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Canberra – a little piece of somewhere other than Australia

By MarxW - 25 February 2015 16

What’s up with Canberra’s obsession with feral and introduced trees and shrubs?

I think Canberra fits much better into a European landscape – one filled with deciduous trees and no understorey – rather than an Australian landscape of diversity and bush. Unfortunately, the Canberra look is perpetuated by a government-led planting regime that reinforces its un-Australian appearance.

What is the obsession or pre-occupation for introduced deciduous plants? Be happy and proud of our native flora and celebrate it. Unfortunately Canberra’s main-stream garden centres are overrun by introduced plants, some of them known environmental weeds. Introduced trees provide no or very little habit value and at leaf-drop, serve only to block drains and foul water ways.

I do appreciate the network of reserves in Canberra, which contain some vestiges of native plants. Unfortunately, they are often in poor condition and poorly managed. Trees and introduced weeds dominate with very little understory; a diverse understorey is essential for the habitation of small native birds and mammals, whilst also suppressing the movement (and population) of kangaroos.

What’s Your opinion?


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16 Responses to
Canberra – a little piece of somewhere other than Australia
Skyring 9:11 am 01 Mar 15

Deciduous trees work well in Canberra. Shade in the summer and let the sunlight through in winter.

Apart from looking glorious twice a year.

Spare me the dour evergreens in Haig Park or the scraggly gums that drop branches.

Trying to pretend that a national capital is something akin to native scrub is just silly. It’s not – there are roads and great big buildings – and hundreds of thousands of people. We have all the bushland we want surrounding Canberra, let’s have a city designed for people to live in and enjoy.

rubaiyat 4:51 am 01 Mar 15

btw It is not like i haven’t tried, bucking the trend and planting repeatedly recommended natives only to have them die on me.

My longest success was to try to keep a 40m Westringia hedge going for almost 15 years to lose it all when they all just karked it in one season, leaving me with a bare strip right around the property.

Just because plants are Australian doesn’t mean they are native to Canberra, and what is native here might look at home, if not aesthetic, in open scrubland but in the streets and around houses, they don’t survive and look bad before they inevitably leave you with a moth-eaten or empty garden.

rubaiyat 4:41 am 01 Mar 15

Rather confused writing but after two reads I finally got what you meant to say.

Urban environments are different from native habitat. The Aussie bush and many of its plants simply don’t work in cities.

The ACT is having to cut down the avenue of gums leading into Canberra down Northbourne Avenue for this reason. Natives are often short lived, drop heavy limbs from great heights and being non-deciduous they do not give us the benefit of shade in summer and sun in winter.

miz 8:22 am 28 Feb 15

Re pajs’s comment, the Botanic Gardens has spent years developing microclimates that enable it to grow natives from all parts of Australia, and many look fantastic as you point out. However such a level of management is beyond the ability of governments to manage in reserves, and is certainly beyond most home gardeners’ time and resources. As such the National Botanic Gardens cannot serve as an example.
Pajs also expresses concern about leave drop. Eucalypts drop a massive quantity of bark, leaves, twigs, and large branches all year long, blocking gutters and creating a clean up nightmare year round if, for example, you have one over a paved area. Whereas exotic deciduous trees drop leaves pretty much in one go (over a few weeks), making it easier for them to be gathered for compost and mulch (and cheaper to clean up by the authorities, though they don’t seem bothered to do so in Canberra) and break down much faster than the gum litter. It would not be hard for an enterprising charity to bag and sell deciduous leaves to keen gardeners.

Maya123 12:08 pm 27 Feb 15

Postalgeek said :

Saying people should have one or the other is inane.

I’m not a fan of gums and certain other natives near the house for fire reasons, along with falling branches and nothing grows under them. Doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally plant a yellow box further away, though I tend to prefer casuarinas. I plant fruit trees near the house along with exotic deciduous trees with good canopies and dappled light to protect undergrowth in summer. I’ve had some lovely banksias, acacias and grevilleas as well.

Horses for courses etc etc

Some natives are listed as fire resistant, such as some acacias, while exotic pines and cypresses are likely to explode in a fire. Some exotics, such as Manchurian pear, as also branch droppers.
http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s1946196.htm
It varies, whether native or exotic.

Postalgeek 11:49 am 27 Feb 15

Saying people should have one or the other is inane.

I’m not a fan of gums and certain other natives near the house for fire reasons, along with falling branches and nothing grows under them. Doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally plant a yellow box further away, though I tend to prefer casuarinas. I plant fruit trees near the house along with exotic deciduous trees with good canopies and dappled light to protect undergrowth in summer. I’ve had some lovely banksias, acacias and grevilleas as well.

Horses for courses etc etc

Maya123 11:10 am 27 Feb 15

La_Tour_Maubourg said :

Native plants have no place in urban areas. Messy, unsightly and dangerous (unpredictable branches etc.) Exotics have proven to be beautiful all year round. Drive through the Inner South during Autumn then through a suburb with natives and you’ll understand.

That’s a rather sweeping claim and demonstrates ignorance! And you shouldn’t think in terms of only trees. Both native and exotic plants have great variance, from tiny plants to huge trees. Each plant needs to be considered on its merits, regardless of origin. For instance, I might argue that in a urban environment a small native bush would be less of a problem than a huge tree of any kind. But as I said, that does need to be considered with where it will be planted and what the plant is.

