The Magic Grove
Wonderful, Glorious Groves!!!!!
More than 200 years after white settlers first arrived here, we are still trying to grow gardens like European parks- lots of grass, straight garden beds of annuals, scattered shrubs and trees that fall down at the first big wind, because they've been grown in the lawn and their roots are poor shallow things.
The result? Gardens than must be pruned and tended, with pestcides to combat insect plagues, herbicides for the weeds, lawn mowers, whippersnippers, leaf blowers and other expensive paraphenalia…plus large amoiunts of water or the gardens die in the first drought.
Australian gardens don't lack water. They just have too much evaporation. Cut down on the evaporation, and your garden can survive- and even flourish- with far less water than you ever thought possible.
Our garden survives the cold, heat and drought because it's planted in groves. And that is how we can grow such a lot without doing much- if any- work in our orchard, too. Groves look after themselves. And they give us- and the wombats, wallabies and so many other inhabitants of our garden- an extraordinary amount.
I believe that a garden- or a farm- should feed and shelter wildlife, too. We share the world, we don't own it. And the best way to do that is to grow LOTS- with as little work on my part as possible.
More Grove Magic- what your groves will give you
Groves cool the air when it's hot, and help keep it warm when it's cold. And they help keep it humid in dry times, too.
It's worth heading to Canberra just to go through the rain forest gully in the Botanic Gardens. There's a temperature and humidity measure just outside. It will tell you how hot/cold/ dry it is outside the gully- and what it's like inside. And it is always amazing- even for someone who expects it- to see how the gully and the plants regulate their own temperature and humidity.
And that is what happens in a grove.
Without a grove there is no way we could grow avocadoes in the frost or snow flakes here, or custard apples, or even oranges in dry times. (Sometimes I think the neighbours assume there is something magic about this end of the valley. But it's not. It's just the groves.)
More shade means less evaporation. But it's more than that. In droughts often the only rain is 'mizzle' a cross between mist and drizzle. Not enough to wet the soil. But it WILL be enough to wet the leaves...and groves have many levels of leaves. Each one gathers drips then drops them as they condense…and you'll find your groves have 'trapped' moisture from th air. Not a lot- but enough to keep your grove alive when the plants outside are dying.
The winds howl about. But in the grove the leaves hardly move. And even the outside trees are protected from gusty turmoil by their companions either side.
Pests recognise their food by it's shape- silhouette- or its smell. But trees in groves, with lots of vines growing up them, disguise both shape and scent. Result: very few pests.
Weeds need space and light to get a toe hold. And they won't find either in a grove.
Groves grow a lot in a small space- and a small space means less space needs to be mulched. Plus groves hide ugly mulch from view. We bung just about anything that has once live under our trees. (We call it 'consigning it to the ecology". Dead foxes, old doormats, fallen trees, Aunties that have karked it…only joking there, though- honestly- if it were legally possible that is how I'd like to be buried when I die. Under the corn stalks under the avocado trees, growing more fruit for my grandchildren.
Longer Fruiting Times
Most fruit trees fruit all at once- great for the orchardist who wants to take their fruit to market. But the last thing a home grower wants is 6 cases of apricots all in one week.
Fruit in groves matures over a much longer tiume. Our 'groved' oranges fruit over 3-4 months, instead of two weeks. Our 'groved' peachcotts fruit over three weeks instead of one week. Groved apples can mature over six weeks instead of three weeks.
Possums do NOT like climbing thickets with lots of vines.
Well, not control. Sharing. It's a tithe system for wildlife. They get one tenth- the top fruit. I get the rest. Anyone can afford to give birds one tenth. And birds find it very difficult to find fruit deep in a grove.
A grove means LOTS. Lots grown in a small space. Lots of varieties. Lots of fruit. Lots more for the wombats, wallabies, lyrebirds, and the birds who feast on the upper layers. Lots more in tough dry, hot or frosty times.
And lots for you.
How To Start a Grove
Start your grove with a single, very hardy tree that you will survive severe frost, hellish winds, summers over 45C and drought...a bunya, loquat, macadamia, or plum, pears or apples NOT on dwarfing rootstock- you need the big vigorous ones for this. If the seasons are good you can get away with trees like lillypillies, calamondins or oranges or any other trees that grows well for you.
Mulch it. Use Wettasoil. Cosset it all you can. If necessary put it in a tree guard (See Chapter ) to keep it alive.
P.S. You can of course start several groves at once. In this case plant the trees about two or three metres apart.
