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
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.