Too many properties are landscaped as an afterthought, with plants going in long after all the other work is done (or not at all). This is not how we’re tackling Lewisham Farm.
We’re intentionally planting as we go, entirely with Australian natives. This includes a wide mix of callistemons (‘bottle brushes’), grevillias, banksias and leptospermums (‘tea trees’).
There are good reasons for these plantings:
- Most flower heavily, attracting native birds and feeding the bees.
- They will flower throughout the year, providing Priscilla with cut flowers.
- They will screen things like the shed and water tanks, blending them into the landscape when viewed from the house or road.
- They help to define ‘garden rooms’, breaking up the acres into smaller spaces with their own character.
- When planted densely, they will keep down the weeds, at least to some degree.
- They will be beautiful, making the farm a lovely place to spend time.
By planting them early, they get a head start in the disturbed soil, before the grass and weeds have had a chance to reestablish themselves. It also means that we’ll get the benefits sooner!
By largely using tube stock plants, the cost of plants for a given area is only $50-100, which is nothing in the scheme of things.
And there’s much more planting to come…
The key to guerrilla gardening is to be indifferent to the survival of any one plant, while remaining passionate about the success of the garden as a whole.
In the year since I last blogged about our guerrilla gardening along the railway line, there has been plenty of progress, and a fair share of setbacks.
First the challenges:
- The railways folks decided to replace the electricity substation right next to the garden, leading to trucks being squeezed down the pedestrian pathway, crushing a pile of plants. (Their reworking of the security fence also killed off a bunch more.)
- Pretty much all of the groundcovers were wiped out by the big hailstorm.
- Local kids keep stealing the stakes used to hold the plant guards.
- Plants are randomly damaged, by dogs or passing people.
- Some plants simply don’t survive the harsh conditions.
But the good news:
- The garden has been progressively extended, and it’s now 10+ metres in length.
- The more established plants are now growing strongly, including all the acacias and callistomons.
- I’ve grown most of the plants from cuttings, so the cost has been minimal.
- Surprisingly few plants have been stolen.
The key is to keep planting each weekend, to replace the 2-3 plants that are damaged, and to then get slightly ahead. Over a year, this makes a big difference, and the pace should progressively increase.
I’ve had plenty of great comments from the locals, and it’s an enjoyable challenge. While it’s still early days, I think I’ve proved that one person can have an impact.
What can you do in your local area? 🙂
About six months ago I started planting natives beside Lewisham train station, taking the initiative where the council and railways hadn’t. That patch is growing well, although it’s constantly under threat from work vehicles which tend to drive down the pedestrian path.
So to diversify my risks, I’ve started guerrilla gardening the other end of the pedestrian way, where it meets West St. As can be seen from the photo above, it was hardly a delight for those walking by.
The starting point was to mattock over all the ground, breaking it up, and pulling out the grass and weeds. A full barrow-load of my best compost then went it to add some life back into the soil, along with a few handfuls of native-friendly fertiliser.
Marrickville Council nursery kindly maintains a pile of mulch, for free use by locals. Now that I have a ute, I took full advantage 🙂 What wasn’t used on the new strip went to supplement the existing plantings.
The result is a new strip of guerrilla gardening ready to be planted. It’s also a great way to get some exercise, as it took a fair portion of a day to get everything done.
With a week of grey rainy days ahead (in contrast to the recent heat and humidity!), I got the first plants into the ground. Most of these were cuttings from my previous plantings, but I also added a few new things that I picked up at the council nursery. This included Indigofera Australis (native indigo) and Pomaderris Intermedia, both of which should grow into attractive mid-sized bushes.
It also produces delicate blue flowers, which then grow into bright blue/purple berries.
These are a native bush food, with a pleasant, if not overly strong flavour.
I picked a good harvest of them one afternoon, supplemented by takings from our raspberry and blueberry plants.
Together, they made a delicious dessert, when combined with greek yoghurt and our own honey.
A feast for both the eyes and mouth!
Before Lewisham, we lived in a unit in Chippendale. Surrounded by the local guerrilla gardening of the verge, we were equally enthusiastic when we moved into our new house.
