Zone 1 – a story in photos

Zone 1 is my front yard, an unirrigated native garden. My plan is for it to be an effective garden through the next 30-80 years, though it’ll need a couple of key tweaks during that time. I expect getting the garden established to take three to four years.

A young child stands by a wooden mailbox at the edge of a path curving to the left. Behind them is a lawn-like bright green new winter growth and a blackboy. Some parts of the ground are covered in dark mulch.

June 2012. Starting to mark out the beds using the ill-fated fast-mulch in what was mostly a blank canvas – while this had always been a native garden and the trees and one balga remained, all the prior 2m-high shrubs had died and been taken out during the previous four years of rental tenancy. Some former bed markings were still present in the subsoil as I dug and planted. Mostly though the mulch was to stop weeds coming up where I wanted there to be garden. And it generally worked.

As I’ve written about before, there are a few basic design principles that I’m working to. In a nutshell, it

* should be low maintenance and to some extent self-propagating,
* helps form a corridor and extend habitat for the river we’re very close to,
* includes some bush foods and useful local plants
* is very decorative by design rather than just being a big blobby mass of shrubs
* gives clear views through the garden to points of interest and especially to the front door.

A deep rich browny-red path curves away between a blackboy and two trees to a mailbox.

November 2012. All the beds had been marked out for six months and the layout was assessed and tweaked. The mulch has greyed in the sun, rocks have been placed, the path has been cleared and weeded, other weeds have died back in the heat, and fresh jarrah shavings have been lain down as a path covering.

A garden bed covered with mulch, with a tree trunk in the centre. Some laterite rocks in the foreground with little plants perched around them.

Sept 2013. The driveway bed has been redug to mix the former mulch into the sand beneath, remulched with high-chip suitable for banksias, and plants added as needed to refill the space with what works. This is a late spring bed, in shades of black, yellow and green. It may need a higher density of plants still.

In the implementation though, what that means is a few key points.

  • Plants are native either to the local area or to the sandplains just north of here, so that as rainfall belts continue to move south and the number of hot summer days increases they will still feel right at home. No plants from the high-rainfall-areas a hundred km south of here or the same-rainfall-but-cooler-summer areas to the far southeast. Even if I can get them to establish now (more dubious now than it was twenty years ago), they won’t be able to self-propagate in a decade or two.
  • The plant choices are trees and tall shrubs that are clear down the stems, and low undergrowth. Nothing in the 80cm-1.8m range.
Straight vertical stem covered thickly in black hairs, with several black flowerbuds branching off it.

Except for the temporary flower stems of the kangaroo paws. I love the Black Kangaroo Paws. They’re subtle, and I enjoy black flowers. I’ve tried to plant bloodroots which also have black flowers (but shiny!) , but haven’t succeeded yet. These are planted next to the black-and-yellow-flowered Kennedia vine for colour repetition and the green kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos viridis) for shape repetition.

  • The design is about texture. Native gardens are best planned around texture, as that’s what you’ll be seeing a lot of. And there are lots of textures to play with. Repetition and reflection of textures above and below is one of my design principles.
A cluster of several plants around some laterite rocks - mostly grass-like, silver and green, with some softer green foliage and yellow flowers.

The silver foliage of this Conostylis aurea is very similar in colour, shape and size to the Wirewood (Acacia coriacea) that it’s growing underneath. The grassy texture is repeated in the Macropidia (black kangaroo paw) leaves and the Green Cottonheads (another Conostylis) behind, but balanced by the fine foliage of the Verticordias and the broad leaves and sprawling shape of the Kennedia nigricans vine.

  • Thousand-flowers principle. Many of our plants have very small flowers but have them en masse. Same principle at garden level as at plant level – any one plant can get lost in the crowd, but plant them in multiples and combinations that flower together and the bed will glow.
Deep scarlet flowers scattered across tiny mid-green stems with very small spiky leaves. Grey mulch underneath.

Scarlet O’Hara, a hybrid leschenaultia. These are really just potted colour, but they last for easily six months through winter when not too much else is flowering. I tried a couple this year and they were gorgeous but easily lost from sight due to their small size. Next year I will plant a full border of them.

  • Moving the beds around the year. You can get flowers for much of the year, but again, they get lost if it’s all over the place. Each bed in my zone 1 is “set” for flowering / colour / visual appeal at a particular time of year.
Close-up of a big cluster of sun-yellow flowers with deeply fringed petals more like stamens than actual petals.

This is one of the three different yellow Verticordias I have in the spring bed, probably galeata. They all flower in spring but at slightly different times so the bed will remain in colour for three months or so. I need to plant a couple more of each now that I am sure the plan is working, as well as adding the local yellow star-flower Calytrix if I can find it.

  • Strong colours. Our flowers lend themselves to contrast, might as well highlight that. I’ve chosen to stick with the warm tones and leave out the blues, pinks and purples, so this is a fiery-coloured garden. The feature beds are/will be riffs on red and silver.
A drift of white fuzzy tiny flowers on equally white fuzzy stems drifts in a bunch from the left, in front of dark brown mulch.

My original plan for the front door feature bed was the red and green Mangles Kangaroo Paw rising from drifts of smokebush. I didn’t succeed with that paw, but the smokebush is doing fine. These are its flowers drifting across the bed.

  • I’ve tended towards blue-green, grey and silver foliage to highlight the fire. That’s personal choice rather than necessity, but the foliage does provide a sense of “cool” to the eye which I enjoy. It also means my plant choices are more drought/heat-tolerant.
Fiery orange-red flower buds climb off hairy white stalks rising from blue-green grass-like leaves at the base of the plant. Three more similar plants behind in a line.

My second take on the front door feature bed after last year’s “Fiery Bells” erica and Mangles Kangaroo Paw proved a washout. These Federation Flame kangaroo paws are a hybrid, sadly, but they have strong colouring and will hold their own against the front door portico as well as backing the bed strongly.

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2 Responses to Zone 1 – a story in photos

  1. sr says:

    Nice work! Mulching has made a big difference in our hot, dry climate. And I’d also like to plant some native bush foods around the house – seems like common sense though I don’t know anyone who does that. And kangaroo paws -very cool! Never heard of them!

    • tikiwanderer says:

      Mulching’s tricky here, because the wrong mulch (which I used last year without realising) can kill the banksia trees that make up the structure of the garden just by choking their roots. But it does make a huge difference to keeping plants happy through the summer and to weed control 🙂 I love my mulch.

      Kangaroo paws are one of my favourite flowers. They’re very well suited to this climate, and they should be, they’re endemic to the southwest of Western Australia, this is the only place they grow that I know of. Lots and lots of hybrids available now that give strong flowers for long periods even through hot weather. They’re very popular here.

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