Monday, October 20, 2014

A Native Shade Garden in Sydney -- Year Two

Native shade garden in Sydney, Australia -- Year Two

In April 2013 I visited my daughter, Liz, in Sydney, Australia, and wrote a post about a native shade garden she was planting. Liz has continued working on the garden, and here's her update on progress:

Phase I is now complete!

I'll start with the failures:

Not everything has worked in this garden, and bush turkeys were a big issue initially. Because they forage in the soil, they are particularly drawn to areas that have been recently disturbed, and if the plants are too small (less than about 30 cm), the turkeys will pull them out by their stem or just snap them in half. The native gingers fell victim, and the burrawang cycad (Macrozamia communis) was defoliated. Two unfortunate losses, as both would have offered something different to the garden from the simple flowering plants. We also lost a flax lily and a native indigo to the turkeys, but I had them in multiple so they still have a presence in the garden. The Kangaroo fern died slowly from some incurable unhappiness, and the strap water fern looks like going in the same direction but it hangs in there for now.


The Chinese wisteria has been 95% successfully removed and I will finish the job this summer. I used a 50/50 mix of tree poison and kerosene applied liberally to a freshly cut stump. The kangaroo vine is now in its place and taking off like a rocket. I hope I didn't make a mistake there! All the plants other than ferns were tubestock when I planted them, and some are just now getting to a regular nursery size. Others have already reached their full height and spread, including the native indigo, which is now taller than me and bursting with flowers in the spring (it was stunning!). All of the original non-invasive ferns (I think they are common ground ferns) have taken well to being transplanted and spread around the garden.


I have added a number of new plants (see the list below). Some of them are transplants from this garden or a friend's, others were nursery purchases and a few are propagation successes from a local parkland.

And bees! I applied for a native stingless beehive from the council two years ago and finally made it to the top of the waiting list. They aren't for honey, just a bit of ecosystem repair and a talking point. They now live in a sunny corner of the shade garden and the colony will be split every spring (when possible).

A box full of native stingless bees for the garden

Phase II is now underway!

I gave some time (ok, an entire weekend) to the smaller upper level of garden mess that sits beneath the tall camelia. Once I cleared the area, I placed some silver lady ferns (Blechnum gibbum) and a prostrate geebung (Persoonia chamaepitys), as well as some transplanted ferns. Most of this space is deep shade, so will require true shade-lovers. The planting continues...
Silver lady ferns and a prostrate geebun keep the camila company


I have laid very course gum tree chips over the entire area which get refreshed yearly. The garden also gets a native fertilizer about every three months (or whatever the packet suggests), and the ferns get an additional handful of compost whenever I have it available. Since the first summer passed, I only water when the plants look limp, which is only on the hottest days, and weeds are a non-issue. This garden now needs less attention than any other area of our property, which is an amazing transformation from its original state.

Wildlife results

Birds are regular visitors to the garden, the main attraction being the birdbath - butcher birds, rainbow lorikeets and noisy miners all come daily, and a rare king parrot has made a visit. Lack of interest in the plants is probably due to a combination of causes. This is the first year of blooms for several of the flowering plants, including the lomandra and native indigo, but the cordylines, tuckeroo, and banksia remain flower-free. Additionally, none of the plants are large enough to host a perching bird, but perhaps next year we will see a change as the banksia looks set to take off with a growth spurt this summer. Turkeys still forage regularly through the garden, but the plants are all big enough to withstand the occasional partial exhumation. For all their trouble, the turkeys are still some of my
favorite garden visitors.

Lizards and amphibians are either rare or well camouflaged. One aspect the garden lacks is a decent ground cover, and this would definitely encourage the smaller vertebrate visitors.

The list of new plants

Lindsea linearis - Screw fern, a very distinct-looking small, upright fern
Calochlaena dubia - Common ground fern
Blechnum gibbum - Silver lady fern/dwarf tree fern
Cyathea australis - Tree fern, grows to 6 m with long, broad fronds up to 4 m each
Hakea sericea - Silky hakea, foliage provides protection for small birds and flowers attract birds
Persoonia chamaepitys - Creeping geebung, provides low cover for lizards, flowers attract birds
Correa glabra - Native fuchsia, attracts honeyeater birds
Correa baeuerlenii - Native fuchsia, attracts honeyeater birds
Scaevola aemula - Fairy fan flower, a bit of summer color in an otherwise very green garden
Hardenbergia violacea - Native sarsparilla, provides low cover for lizards, improves soil and attracts seed eating birds and insects
Cupaniopsis parvifolia - Small-leaved tuckeroo, small dry rainforest tree to 6 m (in NSW), fruit attracts birds and butterflies