La_Tour_Maubourg 10:32 am 27 Feb 15

Native plants have no place in urban areas. Messy, unsightly and dangerous (unpredictable branches etc.) Exotics have proven to be beautiful all year round. Drive through the Inner South during Autumn then through a suburb with natives and you’ll understand.

pajs 9:36 am 27 Feb 15

miz said :

Natives that survive in Canberra are generally short lived, look scruffy and unlike exotic deciduous species, do not provide the summer shade/winter sun we need in Canberra.

Umm, no. Might want to take yourself off to the National Botanic Gardens, repeat that opinion of yours, and see what they can show you.

miz 8:23 am 27 Feb 15

Natives that survive in Canberra are generally short lived, look scruffy and unlike exotic deciduous species, do not provide the summer shade/winter sun we need in Canberra.
Only ignorant ideologues with no local horticultural experience persist with the idea that ‘natives are best (no matter what).’
Peter Andrews has proven (despite going against ‘accepted environmental practice’) that all plants, native or exotic, are beneficial for the environment if used correctly. It seems that ‘accepted environmental practice’ was captured by ignorant ideologues a decade or two ago, and they have done much damage since in the name of what they think is best.

GardeningGirl 9:58 pm 25 Feb 15

I’m sorry but I was confused too and had to reread before I got what you’re saying. Our deciduous trees fit well with our solar passive house. I agree that garden centres sell some very unsuitable non-native plants but they also sell some native plants that are not suitable for suburban gardens especially the tiny blocks of today, for example the silky oaks I saw once labelled as ideal hedges with no information about their eventual size or other drawbacks.

justin heywood 9:20 pm 25 Feb 15

I take an opposite view to the OP.

It always amused me that most people can leave their brick house, drive to their workplace in imported cars along a paved road, work all day in a concrete building, go home via a supermarket where they expect their food of choice to be both cheap and always available, and yet, and YET, sneer at someone who has had the temerity to plant non-native species.

Our lifestyle expectations have created an environmental wasteland. A few scrubby, invasive and dangerous Eucalypts in the street is nothing more than a token gesture. Why not plant trees and shrubs based on their suitability for an urban environment rather than some vague ideological notion that because some particular species of Eucs USED to grow here, any Eucalyptus species is somehow superior to an imported species.

And what version of native are we talking about? How many people know what ‘natives’ used to be in this area before European settlement? Even fewer would know what natives were here before HUMAN settlement.

Allow native landscapes to regenerate in suitable areas. But let’s not beat ourselves up about trying to make Canberra ‘represent’ the bush. . But an urban area will never ‘represent’ the bush.

Maya123 4:42 pm 25 Feb 15

Sorry, I looked at the wrong electricity bill; one that I was away for some of. My energy consumption is actually about one quarter of the average household my size, not one eighth. But I am also retired, and home a lot more than if I worked, and that increases the energy use.

Maya123 4:35 pm 25 Feb 15

I was rather confused by your writing. At first I thought you liked imported deciduous trees, but reading on I decided you want native trees. Your writing is not clear. I will give my preferences.

Besides the vegetable garden, I have planted fruit trees, fruiting vines and bushes. The more than twenty fruiting trees, vines and bushes take up a lot of the block. Another advantage of those, besides the fruit, is that they ARE mostly deciduous, relatively small, making them suitable for suburban blocks, and have pretty blossom in spring. The majority of the rest of the plants I have planted are small native ground covers and small native bushes. I have no lawn, going with the ground covering and small bushes, including under the clothesline. The ground cover is a work in progress, as they take time to spread and plants are expensive, so I am propagating some of them myself, and that also takes time.
My aim is to reduce my carbon miles for food and grow it myself, as well as be more self sufficient. This cannot be done with large trees of any kind, imported or native. Also, I have a solar house, making my energy consumption about one eighth of the average energy used for the same sized household. I get this fact off my electricity bill. Large trees of any kind overshadowing the house would increase my energy bill, but especially non-deciduous. This is where deciduous trees have an advantage in a suburban setting. Large native, non-deciduous trees are wonderful in parkland, but should be kept away from any place where they would shade the northern side of a house. Also smaller (deciduous) trees are better, such as fruit trees. Small non-deciduous bushes are okay. Think, no taller than a six metre high fence. Growing any tree that will shade your neighbour’s northern side of their house, is a selfish indulgence. I was even careful when I built my house not to do this with my house, rejecting the suggestion of a two storey house; so I would never consider planting a gum tree. The block isn’t large enough for a non-deciduous tree, so that it would not shade mine, or the southern neighbour’s block. Unfortunately many people are not this thoughtful of their neighbours, and this is where enforceable regulation is needed to protect solar access. With smaller house block sizes, this would eliminate planting gum trees on most blocks, but not small native bushes and ground covers.
Deciduous trees shade in summer, and let sunlight through in winter, and this is their advantage in our climate, but the advantage is reduced if they are so big and close to houses, that they still do a lot of shading with their limbs and branches; even if leafless.
I have read it argued that the most environmental garden to plant is a garden that supplies your food, and mostly these are non-native plants. This reduces carbon miles, and the food, if not grown in your garden, has to come from somewhere; likely land that was once bushland.

Holden Caulfield 3:33 pm 25 Feb 15

Native gardens copped a bad wrap in the 70s and have barely recovered.

I yard for of mini snow gums and native grasses is something I would happily do if I had more than a balcony to deal with.

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