Gardening in the Era of Covid 19

Gardening in the Era of Covid 19

As the Covid19 pandemic rolls across the globe and the reality of our vulnerability to diseases without borders sinks in (for some of us…), it’s a good opportunity to remember that not so old saying “think globally but act locally”. By that, I mean we need to have a global outlook – we’re only one earth and we all need to pull together to look after her and to resolve our global problems,  but it’s also a good time to consider localising some / many aspects of our economies and high on this list of priorities has got to be growing our own food locally and in-turn looking after this little share of earth that we call home (our true source of all true wealth).  And before you ask … no I’m not having flashbacks to the 60’s (born in 69’), the Age of Aquarius, peace love and rainbows etc… This is simply how the world works and its about time we grew up and caught up with this… rant over (for now).

In this time of great adversity for the health and wealth of people, it’s heartening to see a few positive outcomes including a strengthening of our local communities (while keeping a respectful distance, of course) through the support of our small business’s at least those who have been able to adapt and stay open. Another interesting outcome has been the growing interest in self and shared reliance when it comes to growing food and gardening and growing plants in general. Vegetable seedlings have become worth their weight in gold (I wish) or at least their weight in toilet paper (apparently the second most valuable commodity after gold in a global pandemic?) Gardens have never looked so good as the home isolation brings us back into contact with that lovely bit of earth that we call home and we all should be treating like our own precious little bit of Eden…literally!

Anyway, this is supposed to be a promotion of our business of some sort, so time to get off the soap box and fill you in with what were up to at Forest Heart ecoNursery during Covid 19. We’ve reduced our hours for this period from 9-3 Tuesday to Friday and 9-2 on Saturdays. We operate a clean open air premises and are practising social distancing and increased hygiene practices. We can offer no contact purchasing and delivery options, just visit our web site We offer the best range of local native plants, cultivars, bush foods, fruit trees, mulches, fertilisers and much more and as of this week were also supplying our own range of vegetable seedlings. So when it comes to Pandemic lockdown, don’t panic, just plant-it!

Low Down in Your Garden

By Spencer Shaw

When it comes to re-establishing native vegetation we tend to concentrate on the planting of trees and shrubs and if we’re lucky maybe a few Lomandra. But to truly re-establish a diverse ecosystem we must help establish all the groundcovers too such as grasses, herbs, small shrubs and ferns. Groundcover plants are crucial in providing a safe home for ground based animals such as skinks, frogs, snakes, bush rats, antechinus and of course a whole host of insects (don’t say yuk, think of them as Bird Food!) Groundcover plants are also crucial in providing the food resources such as seed, fruit, leaf and tubers to everything from birds, butterflies and beetles right through to wallabies and kangaroos(if you’ve got a really backyard).  Groundcover plantings can be very rewarding for you if you love your native fauna because they can be very rich in the resources they provide and in effect act like a magnet for native fauna in your area!

Planting native groundcovers in your own backyard (as well as trees and shrubs) is often even easier than in a big revegetation projects because the small plants are vulnerable to weed competition and your input with mulch and weeding can be vital in establishing native groundcovers.  Control of groundcover weeds is crucial while establishing native groundcovers, for example lawn grasses such as couch, carpet grass and kikuyu need to be eliminated and subject to ongoing control through blanket mulching and or weeding.  Once well established though, native groundcovers can outcompete and shade out the weeds.

The great thing about many groundcovers is that they are easy to grow yourself by either directly transplanting around your garden or establishing in pots to plant later. Plants such as Native Plumbago ( Plumbago zeylanica), Native Violets (Viola banksii), Pennyroyal (Mentha sp.), Creeping Beard Grass (Oplismenus spp.) and Pollia (Pollia crispata) are just a few of our local native groundcovers that you can propagate easily through cuttings & runners. Native Grasses such as Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra), Barbed Wire Grass (Cymbopogon refractus), Native Sorghum (Sarga leiocladum) and Poa (Poa labilardieri) are easy to grow from seed or transplant as seedlings.  All the plants listed above are available through Forest Heart ecoNursery.

