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Angus Stewart mid lesson

Angus Stewart mid lesson


Dave Rose mid lesson

Dave Rose mid lesson

Last weekend we did a workshop on Gardening with Native Plants held at the Sydney Wildflower Nursery at Heathcote.   The workshop presenters were nursery owner Dave Rose & Angus Stewart of the television show, Gardening Australia.

Although I took notes, I won’t post the whole content of the workshop as I highly suspect they will hold this kind of event again, as both workshops on that day were full.  Not surprising given the presenters & that it was free.   It was very generous of the nursery to do this.

The Sydney Wildflower Nursery has undergone a lot of vegetation changes in the last six months. Raised garden beds have been installed, & new Australian native trees, shrubs & plants & a new frog pond were put in.

It was explained that this area will showcase native plants, shrubs & trees to show what they grow into & how they appear in a garden setting, as compared to what they look like when you buy them in a pot.  They are doing this with the aim to increase the use of native plants to increase biodiversity across Sydney.

It is a good idea.  Many people still think of native plants as drab & messy plants, but they are anything but.  Good choices, planted in the right way & pruned at the right time will set you up with a garden that looks after itself & attracts wildlife.  I firmly believe that birds in the garden makes life better.

Some of the advice included –

  • When designing your garden, put the big things in first (like shrubs & trees) & then work around these.
  • Imported soil usually has a high pH level.  The pH level can also fluctuate throughout the soil mix.
  • Australian natives prefer an acid soil with a low pH of between 5.5 – 6.   A high pH tends to lock down the nutrients that native plants need.  You can add Iron Sulphate to the soil to bring the pH down fairly quickly.
  • If you have rich soil, it is best to grow natives that come from desert areas in pots, as this allows you to create the ideal soil conditions for them – sandy & free draining.
  • If you add cow manure to your soil, make sure the manure comes from free-range cows & not feed-lot cows.  What the animal eats depends on the quality of manure it produces.  Feed-lot manure has very little nutrient content & is not beneficial for your garden.
  • Plants look better if there are an odd number – 1, 3, 5 & so on.   It is more pleasing to the eye, so it is better to plant three of one species & place them together.
  • The average potting mix is comprised of 60-65% composted pine bark, 10% coir & the rest is sand.
  • Soak your plant while still in the pot before you plant it, as this will help retain water in the potting mix.
  • Dig a hole twice the size & twice the depth than your pot. Then mix in some potting soil & some slow release fertilizer.  Doing this will help the roots make a transition into the soil of your garden.  Plants frequently stop sending out roots into the surrounding soil because they prefer the soil that came with the pot.  When this happens, your plant will not grow to its optimum.  I am sure many of you have removed a plant months later only to find that the roots come out in the shape of the pot you bought it in.   This is because the roots did not make the transition into the soil of your garden.
  • Wet & hot weather makes slow-release fertilizer pellets break down more quickly, so you may need to fertilize more often.
  • Do not be afraid to prune native plants & shrubs.  Pruning thickens them up & prevents them from becoming leggy & straggly.  Prune in the time when flowers are not being produced, otherwise you will remove all the flowers & not have blooms for the following season.

Angus spoke of his 35-year love of breeding Kangaroo Paws & said the taller flowering varieties are the toughest & can be long-lived in Sydney.  The smaller varieties flower well in Sydney, but are not as long-lived.  We were all given a Kangaroo Paw for our garden, which was a nice treat.

Angus also spoke about his new website, which has a database of more than 1,000 plants & is continuing to grow.  It’s a comprehensive site with pop-up photos of native plants allowing you to have a good look at the plant.

Sydney Wildflower Nursery specializes in Australian native plants & is a wonderful resource if you are looking for something different.  They are at 9 Veno St, Heathcote NSW 2233.   Ph:  (02) 9548 2818.  Parking is easy.

Yellow Buttons - Chrysocephalum apiculatum - an Australian native groundcover that thrives on neglect. Butterflies love the flowers & it can be propagated from both seeds & cuttings. Good in well drained soil & in hanging baskets. This is a good example of planting in odd numbers.

Yellow Buttons – Chrysocephalum apiculatum at Sydney Wildflower Nursery.  This is an Australian native groundcover that thrives on neglect. Butterflies love the flowers & it can be propagated from both seeds & cuttings. Good in well drained soil & in hanging baskets. This is a good example of planting in odd numbers.

Angus Stewart holding a couple of his books.  We bought 'Lets Propagate,' which was written for Australia. At  282 pages it is packed with information & very useful for the gardener & the verge gardener.

Angus Stewart holding a couple of his books. We bought ‘Let’s Propagate!’ which was written for Australia. At 282 pages it is packed with information & photos making it very useful.


