While I’ve posted about a few modernist gardens throughout Melbourne (and Australia), I have yet to present my own. Maybe I am concerned about the scrutiny that surely comes when a landscape architect’s garden is not perfect or breath-taking!
A few hours of work in the garden for my wife and I (while making the most of a public holiday) started me thinking about an aspect of Australian Modernist Landscapes that I had not previously considered. That is, maintenance.
A bush garden looks fantastic. Over time the mix of ground covers, strappy leaf plants and shrubs blend together to create a dense growth and perfect backdrop to your MCM courtyard or stone feature wall. Over time, however, certain natives get a little ‘enthusiastic’ and can dominate other plants.
Two key examples from our garden are a large Coastal Tea-tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) that was one of two canopy trees that existed before we moved in, and Dusky Coral Pea (Kennedia rubicunda) which is a hardy (but potentially invasive) creeper that we planted.
The Tea-tree forms a lovely canopy at the top of the slope next to our driveway and its natural graceful form is a wonderful contrast to the tall and straight Angophora costata which is the dominant tree in our front yard. When we moved in almost 4 years ago we felt that the driveway needed to be wider to allow pedestrians easy access, so we cut additional soil from the embankment and added feature granite boulders. The boulders do perform a stabilisation task at the base of the slope, however they are mainly there for aesthetics. I have always loved the work of Ellis Stones and I admit that I felt that I was walking in his footsteps by carefully placing the rock and creating our own ‘natural’ embankment. That was until gravity played its part and they started to slide and I realised I had a fair way to go to reach Ellis Stones’ lofty standards!
So we had built a lovely rock and soil embankment. Unfortunately it was a bit steep and we were struggling to get the soil and mulch to hold. This is where some natives perform wonderfully as slope stabilisers. Usually these are groundcovers that run and create a binding layer with both their foliage above the ground and their roots below.
Great plants to perform this role are Correa reflexa ‘Dusky Bells’, Grevillea ‘Grass-fire’, Grevillea ‘Bronze Rambler’ and also our good friend Kennedia rubicunda. Other good plants are the strappy leaf varieties such as Dianella (Flax Lily) and Lomandra (Matt Rush).
In our garden we had a mixture of the strappy natives, some Correas, creeping Grevilleas and Kennedia. They all worked well, however it was the Kennedia that took off. Our garage has a lovely terrace above it with a great metal balustrade. This was soon covered by the Kennedia and its mass of oval leaves and deep red pea flowers!
Through the Summer that we have just had in Melbourne, many of our natives struggled and even died. Although a bush garden is suited to the local soil and climate, it still requires watering through 30-40 degree celsius days and ours became hard to keep alive!
This brings me to last Friday and my wife and I in the garden. The driveway embankment was overgrown with Kennedia tendrils. Everything else had just about turned up its heels and the Tea-tree was no longer graceful but sprawling and smothering everything. We had a few hours before the green waste bin was to be collected, so we got to it.
First was the removal of the Kennedia (although we did leave some above the garage). This involved a ruthless attack with our secateurs and dragging the mass of tendrils off the embankment. Next I was sent under the Tea-tree with the mission to prune off the dead growth and low hanging limbs. What a difference it has made.
All of sudden we had our embankment back. And now that the weather is cooling, it is the perfect time to buy new plants and get them in the ground!
So what have I learned from my own garden?
- It’s great to have a lovely bush garden, but it does need attention.
- While suited to local soils and climates, native plants do need water during hot weather.
- Sprawling native groundcovers are good for stablising embankments.
- While a plant such as Kennedia rubicunda is hardy and performs the task you want, it will become invasive if you let it.
- Cleaning up by pruning off dead growth, cutting back grasses and trimming back creepers really cleans up your garden and gives you a great opportunity to plant new plants!
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