Our place is buzzing (or should that be tweeting) with a huge diversity of small birds at the moment including Red Brow Finch, New Holland Honey Eater, Golden Whistler, Red Backed fairy Wren, Lewin’s  Honey Eater, Whip Birds and many more. None of our plantings are much older than 11 years but the dense plantings of groundcovers and low shrubs near the house provide home and food for these little critters and so many more.

A Decade of Myrtle Rust

A Decade of Myrtle Rust

With Spencer Shaw

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Myrtle Rust being brought into Australia. Note that I say “brought into” Australia, as the terminology usually used is “arrived” or “was first detected”. The latter could be taken as inferring that Myrtle Rust arrived in Australia all by itself. This is clearly not the case; Myrtle rust was brought into the country as result of the global trade and travel networks of human activity. We brought it here and we also need to be the ones responsible for preserving the amazing species diversity of Myrtaceae that has evolved in this land and is now threatened by Myrtle Rust.

So just how are we going to preserve the diversity of Myrtaceae in Australia? I can only speak of our personal experiences in observing the life cycles and propagation of our local Myrtaceae in SE QLD, but I think we are onto something. And that is, that preserving species that are threatened by Myrtle Rust, can be tackled at a grass roots level (or at least at a tree and shrub level – pardon the pun), through the work of nurseries propagating Myrtle Rust resistant plants.

Back in 2011, when Myrtle Rust arrived in SE QLD, you could have been forgiven for thinking that nurseries were the only source of Myrtle Rust and that going near a nursery was potentially dangerous to you own health!  Sure, nurseries could potentially speed the spread of Myrtle Rust due to interstate plant transport, but once established in NSW it was only a matter of time before trillions of microscopic spores blew across the landscape and spread rapidly to colonise whole new areas. To try and stem the tide, Biosecurity then quarantined a few nurseries, but the horse was well and truly bolted. Overnight the Myrtle name was tarnished, as the fear of Myrtle Rust spread. Some production nurseries disposed of all their Myrtaceae stock rather than trying to manage the disease, as the potential damage to their business from growing Myrtaceae outweighed the cost of throwing them all away. For those who persisted with growing Myrtaceae fungicide regimes became compulsory – although I’d argue that they mask the problem rather that treating it. What I’m trying to get to, in a an albeit circuitous way, is that nurseries were perceived as the problem, when in fact I believe that nurseries and horticulturalists (native ones in particular) have the tools to help assist in preserving the Myrtaceae species that are under threat.

Luckily in Australia, Myrtle Rust has yet to have a significant impact on the dominant tree and shrubs of our woodlands e.g. Eucalypts, Corymbia, Angophora, Lophostemon, Melaleuca, Leptospermum (although locally on the Sunshine Coast we have observed some impacts on Melaleuca quinquenervia).However, many of our rainforest Myrtaceae have been significantly affected. These include Gossia spp, Lenwebbia spp, Rhodamnia sppBackhousia spp. Rhodomyrtus psidioides, Uromyrtus lamingtonensis, Decaspermum humile, Archirhodomyrtus beckleri and Acmena smithii. These species have been affected to varying degrees, with populations and individuals within species showing variable degrees of susceptibility. Species such as Rhodomyrtus psidioides are bordering on functionally extinct, with the majority of individuals struggling to maintain foliage, let alone produce flowers or fruit. At the other end of the spectrum, species such as Austromyrtus dulcis and Acmena smithii (which have only shown susceptibility over the last few years) only appear to be affected under irrigation in nurseries and not affected (at least as much) when planted.

