The Brown-Thumbed Garden

MarcusNot all of us are green thumbed, but without green thumbs you’re left with few options as to how you make use of the area around your home. You can pay someone to come in and take care of your landscaping and garden maintenance, or you can have a fairway garden that is 100 per cent treeless lawn. Actually the latter isn’t a bad idea if you’re renting your investment property to a group of JCU students, as it leaves more room for backyard parties and provides space for additional parking on the lawn.

There is however a third alternative. A low maintenance native garden, and by that I mean one comprised of plants that are local to the tropical north, naturally require virtually no care and will grow at a manageable rate. You see, one of the problems with garden plants in the tropics is during the wet season they grow at a stunning rate, so in one year you can go from having a manicured garden to “where has the house gone?” This isn’t only the case for exotic plants but also for some of our natives where growth rates of up to three metres per year are not unusual.

The solution is to be very selective about your plant choice and to make sure they are ones which by nature are tough and will prosper even if neglected. Ideally you should be looking for dwarfed natives such as Callistemon Little John, which will remain small and compact without any pruning. And there are other tough natives to consider such as Banksia spinulosa and Banksia robur, which are tolerant of our tropical conditions and have large flower spikes that provide lots of nectar for beautiful honeyeaters. In fact one bonus of these slower growing species is that they put much of their energy into flowering and hence add a nice bit of colour to the garden. There are also native sedges (Lomandras) and flax lilies (Dianellas), which will reach their mature size in a short time and then remain at that size for the rest of their lives. Grass trees and cycads are another good choice as their growth rate is super slow and tough and their symmetry will help to make the garden look neat.

The main thing is to get plants that won’t grow too large, and just as importantly won’t need regular pruning, watering or fertilising, and will not self-seed or invade other parts of the garden. In short, go native.

Marcus Achatz
Yuruga Nursery

(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, November 2007)