SMALL IS BEAU­TI­FUL

It is best to avoid large “ad­vanced” Aus­tralian plants, even in the big­gest landscaping projects. Gar­den­ing ex­pert PE­TER CUN­DALL says na­tive species do bet­ter if planted when less than half a me­tre tall

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - GARDENING -

Years ago I switched from landscaping small sub­ur­ban gar­dens to con­cen­trate on larger projects such as the ar­eas around hos­pi­tals, schools, univer­sity build­ings, shop­ping cen­tres and even a power sta­tion.

It gave me a chance to plant a huge va­ri­ety of Aus­tralian plants, in­clud­ing many Tas­ma­nian en­demics.

This kind of large-scale landscaping was a re­fresh­ing es­cape from the frus­tra­tion of try­ing to sat­isfy cer­tain mind­chang­ing so­ci­ety ladies about the colours of flow­er­ing plants in their tiny flower borders.

How­ever the prob­lem with big projects was the de­mands for so-called “ad­vanced” Aus­tralian trees as an in­stant, fully de­velMany oped land­scape in time for some grand open­ing of a new build­ing.

Large, con­tainer-grown Aus­tralian trees may look im­pres­sive when planted out but growth ac­tu­ally stands still for a while. Many are so top-heavy they need stak­ing, which is never a good so­lu­tion.

“ad­vanced” Aus­tralian trees have rel­a­tively small root sys­tems due to be­ing raised in con­tain­ers and some also be­come de­pen­dent on ir­ri­ga­tion. Th­ese are ma­jor rea­sons why too many re­main stunted dur­ing the first grow­ing sea­son.

Big trees are un­der­stand­ably ex­pen­sive be­cause of the ex­tra time needed for them to be looked af­ter by nurs­ery staff, some­times over sev­eral years.

So when ar­chi­tects or clients in­sisted on big trees in time for the grand open­ing, I was forced to take spe­cial but rather sneaky mea­sures. My method was to qui­etly plant small but healthy tube-grown seedlings or rooted cut­tings ev­ery­where prior to the big day. I also hired a dozen or more large trees grow­ing in con­tain­ers.

Aus­tralian plants should never to be tied to stakes be­cause any sup­port pre­vents wind from blow­ing them around, so ac­tu­ally weak­ens them.

Th­ese were partly in­serted at strate­gic points around build­ings, es­pe­cially main en­trances. By the time most of­fi­cials had slurped the cel­e­bra­tory grog, quaffed the fin­ger food and fi­nally emerged, they never ap­peared to no­tice that all the im­pres­sive trees through which they had orig­i­nally passed had dis­ap­peared. And there was never any ar­gu­ment af­ter­wards be­cause the small plants used meant that fi­nal landscaping costs were much lower than an­tic­i­pated.

Aus­tralian plants do best when less than half a me­tre tall when planted out. Good plants have stems that look a bit like stock-whips, widen­ing as they near the ground. This re­veals flex­i­bil­ity and strength, show­ing that the plants had ex­pe­ri­enced plenty of valu­able wind move­ment right from the start.

Aus­tralian plants should never to be tied to stakes be­cause any sup­port pre­vents wind from blow­ing them around, so ac­tu­ally weak­ens them. While small, a reg­u­lar sway­ing makes stems firm, mak­ing the plants re­mark­ably wind-re­sis­tant.

In windy dis­tricts or coastal ar­eas where sea gales pre­vail, even small plants can be blown from the ground. Stak­ing is still a mis­take. Bet­ter to place large rocks di­rectly over roots, close to stems so they get good flex­i­bil­ity yet re­main se­cure in the soil.

The best time to land­scape with Aus­tralian plants is dur­ing win­ter or early spring while soils are moist and cool. Even tiny seedlings be­come estab­lished within weeks of be­ing planted be­cause they send out wide-rang­ing and deeply prob­ing roots. Small, tube-grown Aus­tralian plants can be planted out quickly. All I do is cul­ti­vate the soil, which is then cov­ered with a 100mm deep mulch of pul­verised bark or wood­chips. At each plant­ing point, the mulch is pushed aside to ex­pose the cul­ti­vated soil and a plant slipped in. The mulch is then raked back to sup­press weeds and seal in mois­ture.

As a rule, one good wa­ter­ing is usu­ally enough and the plants never look back, even if fac­ing a dry sum­mer.

The only stak­ing nec­es­sary is to mark each plant’s lo­ca­tion and pro­vide pro­tec­tion from clumsy feet.

PRETTY GOOD: The Tas­ma­nian leather­wood va­ri­ety Pink Cloud.

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