Wait till it's established, at least three years old, more in tough climates. Plant another four hardy trees right at it's dripline- where the drips fall off the outer leaves. (IF you have lots of water, you can plant these at the same time as the first tree.)
Make it all a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. This will mean that the ever green trees will get more light when the deciduous ones lose their leaves in winter.
When they are established continue, infinitum..
Now… plant trees that aren't so hardy… citrus, that will die in dry times, or avocadoes that might die in frost, in between the other trees. Many- if not most- subtropical and tropical trees grow naturally under the skirts of their parents ie the young treees actually LIKE semi shade. And yes, some of the trees in the middle will grow more slowly than trees planted outside the groves , as they get less light. But they WILL grow. And trees are very good at finding their own sunlight- they just keep growing up till they find it.
Trees which actually prefer semi shade include macadamias, tamarilloes, avocadoes, custard apples, lillypillies, icecream bean trees, sapotes, davidson's plum,quandongs.
Plant climbers, like passionfruit, hops, grapes, kiwi fruit, including wild kiwi fruit that don't need male and female, chilacayote, chokoes, rambling roses up the outer trees.
Plant shade tolerating veg and other plants on the lowest level. Native ginger, ginger lilies, ginseng, wild strawberries, Jerusalem artichokes on the outside where they get just abit more light. But don't plant too much, as you need to leave a lot of space for mulch.
Groves are magic. Truely. You end up with a great glorious canopy of different fruits. You get the lower fruit, the birds get the top ones you can't get to (They'll find it hard to reach the lower fruit in all that mass of branches)
Groves are the best way I know to really intensify the productivity of your land, so there is enough for you, your friends, your chooks, and MORE wildlife than the place supported before.
Some Grove Hints
1. Avoid dwarf trees. Another phrase for 'dwarf varieties' is 'not very vigorous'. I've found that dwarf apple trees keel over in gales here whereas the full sized ones are tougher than old boots.
Trouble is, many trees you may buy as full sized tree are really on semi-dwarfing root stock, as few gardeners or farmers want 20 metre high lemons, limes, oranges, apples etc. The trees you grow from seed will be full sized - and their roots will be too.
2. Don't plant in the lawn! Lawns get watered often… well, 'lawn' type lawns do (or did) and that means that the trees' root systems tend to be small and shallow, as they don't have to hunt down deep for moisture. Lawns are also often on shallow top soil, too, brought in and spread over the hard packed concrete stuff left after the house was built. Again- the result is trees that easily fall even in a stiff breeze.
3. Encourage roots to go deep down then spread. An old-fashioned way of doing this is to dig a deep hole - as deep as you can manage. Then plant your tree in a bucket or ten-gallon drum (excuse the lack of metric here) with the base cut out. The plant will need to grow DOWN before its roots can grow OUT… and the soft soil replaced in the hole will mean it's easy for the roots to penetrate. (IF you don't do this your poor plant may sulk and stay root bound).
4. Water deeply. This means a once a week or fortnight deep slow watering, so that in between the roots need to forage down deep for moisture. Or when you plant the tree, plant a two metre piece of polypipe with it about one and a half metres deep at the edge of the tree's hole.
When you want to water the tree, pour water down the pipe... the moisture will head down deep to the root level. You'll waste less water (no run off, no evaporation); the water will be going where it's needed, not wasted on the surface, and you'll also be encouraging the roots to forage downwards.
5. Don't stake trees. Instead take some old nylon stockings - or anything else with a bit of 'give' like polypipe or old hose,strips of t-shirts or other stretchy fabric - and tie four or five bits to the tree then stake them down about a metre out from the tree - the diagram in the magazine will be more helpful. This allows the tree to rock a bit, but still stops it being blown over till the root system has grown enough to anchor it well.
6. We prune the lower branches away from our trees- it keeps them out of wallaby reach and it makes it easier to weed, mulch, plant or mow under them. But it makes them top heavy and liable to falling over in high winds. If you're in a windy area, don't.
7. Wet trees are heavy trees... if by any wonderful chance a windy wet season arrives, with lots of lush leaf and branch growth, it can be worth thinning trees out by pruning away thin or unwanted branches. This allows the wind to blow through them, rather than blow them over.
8. Trees protect each other. Winds may be blocked by stone or brick walls, but often 'dump' on the other side of them, causing turbulence and tree loss. But wind is slowed down as it blows through groves of trees and shrubs.
9. In very windy areas plant a line of tall, very deep-rooted trees like walnuts or pecans to help protect the others. (Assuming you have deep soil so they CAN be deep rooted). But these are very large trees, and not suitable for a small garden except where you DON'T have wind and can prune off the lower branches to let in more light to other plantings.
