Kangaroo grass is flowering right now, elegant brown heads on arching stalks, along our road and here and there in our bushland in sunny patches. Birds will come to eat the seeds, Red Brow Finches probably most of all. Many birds love grassy woodlands and lizards need it too.
I visited a new client this week in Upper Ferntree Gully and on her one acre property was a wild corner, an eighth perhaps, with a climbing gum tree for her children, a few golden wattles and quite a bit of kangaroo grass (Themeda australis) - here, where I thought I was in suburbia. With kangaroo grass and other undisturbed indigenous plants, it's very likely there are little orchids and lillies in spring too: a fabulous place for children's play and for retaining important habitat. Moreover, it reminds me of Mirabel Osla’s Gentle Plea for Chaos (1989).
It’s not what she meant, at all; a gentle, soft garden is a far cry from actual untamed bushland, but both, I would argue, are preferable to a super-neat garden over filled with colour-packed flowers at the expense of green. That can be an abomination which somehow wins garden club awards. I don’t understand that – the latter - at all.
Some native grasses such as Kangaroo grass employ chemical and morphological mechanisms for photosynthesis that are very efficient under hot, dry conditions and low nitrogen availability - the so-called C4 carbon fixation process in which an intermediate molecule with four carbon atoms is created before sugars are made. This method of capturing carbon and converting it to sugar requires more energy than the C3 pathway (which creates an intermediate molecule with three carbon atoms) utilised by most other species but releases far less water into the atmosphere. It’s a great adaptation to our hot dry summers.
My client’s wild patch wasn’t free of weedy exotic species (which she will work on) but I recognised many indigenous plants. And it won’t be useful for habitat alone. Humans will enjoy it too.
What a place for children to grow up in! A patch of wilderness where they can pick up sticks to make things, or throw a sheet over a branch (a tent, a house, a fortress), or use their imagination in a hundred other ways. Or search for skinks, or watch birds and butterflies, or look for flowers in early spring. Or go for solitude, peace, bird song. Truly idyllic.
Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design (www.jillweatherhead.com.au) working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.