

In my first garden I began my philosophy of only growing plants that were native to Tasmania, that could support Tasmanian birds and animals, and food plants, to sustain me. This introduced me to the wonderful Plants of Tasmania Nursery, first as a customer, and then as an apprentice and employee.

Provenance Growers has grown from the seed of an idea, sown when I was studying Environmental Stream Horticulture at TAFE Tasmania in 2000. A large part of our training involved tree planting, and the most memorable site of all was a desolate, windswept place at Hollow Tree in the Derwent Valley. This area offered up almost every challenge a plant could expect to face. Hot dry Summers, followed by biting, icy winters with sometimes sodden ground. Soil depleted by years of grazing and drought, danger of browsing by wildlife. A harsh, unforgiving place to try and restore plants to the landscape. It seemed obvious that the remnant bush, that had thrived and survived up till now was the best source for seed to grow the plants adapted to this landscape. Plants tailored for success in this extreme environment. Some suggest now that we should consider using plants from hotter, drier places to create forests more tolerant to the effects of climate change. I would argue that we should give Nature the best chance to heal and adapt in her own way, as she always has.

The next step along the path to Provenance came from wandering about in Tasmania. I have seen Trigger plants on mountain tops and sea shores. Technically the same plant, but selected by Nature to have the genes best suited to the challenges provided by each environment. Manuka, or Common Tea Tree, is found in Tasmania, and New Zealand. To my mind it may be the same species, but can the New Zealand plant cross with the Tasmanian variety when planted in close proximity, and what effects will this have on the genetics of the bushland involved? Will the trigger plant be as successful when grown from seed from the high country then planted by the sea?

Now, with the planet under stress, surely the imperative is on us to tread as lightly as we can. We can use our gardens as havens, or corridors for wildlife, and places to grow food to sustain us and nurture our families.

Brown tree frog in Lepidosperma sp, our garden at Neika, December 2010. I was sitting inside when I noticed our Sword sedge leaves bouncing up and down, and went outside to find at least 10 little frogs making merry all over it!

I will be at the Tasmanian Farm Gate Market
on the corner of Elizabeth and Melville Streets on Sunday 23rd of May, and the 6th and 20th of June from 9am till 1pm. Please come down for a chat about your land.