Growing in the Shade
Groves mean shade. So what grows well- or at least somewhat- in the shade?
Hardy Plants for Shady Gardens
Shady gardens can still be productive colourful and capable of withstanding infinite neglect. Most gardens have large areas of shade: the compacted dull side of the house where no one goes, areas under trees or next to high fences. As our garden grows I find that more and more of it is shaded - and more of it is planted out to shade loving species, with vegies, flowers and herbs productive under the fruit trees.
Shade Tolerant Fruit
Many plants will grow - or survive - in the shade, but not flower or fruit. Grow these on pergolas or trail them upward as much as possible, so that the tops reach the light. Tomatoes, for example, are unlikely to fruit in even semi-shade, will grow with this treatment - at least in hot to temperate climates. They can be trained to grow on a trellis by continually pruning the lower branches and tying the top ones to the trellis.
NB: Generally the hotter the climate the more shade many plants will tolerate. Conversely in cold areas they will tolerate less shade.
Alpine strawberry - doesn't send out runners, grows from seed - look for good tasting varieties - some are bright red but taste like cardboard.
Apples - surprisingly shade tolerant, but fruit when they hit sunlight.
Apricot - shade tolerant in temperate to hot areas, but won't fruit without direct sunlight.
Bamboo - some species but beware as they may become weed.
Avocado - will grow in semi-shade - in fact needs semi-shade to establish - but fruits best with at least some light.
Cape Gooseberry - will fruit in quite deep shade in temperate areas or in cool areas next to a warm wall.
Chilean Wineberry - like a raspberry with yellow berries, very hardy, fruits in temperate areas in medium shade.
Babaco - like a small not so sweet paw paw. Will tolerate -6 C though it will lose its leaves and fruits in the semi-shade of deciduous trees.
Brambleberries - thornless blackberries et al. Will grow in shade or semi-shade in warmer areas, but only fruit with at least two hours of daylight.
Chilacayote melon - will ramble up and down trees, grows in shade but needs sunlight to flower and fruit.
Feijoa - shade tolerant but won't fruit without some direct sunlight (and often a pollinator too).
Gooseberry - light shade only.
Hazelnut - light shade only.
Hops - will twine happily through trees.
Kiwi fruit - will twine through trees - and into your bedroom if you let it.
Loquat - will grow in semi-shade in warm areas, needs sunlight to fruit.
Monstera deliciosa - frost free areas only.
Mulberry - in hot areas only and needs sunlight to fruit.
Passionfruit - will ramble through trees.
Raspberries - light shade only in hot summers.
Strawberries - hot to temperate areas only and they won't crop as well.
Tamarillo - will grow and fruit in semi-shade, but fruits best with some direct sunlight.
Quince - warm to hot areas only, fruits best with at least two hours of morning sunlight.
Walnut - shade tolerant when young, won't fruit without direct sunlight.
Herbs in the Shade
If your herbs look dull rather than glossy, if their leaves are small and they seem to be literally 'shrinking' they need more sun. Transplant them or prune back foliage above them.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) - See 'Salt Tolerant Plants'.
Aloe vera - Needs semi-shade in tropical areas.
Basil (Ocimum spp) - Most basils will grow in semi-shade in temperate to hot areas.
Bay (Laurus nobilis) - This slow growing aromatic tree is often grown as a pot plant in semi-shaded spots in temperate to hot areas. It is best grown where it gets morning sun.
Bergamot (Monarda spp) - The perennial common bergamot (bee balm, Oswego tea - Monarda didyma) with its spectacular whorls of flowers - traditionally vivid red, though cultivars now range from white though all shades of pink and purple, will tolerate semi-shade to shade in temperate to hot areas.
Betony, woundwort (Stachys officinalis) - Betony needs moist, fertile soil and either full sun or partial shade. It won't tolerate dry exposed sites. Once established in the right spot betony is incredibly hardy. Betony often self seeds. It is said to protect a house from evil and to provide sweet dreams if you sleep with it under your pillow.
Borage (Borago officinalis) - Borage grows anywhere except in a swamp, though it does best in deep soil - otherwise tall, well grown plants have a tendency to fall over and may need staking. It tolerates semi-shade but does best in full sun.
Chamomile, dyers' (Anthemis tinctoria) - This bushy, dull green, incredibly vigorous mounding plant tolerates both heat and frosts, full sun or semi-shade and well drained soil. Avoid overwatering.
