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Plants that never say die

This is a hymn to perversity - to people who fall in love with an area - or are simply stuck with it - and want to turn it into Eden. Gardens of Eden are possible anywhere - if you choose the right plants for the soil and the climate.

It's a book based on (reluctant) experience. In my thirty odd years of gardening (I was a late bloomer) I've faced humidity, drought so bad the ground was bare and hard for three years and the creek flats filled with dead or dying animals; locust plagues so severe even the green hose was eaten, tap dancing possums who guzzle the garden in between performances, and climatic extremes where one day will be 46 C and the lettuce wilt even under the sprinkler and three days later there's snow sifting down onto the avocados.

We have friends who are attempting to revegetate a barren headland with strong salt winds 342 days of the year (the rest of the time it's foggy); other friends who battle with saline soils and others who have chosen to live above a marsh where they expect frost any day of the year.

This is a book of survivors - plants that will tolerate brown thumbs, heat, shade, drought, salt, wind, possums, wallabies and infinite neglect.

These 'survivors' often have a bad repuation. How any people have taken a dislike to hyndrangeas beuase they associate them with dank mildewy back yards? How many people hate red hot pokers because they're mostly seen as a garish flash in an otherwide barren garden?

All plants need the right surroundings to be beautiful. The trick is to choose that do well without fuss in your area- and to plant a lot of them. (Most gardens are badly underplanted.)

Some people like cosseting their plants- spraying pruning and weeding. This isn't a book for them. Gardens needn't be hard work - or heart breaking. But you do need the strength to break free of the stereotype that says that all gardens need to have the same plants no matter what the soil or climate or time the gardener has to assist the inhabitants.


Gardens in the Bush

These are my secret passion: gardens that have been abandoned years, decades or a century before: burnt, blown, trampled by cattle or guzzled by wallabies... and that still survive.

Sometimes all that is left are bulbs - secret displays of daffodils or iris or freesias that suddenly explode into colour where a month before there was just a barren paddock. Often it's shrubs that remain - drought hardy single camellias that mark where a homestead stood who knows how many years ago, the coral blossom in mid-winter on ancient, lichen-encrusted japonica bushes that have formed spiny thickets that deter all herbivores.

More often it's fruit trees - possibly because old gardens had more fruit trees than any other plant - pears that tower thirty metres or more with small hard fruit, loquats with rich heady fragrance that hits you as you walk across the paddock, plum harvests that delight the birds and wallabies, old apples twisted and lichened, ancient walnuts with baby walnuts at their feet.

Then there are the roadside fruits: apple branches weighted with an incredible crop (and you wonder just how much petrol/lead they've absorbed), tropical mangoes under clouds of fruit fly. Around here we have wild peaches that fruit in spite of experts' claims that peaches need to be pruned every year for a good crop - these grew from peach stones thrown from the cars of passers by after they'd bought a case or two or three at the orchards - and then they fruit every year for decades. Our farm even has `feral avocados' - the currawongs carry off the fruit and drop the seeds into the blackberries, where they germinate among the damp and darkness and emerge a decade later to finally shade out their host.

Coconuts thrive washed up on beaches, passionfruit and kiwi fruit colonise the banks of creeks, cape gooseberry shelters from the sun in any moist spot it can find...

These are the survivors, like our ancestors, tough enough to breed so their line continues... not quite so tough (or useless) that we call them weeds.


This book is about these plants.

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