South east Queensland is home to a diverse and stunning array of habitats and plant communities, from rainforests to mountain heaths, coastal communities and everything in-between. While bush regenerators and landcare groups use commercial tubestock plants to repair and restore these communities, did you know you can use these same plants to recreate these re-wilding habitats around your own house? You can visit the beach, rainforest, western slopes and Brisbane bushland just walking around your house!
Finding your micro climates/habitats
Which area belongs where? Gaining a basic knowledge of micro climates is a great way to begin your design process. Buildings for example are orientated in various ways, and this can help determine what micro climates/regional habitats can be reproduced. We will go through the various aspects one by one. And of course, providing adequate water and soil conditions will also assist greatly in the successful establishment of a garden.
The southern, (predominantly) shady side of a building is a great place to start. A building acts like a canopy or shade sail for much of the year, blocking harsh overhead sun and depriving most sun loving plants of light. So this side of a building will favor low light plants, such as those growing on the floor of rainforests and wetter Sclerophyll forests. Look for plants suited to low light environments, native ferns, low light grasses and native cordylines. A few small trees will also be a benefit, especially in summer when the sun moves closer to overhead.
Your western aspect is one of the more challenging as there is little early morning light and a lot of harsh afternoon sun. You may also want trees that can provide shade and ground covers that won’t fail. This is where native plants, and a basic knowledge of our regional ecosystems can greatly assist plant selection. Think about the west side of mountains, coastal headlands and dry rainforest communities. These areas all face periods of very little rain and constant sun exposure. For a successful planting you may just be interested in shading out western sun, or you may want a full plant community. Look to see what plants may be growing successfully in similar natural settings.
This is the aspect with the most light, and hence will share many plants in common with eastern and western aspects. This is a chance to plant a ‘full community’, with a structure of overhead trees, smaller shrubs and ground covers. Again, like a western aspect the goal might be to shade your building (particularly in summer), or if you have small children, at least your lawn area. Really you can look into the full gamut of habitats (sclerophyll, riparian, coastal), perhaps with the exception of rainforest, as these plants are much better suited to the southern side of your house.
The eastern side of your house is the ‘golden mile’, with protection from the harsh western winds and rays, there is a great opportunity to plant many species that might otherwise fail on other sides of a building. Saying this it really depends on personal preference what plants you select. You might like a coastal garden, or if you have existing shade cover, a rainforest collection, or combinations of whatever you like. Just bear in mind the water requirements of plants from one community may be different to the another. Rainforest plants may suffer in prolonged periods without water, where as coastal communities may need periods of dry to stop them getting ‘wet feet’ fungal attacks.
One further consideration is which way your block faces. This will exaggerate the dominant aspect around your building. For example an west facing block might feature predominantly more drought tolerant plants, where as an eastern facing block a wide range of communities. South facing blocks will tend to rainforest and north facing can bring home all communities with the possible exception of rainforest. If you have a flat block, or flat parts, consider wetland planting in areas of poor drainage.
Structures and other considerations
Structures such as solid timber fences, stairs and even large existing canopy trees can create new micro climates. In the shade of a west-facing sun-blocking fence, more delicate plants such as ferns can thrive, and that same fence can be used to establish trees sheltered from harsh western sunlight. A further and important consideration are solar panels and trees growing above gutter height. In these situations you may be depriving your household of cooling energy while clogging gutters with unwanted debris. Some good working knowledge of various native trees and pruning is essential in these situations.
Apartments- think cliffs!
Apartment living and gardens always have their own challenges, however one way to increase your greenery might be to ‘liken’ your verandah to a cliff face. These occur naturally around South East Queensland (think Glasshouse Mountains), and on to these cliffs cling all kinds of life. From mosses and lichens, to ferns and orchids, these are specially adapted plants that can survive extremes. And their soil requirements are also minimal, giving an added bonus in terms of weight and less mess.
Some examples of plants well suited to growing on cliffs in our region include the King Orchid (Dendrobium speciosum), Vines such as Hoya (Hoya Australis), and our epiphytic warriors Elkhorn and Staghorn ferns (Platycerium sp.). Experiments in Melbourne with non native Air Plants (Tillandsia) are showing great promise in producing shade without any soil mediums at all.
Immediate and Ultimate Benefits
With a landscape representative of local habitats you can begin to attract native birds and animals to your yard. Your landscape will be more drought resistant and by using tubestock plants you can ultimately save money.
For more info and resources
Wallum Nurseries website has some excellent information on our local habitats. Please note that this is a commercial nursery and is not open to the public. There are a few smaller community based nurseries that can provide more quality information as well as tube stock. Paten Park Native Nursery at The Gap is a great start, with stock well suited to more inland communities. Indigiscapes have a great selection more suited to coastal environments. Finally, if you feel like you might need assistance, consider a professional garden designer or Registered Landscape Architect. Lowndes Landscapes offer professional landscape designs from $330 including GST.