We remain strong supporters of the principle of gardening the verge (nature strip). We’ve learned along the way, however, a bit about what works and what doesn’t.
What works in the verge
There are many possibilities for gardening the verge, while staying in local council guidelines.
“Pick and come again” mediterranean herbs work particularly well. They’re tough, attractive, and useful for office workers heading home to make their evening meal. Olive trees and bay trees also work well, acclimatised as they are to tough conditions.
There are plenty of native plants that work well in the verge, from low-running ground-covers and strap-leaf grasses, through to hardy bushes and small trees. (We’re quite pleased with our native verge.)
What doesn’t work in the verge
Our biggest lesson is that citrus trees don’t work well in the verge. Since this is the hardest learned lesson for us, it’s worth sharing a few specific reasons:
- Citrus trees are gross feeders. That is, they require a lot of food, throughout the year. Without this, they remain stunted and fruit-less. (For example, for us to get lots of limes, we greatly ramped up our feeding regimen.)
- Citrus are attacked by bugs and diseases. There’s practically nothing that they aren’t attacked by, including citrus leaf miners, stink bugs, aphids, thrips and citrus gall moth, to name just a few.
- Citrus aren’t set-and-forget. For the reasons listed above, citrus need constant monitoring and care, for their entire lifetime.
- They get stolen. Mirroring the experience in Chippendale, three of our four citrus trees were stolen in the first fortnight, the last being left only because it looked so poor.
- People are impatient. While the whole idea of edible plants in the verge is to share the bounty, we’ve found that the fruits get taken well before they’ve even ripened.
- People are careless. More often than not, a whole branch will be ripped off, rather than a single fruit twisted free.
In short, don’t plant citrus. Beyond this, each local council will have guidelines about what not to plant. Large street trees are typically seen, for example, as the sole domain of the council to plant.
But there are plenty of other options! May your verge live well and prosper.
Since my early native plantings around Lewisham Station, I’ve been steadily adding to the collection, mostly by planting a few of my hand-raised cuttings each weekend.
I’ve now reached the milestone of fifty plants. These are planted closely together — typically about 30cms apart — to create a dense “bush pocket” effect.
While that might seem like a crazy amount of over-planting, it’s all to a plan:
- At the back of the strip, a canopy of small trees, including acacias (wattles) and callistomons (bottle brushes).
- A mid story of native bushes, including westringias (native rosemary), correas (native fuchsia) and prostantheras (mint bushes).
- A bottom story of strap-leaf plants at the front of the strip, and a mix of hardy groundcovers throughout the rest.
I reckon there may be 30-50 more plants required to fill it all out, but I’ll continue the slow-and-steady approach.
So far only two plants have died, and they were struggling as cuttings even before I planted them out.
Fingers crossed the rest will keep on going strong!
Soon after we moved into our house in Lewisham, we dug up a section of the nature strip, and planted citrus trees and herbs. While three of the citrus were immediately stolen, we continued to build up the strip in front of our door, until it was lush and vibrant.
A year ago, we pulled up another section of the nature strip, and native plantings quickly took over.
As it turns out, the local council would actually prefer us to pull up little sections of grass, rather than leave them squeezed in amongst other plantings. This makes life easier for the council staff who do the mowing, and helps to reduce the cost of maintaining the streets.
So with just one piece of grass left between the two sets of plantings, we sorted that out this last weekend.
The process of pulling out the grass is easier than it looks. The roots are shallow, so some mattock work lifts out chunks of grass. It’s then just a matter of digging through the soil to get out as many remnant grass roots as possible.
I then topped it up with some spare soil, and added a little native plant fertiliser.
I’ve been growing a number of native plants from cuttings, so these provided the start of what should become a thick bushy area. Plants include mint bushes (prostanthera), correas, dianellas, and a number of ground covers (including pigface). (We planted the grevillea six months ago.)
I collected some free mulch from the local council nursery, and the end result looks rather good I think. Over the next month I’ll finish off the plantings, and by then I’m expecting the seedlings to start putting on some serious growth.
Another piece of grass replaced by native plants, yay!