Chamomile, perennial (Anthemis nobilis) - The perennial Anthemis nobilis, or Roman chamomile does best in moist fertile soils . It will tolerate semi-shade in cool to temperate area; in subtropical areas it MUST have semi-shade, preferably the broken light under trees. Annual chamomile needs full sun.
Chives (Allium spp) - The most common kitchen chives are Allium schoenoprasum - small tussocks that gradually thicken to large clumps with pretty purple flowers in summer. Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are flat leafed, hardy plants, tolerating more frost before they die down in winter than most other chives. Chives will grow well semi-shade in temperate to hot areas - it's the heat they need more than the light.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) - Tolerates almost any soil in sun or quite deep shade. Coltsfoot can become a weed and is best grown in a pot half buried in the soil if you don't want it to spread - especially in moist spots. Coltsfoot has been used for coughs, asthmatic and bronchial troubles but may cause liver damage. It is best to use alternatives.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Russian comfrey (S x uplandicum) - Comfrey tolerates semi-shade in temperate climates. In subtropical and tropical areas it needs regular watering in the heat and does best with semi-shade.
Elder (Sambucus nigra) - These small trees or largish shrubs will grow in warm semi- shade.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) - These plants prefer full sun and fertile soil (and can become immense under these conditions) but will also tolerate poor dry soil and semi-shade and grow quite well by the side of the road. Evening primrose sets hundreds of seeds and can easily self sow and become a weed (I haven't bothered actually sowing any for years now).
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - Tolerates semi-shade in temperate to hot areas, but if you want a tender sweet swollen base it is best grown in moist, slightly alkaline, fertile well-drained soil in full sun. If you just want the leaves - or are growing red (bronze?) fennel - stick it in the semi-shade under a tree and it will happily self seed.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) - Tolerates semi-shade in temperate to hot areas.
Garlic (Allium spp) - Will grow in the semi-shade under trees in temperate to hot areas, but may not flower. Or ramsons under trees
Ginseng, American (Panax quinquefolius) - This is one of the true shade lovers. Ginseng needs cold winters, warm to hot summers, semi- to dense shade (the harsher the light the more shade needed), masses of well-rotted organic matter in the soil and excellent drainage and moisture - in other words, ginseng is extremely temperamental and if not perfectly happy will die. Once you do manage to give it optimum conditions it will thrive - and in its native area is a hardy wild plant.
While ginseng can be grown from pieces of fresh root, I've never seen one for sale in Australia. Seeds should be sown in spring, after winter chilling. Fresh seed may not germinate for eighteen months, and even when seed is stratified you may find that some germinates and starts growing while other seedlings appear from the same lot of seed next spring. Keep the seedlings in reliable shade (even half an hour of full sun can wither them) - and most important KEEP THE SNAILS OFF. Snails appear to prefer ginseng to almost any other plant.
Ginseng seedlings grow very, very slowly and for the first year will remain as a single shoot with three small leaves with another two leaves appearing the following year.
Extremes of climate can cause ginseng to die back before winter. Don't throw them out. The hardiest thing about ginseng is its root and it may very well shoot again next spring. Ginseng may also shoot in early spring and be cut by late frosts. In this case the root often rots. Ginseng is perhaps the most celebrated of all 'tonic' herbs, hailed as an aphrodisiac, an aid to longevity and sporting prowess and many other attributes.
Gotu Kola, Indian ginseng, Wild pennywort, Pennyweed (Centella asiatica) - Gotu kola needs moist soil and semi-shade though it will grow, but not thrive, in full sun. The better the soil the large the leaves. It will grow in a sheltered spot in cold areas and vigorously in subtropical or tropical areas, where it an be an excellent ground cover for a damp place. Like ginseng, Gotu kola is valued as a tonic extraordinaire - as an aphrodisiac, an aid to longevity, to increase disease resistance, recover from sores, wounds, illness and to help maintain mental and physical vigour in old age and under stress. The active ingredient, asiaticoside, is reputed to stimulate regeneration of damaged tissue. It may also be carcinogenic and large doses may lead to liver damage.
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) - Tolerates semi-shade.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) - Lemon balm grows best in moist rich soil and partial light shade, especially in hot summers, but will tolerate drought, sun and exposure. It dies back after severe frost but recovers with warm weather and reseeds easily, so easily that lemon balm can become a weed.
Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus) - Lemon grass tolerates semi-shade in hot areas, or if grown in semi-shade in pots on a hot patio or warm windowsill.
Marjoram and Oregano (Origanum spp) - Both marjoram and oregano are vigorous, fragrant matting plants with tall flower stems. Both tolerating full sun or semi-shade; oregano can become a weed in moist areas or near wet forest. The golden leafed form needs direct sunlight to maintain its bright colour.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) - Marshmallow will grow under trees.