This months Festival of the Trees is looking at food for wildlife.  Marrickville LGA has quite a lot of  wildlife for an inner city urban area, especially with the Cooks River, the Tempe Reserve & Wetlands & some of our major parks.   The presence of nearby Girraween Park  at Wolli Creek helps our urban wildlife enormously.  However, when we first moved into our home 15 years ago there weren’t many birds in our immediate neighbourhood.  There were some of course, but we were not as aware of them as we were in our previous home.  They were mostly Pied Currawongs in winter, Common Mynas all year round & a couple of Turtle Doves as well.  Over the years this has changed significantly.  Now birds feature strongly in our neighbourhood.  So what happened to bring the birds here?

The neighbourhood around us changed in that many new people moved in & they did 3 things.  They removed the cement from their garden, reduced the size of their lawn or did away with it altogether & they planted trees & shrubs, many of them Natives.  Some of my neighbours are spectacular gardeners converting their bare gardens into mini-botanical havens filled with a variety of bird-attracting plants.  The transformation has been dramatic & they still kept the lemon tree.

birds sunning themselves

The other thing I noticed was that many people started putting birdbaths and/or ponds in their gardens.  This combination of water & food brought the birds back in droves.

It also brought the frogs seemingly by magic.  We put in a pond & 2 days later a rare frog breed arrived.  Now we have small frogs that hibernate under our very small piece of lawn.  They wake up in summer & leave at night.  We hear them, but rarely see them.

At least 24 Turtle Doves live in our block now so their family extended. There are many White Eyes, Willy-Wag Tails, Red Wattlebirds, Magpie-larks, Australian Magpies, large groups of Noisy Miners, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Crested Pigeons, a Common Koel or two, Grey Butcherbirds, Olive-backed Orioles, Silvereyes, Figbirds & Pallid Cuckoos.  Masked Lapwings fly over-head on their way to the river.  Even a couple of Spotted Pardalotes have moved in.  This is amazing as they live in areas with many Eucalypts, not Sydney’s Inner West.

small part of a large flock of Cockatoos who visited

Large groups of Cockatoos fly over most days & when the nuts & fruit are ripe, they descend on mass devouring them.  It’s a gorgeous sight & they are very noisy.  The powerlines can be covered with white birds all with something to say.  Both neighbours who grow the food the Cockatoos like to eat do not mind the invasion of these birds.

We still have the Pied Currawongs & Common Mynas, but they are not so destructive now they are out numbered.  The Common Mynas tried to get everyone to move, but the sheer numbers of birds had their power reduced to almost nil.  They now just get on with living.  We also have native bees & a Ring-Tailed Possum or two.

From a reasonably quiet area in terms of birds, our neighbourhood has become filled with bird song & bird activity.   I love the change.  It seems somehow more like I remember things used to be when I was a child & the presence of birds was taken for granted.

The Australian Museum has a wonderful web-site called Birds in Backyards. They list 40 birds & provide a fact-sheet & a short sound-bite of each bird call.  It is a wonderful reference for school children as well as people like me who don’t know much about birds.  Through this site I have been able to identify 20 of the 40 birds listed that I can hear & many times see from our own back garden.

Birds provide white noise that is soothing & helps block out traffic & other noises that can lead to stress.  They also help you in the garden by eating the insects that eat your plants.


If you want to attract birds into your garden & neighbourhood, all you need to do is plant a variety of bird-attracting Australian native plants & provide a source of water.  The water is best placed near other plants as this gives the birds a sense of safety.  They will use a birdbath in the middle of a lawn, but if there is another in a better location, they will use that one first.

Our birdbath needs filling often & sometimes daily during hot weather.  A wide range of birds use it to drink & bathe at many times during the day.  Sometimes there is a line up.  The larger birds go first with the smaller birds in surrounding trees watching & waiting for them to finish.  At night, much to my delight, the bats use it. I haven’t managed to see them yet, but I hear the “woop, woop, woop “as they take off vertically.

If you can, plan to plant a range of plants of different heights & thicknesses.  Some birds love to go into small shrubs & eat the nectar from flowers & insects while hidden from sight.   Others are not afraid to sip nectar from flowers high up & in open view.  A range of plants will ensure a variety of birds visit.

Cockatoo eating something from my neighbours garden

Native grasses offer a great source of food as well.  I have seen them used in very creative ways by my neighbours.  Most Australian Natives do not require much water once established & thrive in poor quality soil, though they do appreciate mulch & regular fertilizing with a Native fertilizer.

Native plants can be used successfully with a cottage garden if that is your preferred look.  Many are prolific flowerers & some have flowers all year round.  Most respond to pruning allowing them to be kept in a shape you like. Pruning encourages more flowers & bushiness.

From being a person who preferred cottage gardens I have become someone who would rather plant something that gives food to another.  I do think the long drought we had stressed the wild birds & animals, as their water sources shrunk & their food sources didn’t flower or simply died.  The Ibis who have decided to stay in Sydney are an example of this.  Even though it’s raining torrents in Sydney & parts of NSW have flooded, the drought is not over by a long shot.  16 areas or boundaries in NSW (a little over half the state) are classified Exceptional Circumstances. This is done when drought is regarded as severe.

As a number of people have indicated they want ideas for native shrubs & trees, I’ll do some research & put together a list soon.  It will be good learning for me as I am not an expert in this area either.




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