With the long awaited arrival of the recent rains, an old visitor returned to our garden. I do believe it is the same frog I wrote about him a few years back: –
I had a delightful green visitor in my garden. I found him hiding in the inner dark and cool realms of a motor scooter’s seat compartment, where he has been, apparently riding back and forth to the local train station for perhaps, several weeks. My daughter took some shots seen here, naming him Mr Schneider! Not sure of the reason for that. She is quite imaginative.
This frog is native to Australia and introduced to New Zealand.
He is quite a cute character who can apparently live up to 16 years. The males are smaller than the females and are the only ones to produce he characteristic croak at night, especially in summer when they breed.
The presence of frogs in the garden, it is said, is a good indicator of the health of the local environment and as such, I was really pleased to see this little guy. He is of course very welcome if he is keen on eating all the spiders, cockroaches and insects that make us cringe.
While commonly seeking shelter and availing themselves of still water in human habitats, like toilet bowls, potplants, tanks and swimming pools, an interesting fact is that frogs can scream to ward off predators, and change colour according to their mood, much like a chameleon. Even in the short space of time we observed him, he certainly seemed to lighten in colour. It is important to remember and to teach kids, that the touch of a dry human hand is extremely caustic to these frogs, indeed most frogs, so you must always have wet hands when handling them.
Our task this morning was just to guide him to a safe spot, no more hitchhiking on the motor scooter. So whilst capturing him on the old digital camera, he headed for the pot-plants in the window boxes on the front wall, and after a light mist with the garden hose, he squeezed himself into the hole in the side of the self watering pots.
The main danger to the green tree frog is the destruction of its habitat through wetland clearance and drainage.
We can all support the habitat of frogs by welcoming them into our garden.
And that is something every single one of us needs to ponder about.
Less frogs= more insects= indications that the environment is suffering.
The builders are asking me to outline just where I would like the garden beds to go on our block. Already? I thought to myself.
Before the house has even started and before the final plans for the house are even drawn, I have to envisage and draw up a garden plan. Not the easiest request to fulfill.
But this is the process of construction that we follow. So I comply. Here is my rough sketch.
We have saline soil, it is also a silty clay, and it is reactive, meaning it is prone to movement – the ‘triple bunger’ of worst soils. Fantastic! Not really.
Even sandy soils would have been easier to deal with, I think. But the soil tests don’t lie.
What kind of Garden do I want?
One that is private, but not claustrophobic – some hedging plants
Plants that require little weeding or maintenance
Palms in pots?
A retaining wall or raised garden to improve drainage as the soil will become easily water logged.
A climbing plant espaliered along the fence?
Choosing Plants for Clay Soils
What plants would like to grow in poorly drained salty clay soil?
Lavender bushes will grow by the coast and will also tolerate salty soils, but need good drainage and thus a sandy soil. (which I don’t have). So they would have to grow in pots.
Perhaps I could grow some Bamboo in pots as a screening plant/informal hedge?
Apparently I could grow certain veges –
“..most productive plants require good drainage and soil that’s well cultivated to about 30cm depth for good root growth and development, beans and shallow-rooted vegetables such as loose-leaf lettuce can be grown in clay soil.
And then there is some ornamental species such as Day-lilies and Hydrangeas that like clay.
The BHG website describes Daylillies as Tough-as-nails. “It’s trumpet-shaped blooms each last only a day, but plants can bloom for several weeks because they produce many flower buds. Some varieties bloom several times through the summer.”
Nandinas are also very tolerant of clay soils and there are loads to choose from.
As clay soils can tend to water log easily, care should be taken with garden design to allow for good drainage. Few plants are tolerant of water logged soils. If I lay down a good layer of loam on top, some ground covers might thrive as long as their roots do not become water logged. I can also improve the soil with compost and organic matter to aerate the clay, but it still is salty.
There are not that many garden plants that tolerate salty soil in high concentrations.
Here are some:
Blanket Flower – sounds positively dreary
Lantana.- No – it is a noxious weed
Viburnum – maybe
Yucca – Yuk! Enough said
Cannas – I have an inexplicable aversion to these plants for some reason
Prickly Pear Cactus – Seriously? – This is a pest that threatened to overtake farmland in the nineteenth century. Why would anyone want this in their yard? A definite NO.
Lavender Cotton – previous info seems to exclude this range
Seaside Goldenrod – another new plant I wasn’t sure about
Flowering native shrubs such as the Bottle-brushes, Melaleucas, might do okay in moderate clay whilst two Banksias: spinulosa and ericifolia are apparently very tolerant of clay. Even a Westringia might cope and they are a coastal plant. Sounding better.
Lomandras and Dianellas are tolerant of all but the heaviest clay soils. Some sites recommend the ornamental grasses such as Pennisetem, for heavy clay soils, but as I am highly allergic to grass, perhaps I should forget about that species.