Mints (Menthus spp.) - Most mints tolerate semi-shade. We grow them as a carpet under trees. Vietnamese mint (Polygonum mentha) is not a true mint, but likes the same moist conditions. It tolerates light frost but heavy frost kills it. It will grow in light shade in warm areas to full sun in cooler districts. In humid areas choose a rust resistant culinary mint cultivar.
Mint bush (Prostanthera spp) - These bushy shrubs have dark green to grey green very fragrant leaves and spike like groups of purple, pink, mauve or white flowers at the end of branchlets. Mint bushes tolerate all but very heavy frosts and in hot areas they are best grown in semi-shade or with morning sun only. In temperate to cool climates they accept semi-shade happily. They prefer an acid, well drained moist soil but will tolerate dryness.
Parsley, Curled Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) - Though not as drought or cold hardy as flat leafed parsleys, common parsley will accept semi-shade in temperate to hot areas. Japanese or Perennial Parsley (Cryptoaenia japonica) will also grow in semi-shade in temperate to hot areas or in a pot in cool areas on warm paving or patio.
Marsh or Bog Sage (S. uliginosa) - This has the brightest display possible of almost glowing blue flowers arranged in long spikes through most of summer in either full sun or semi-shade.
Salad Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba) - Salad burnet forms a small, ferny, fragrant clump with a strong cucumber scent. It will grow in dry sandy soil as well as more fertile loam in either full sun or semi-shade.
Soapwort, Fullers wort, Latherwort, Tapestry Plant, Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis) - Accepts semi-shade to quite deep shade in temperate to hot areas - see Hardy Herbs.
Sorrel (Rumex spp) - Both cultivated sorrels do best in semi-shade, with moist, fertile soil for the best tasting leaves
Vietnamese mint (Polygonum odoratum) - Vietnamese mint grows best in semi-shade, though it will tolerate full shade or full sun in cooler areas. It needs masses of water. Vietnamese mint will be knocked back by severe frost but usually recovers.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) - This grows well in semi-shade. See 'Wet Gardens'.
Woodruff (Asperula odorata) - See herbal carpets.
Kawa kawa (Macropiper exelsum) - Maori remedy for a wide range of complaints, used as a general tonic, for wounds, toothache and skin conditions. Needs deep, fertile, moist soil, plenty of well-rotted organic matter and broken light above.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) - North American herbal remedy for a wide range of complaints. Needs moist, well-drained soil, preferably with broken light.
Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa) - Leaves and roots used for respiratory problems and needs dry, sandy soil in full sun or semi-shade.
Goats' rue (Galega officinalis) - Sprawling, bright green perennial used in cheese making, has been used to promote milk flow and in conjunction with other treatments for diabetes. Needs moist fertile soil tolerates sun or semi-shade and can become a weed.
Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) - Delicate looking, sprawling annual or biennial used as a weak sedative or for skin problems or as a gargle. Needs moist, fertile soil, tolerates semi-shade and full sun, a pretty ground cover but self-seeds enthusiastically and can become a weed.
Ramsons (Allium ursinum) - Perennial garlic-flavoured ground cover. Needs moist, fertile soil and semi-shade.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) - Leaves used for respiratory problems. Needs moist and semi-shaded soil, otherwise tolerant.
Sweet flag (Acorus calamus) - Root used in scent making, pot pourris and has limited medicinal use. Needs rich, moist, fertile soil, only flowers when grown in or on the edge of water.
Vegetables in the Shade
The amount of shade your veg will tolerate depends on your weather and climate. In hot summers here our lettuce grow well in the dappled shade under the kiwi fruit pergola, in spring and winter they just seem to fade away.
The only way to know what will grow in your version of shade is to try it. The following are a starting point only.
Celery (in temperate to hot areas - we grow celery under our kiwi fruit pergola in a tub by the kitchen door, very handy, with basil, garlic, chives and mizuma.)
Garlic (hot areas only and filtered light in temperate areas)
Jerusalem artichokes (dappled light)
Leeks (hot summers only - good under deciduous trees)
Lettuce (hot summers only)
Mizuma (Japanese salad green or green veg)
Onions (filtered light in hot areas)
Potato (hot summers in dappled light under trees or pergolas)
Silverbeet (dappled light in hot areas; ornamental chard and other chard varieties are more shade tolerant than the common Fordhook Giant.)
Spinach - English (dappled light in hot areas)
Tomatoes (dappled light in hot areas)