Personally, given nearly 10 years of  observations of Myrtle Rust and its impacts on our flora, I believe the only real hope for assisting in the preservation of Myrtaceae species that have demonstrated that they are vulnerable, is to assist those individuals and populations within a species that are demonstrating resistance and resilience. We (nurseries, horticulturalists, nature lovers in general) can assist these species by actively searching for, identifying and then propagating and cultivating those individuals. This cultivation whether it be in gardens, farms or revegetation projects will then assist their resistant and resilient genes to spread through their populations. Resistance to Myrtle Rust does appear to varying degrees within the species listed above. For example, in Acmena smithii vulnerability appears to be the exception, but Archirhodomyrtus beckleri is about 50/50 in our area. Our cultivated Rhodamnia dumicola and Gossia acmenoides can keep good leaf cover but are yet to produce viable fruit. Rhodomyrtus psidioides, which as mentioned before, appears to have very limited resistance across the majority of its population is really struggling.

Species that we have personally had success with so far include Decaspermum humile and Lenwebbia sp. blackall range, both of which we have selected and propagated from resistant individuals. We’re also working on a few Rhodamnia spp. – so fingers crossed there too! Another observation we’ve made is that if plants that have been affected by Myrtle Rust and can be nurtured to produce flower, fruit and then seed, then the resulting seedlings appear to be more resistant than their known parent.

Nearly 10 years on, there is still talk about addressing Myrtle Rust on a national level and mainly just that – talk. Cynical as I am (usually) I don’t rule out how much we could be doing on a national level including: stopping the next “myrtle rust” type disease from being brought into the country; co-ordinating on a national or at least state level work with nurseries to select and breed myrtle rust resistant stock; and perhaps given the potential resources federally we could do the research that can help understand resistant genetics and maybe genetically engineer resistance into species that we would otherwise lose.

For the time being, however, the real action is taking place out in the bush as evolutionary processes select those individuals that are resistant Myrtle Rust to survive and reproduce. The best that we can do for now is get behind nurseries and horticulturalists who are passionate about our native flora. They are the front line in preserving our vulnerable Myrtaceae species. For 10 years we’ve seen major impacts to our rainforest ecosystems through the damage to Myrtaceae species and the loss of flowering and fruiting abundance they provided for our fauna, let’s hope we can improve that situation somewhat over the next 10 years…

Go Wild (in your garden)!

Go Wild (in your garden)!

With Spencer Shaw

If the extent of your interest in gardening is the perfect lawn and an immaculately pruned hedge (probably Mock Orange), then this article is probably not for you. That said, I aim for inclusiveness in my approach so bear with me and we’ll see if we can’t find some common ground and if not then hopefully some light entertainment.

Human beings are beings of nature, we enjoy interaction with the natural world. Although culturally some humans (unfortunately most) draw a line between humans and all the rest of life on earth, the fact remains that biologically and ecologically we are all part of life on earth. We’re inspired and in awe of areas of natural beauty, we enjoy watching other animals, we enjoy growing things, gardening & bushwalking. All these things make us happier, healthier and intrinsically content.

So, my thoughts naturally ramble in the direction of co-operation and sharing when it comes to the other life forms we are blessed to share this earth with. In our gardens, our green dominions, those areas that we can rule over with an iron fist (or at least an assorted blend of steel, alloy and plastic tools) and shape as is our whim into a series of monoculture, monotonous, monospecific, mediocre (and a legion of other words starting with m) manicured lawns and shrubs. These gardens, at best require constant intervention of labour, machine and chemical to maintain this level of morose mediocrity and at worst are functionally green deserts. We can do all this, or, we can get a little bit wild.

Getting a bit Wild in the garden, can take all sorts of forms, but the most crucial element is increasing the range of plants, in both species diversity and form. Ideally you would use as a great range of local native plants that reflect those that naturally occur in your area and provide food and resources for local wildlife. This unfortunately means sticking with local native plants of SE QLD and limits you to a mere 3500 native plant species…. although some could argue that’s a reasonable palette from which to select!

Other valuable elements to getting a little bit wild include: Mulch – use natural leaf litter, living mulches (groundcovers), rockpiles and logs; Question Your Chemical Use – insecticides & rodenticides may be useful short-term solutions to pest damage, but they are poisons that kill other wildlife and could end up in your food! Habitat – nest boxes, rocks, dead trees provide valuable homes.

The wilding of your garden is generous, creative and sharing. It reduces financial and physical inputs over time and the rewards, well they tweet for themselves!

Focus on Flora: Cunjevoi –  Alocasia brisbanensis

Focus on Flora: Cunjevoi – Alocasia brisbanensis

With Spencer Shaw

Large lush deep green leaves of Cunjevoi add a tropical twist to the landscape and this particular plant fits into this category. Our largest local member of the Arum Family   ARACEAE, this fleshy herb grows to between one and one and a half metres high on the Sunshine Coast, with large leaves up to half a metre long. Being this big and lush   requires  plenty of moisture and if not shade then certainly protection from wind and its drying effects, hence it is often found along slow moving creeks, shady wetlands and   generally in rainforests.

There’s a story about that I often see referred to, that traditional Indigenous medicine advocates it as a cure for Stinging Tree Dendrocnide spp stings, however this may be ok if   you are a skilled practitioner of Indigenous medicine (but most of us aren’t) and the sap can be very irritating on its own – may just take the edge of the Stinging Tree by causing its   own inflammation! I’ve witnessed a very severe reaction to the sap from the leaves on a fellow Bush Regenerator and after witnessing that experience, give me Stinging Tree any   day!  Do not put any raw part of the plant in your mouth as it contains potent irritants that can cause swelling of your throat – not good.

Now you’re all scared and taking a wide berth of Cunjevoi in the bush – just in case it attacks you, let’s focus on the positive. The tall white / cream / green arum flowers are very   nicely perfumed to us and are insect attracting and pollinated. The flowers are followed by clustered bright red fruit, which given everything else I’ve said about this plant – do not   eat them, just for the birds!  They are a great plant for boggy shady areas, one of the few local plants that really thrive in these conditions.

Cunjevoi’s heart shaped leaves will always have a special place in my heart, and are an essential part of the understorey in the very moist sections of rainforests.

I’ve lost my heart to “Bleeding Hearts”

I’ve lost my heart to “Bleeding Hearts”

With Spencer Shaw

Bleeding Heart Homalanthus populifolius

Sometimes a plant can be so common in your field of view that it’s easy to miss its significance and importance to ecosystems, it can so much a part of the landscape and so self sustaining that it can be forgotten in favour of all the rare and threatened plants and those things that are hard to grow, and so it is with your common run of the mill Homalanthus populifolius!

Homalanthus populifolius syn: Homalanthus nutans, Omalanthus populifolius has had a few name changes over the last few decades (just to keep us on our toes) and is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, a very large Family of plants spread across the globe. It is dioecious – separate male and female plants.

This species is one of those ridiculously fast growing plants that kicks starts ecosystem change by colonising open ground, wether that be an opening in the forest, along roadsides, disturbed edges (and at our place just about anywhere and everywhere).  Favoured germination conditions are open ground with high light levels and reasonable moisture holding capacity in the soil. From seedling to mature and fruiting could be as little as 18-24 months. In open conditions they become a small tree up to 5-7 metres, but I have seen a few spectacular specimens topping 10 metres in lowland rainforest.

As for kick starting ecosystem change, within 24 months you can have a deep leaf litter providing shelter and habitat for macro invertebrates and all those critters that eat them; they are a tree that is often as wide as tall, providing shade and humidity for secondary rainforest plants to recruit; the fruit of Homalanthus populifolius is highly sort after by birds (particularly the Brown Cuckoo Dove Macropygia amboinensis on our property), who readily spread seed.

I love Homalanthus, it’s hard to imagine a rainforest planting being successful without them. They are our ultimate rainforest pioneer species and well worth planting – that is if they aren’t popping up by themselves!