I think the iconic Australian native plants prefer free draining soils, and will struggle in clay soils without some soil improvement. Yareena™ Myoporum parvifolium is a native ground cover tolerant of a heavy clay. That might be useful. But sourcing this could be a problem.
The Native hibiscus might survive and Lilly Pillies are reliable for hedges or screens in clay soils.
“Clay soils can be very heavy and hard to dig, with a tendency towards water logging. While heavy clay soils will need significant improvement before most plants will happily grow.. Improved clay soils can hold nutrients well and therefore can be very beneficial to plants which like a lot of water and nutrient, including many large leaved or tropical plants.”
My husband has built a house before, with his father, so for him, this is not so special.
For me, this is my first and last time to decide how a new house might look from the ground up. I will never do it again. This is it.
There are so many things to decide. We have to chose absolutely everything – colours, tiles, mortar, grout, locks, window frames, cornice, shelves. For every part of the house and every single thing in it, there is a choice. A good thing, right? But it makes my head spin, just a little bit.
A Block of Land
First things first.
We recently purchased a block of land in a new development that was close by the water’s edge. We wanted to be near the water. Two people, done with raising a family, growing old in a house by the sea. Sunset walks along the water’s edge. Cool breezes in the sub-tropical summer. Sounds idyllic? We think and hope so.
Selecting a block of land wasn’t as easy as we thought. I was very fussy about micro-climate and orientation. After living for many, many years in a house that was like a furnace in summer and a freezer in winter, I knew I was going to be particular about aspect. And I was lucky. I found one that ticked almost all the boxes.
The block in question was already registered with the governing body, as opposed to buying a pile of dirt way behind a barbed wire fence and shown only on a paper plan to prospective buyers. Whilst I was particular on the right environmental aspect, my husband was definitely not going to buy anything he couldn’t step on and feel, with his own hands. So we were lucky. We found it. First step done!
designing A house
Next we had to find a design we liked. Will the design we picked fit on the block of land, we wondered? My idea of this, might be a little different to local councils and also the idea of the land developers which is different to that of the builder. Negotiations await a pen pusher’s whim. We wait for that.
Our land has two frontages, that is: it faces a street on one side and a smaller lane way on another. This is great because it gives us uninterrupted sea breezes and views.
However, there are certain rules about how close the house can be situated to the street and neighbouring houses, called setbacks. They don’t want you to build your house right next to the road, as they did in years gone by.
What colour and materials will the exterior of our house be? How many windows? What type of fence will the garden have? How many plants will we get? The developer has a say in that too. It is called the covenant.
The developer in its wisdom, wants to keep selling their land for a good price and thus, they want to maintain certain standards for the houses getting built in their community. But when is a house really your own to design?
The land was previously low lying land that was filled and raised by creating an artificial lake that opened to the sea. This is coastal land – a tidal area now filled in with soil and a lake.
This means the soil test showed the soil is saline and highly reactive. That translates to more expensive foundations for the house and raised garden beds. But who wants their house walls to crack when it rains, or doesn’t rain? It has to be done that way.
Winter is a beautiful time of year here in the sub tropics of Australia. The nights are cool and brisk, but the days are sunny, clear, and warm (about mid twenties in Celsius degrees).
I love this time of year, no humidity and it often feels like we have skipped winter, and gone from Autumn directly to spring. This is my morning view.
At least when I look out my window, I see the beautiful specimens of Wattle (Acacia species) and Banksia (Giant Candles).
Banksia plants come in many varieties and were named about the Botanist on board Cook’s ship the Endeavour when it discovered the East coast of Australia in 1770. Banks and his colleagues made many drawings on these glorious plants, and thus were named after him.
Banksia have an interesting adaptation to the harsh Australian climate. They do not have flowers, but instead a large cone that holds nectar (food for the many Lorikeets and nectar feeding birds). Following this, the cone develops into a seed pod, protecting the valuable seed within until it is one day exposed to high intensity heat (such as found in a bush fire).
Upon being burnt, the seed cone will open, releasing the seed contained within. The Banksia plant is then free to germinate in not only a potash rich soil, but in an area with very little competition from other plants for sun and moisture.
Australia’s official national floral emblem, featured on the coat-of-arms. Possibly the best known amongst the Australian plants. With 600 or more kinds of wattles, they can be found in every part of the country, from well-watered areas to the arid Centre to the cold mountain regions.
The wattles are usually the first to appear after bush-fires and can be found growing in the most remote areas, from low, spreading shrubs to large, upright growing trees. The individual flowers are always very small and massed together in pom-pom heads or rod-like spikes. Whilst most wattles are spring-flowering, there are some that bloom all year round.
1st September is Australia’s Wattle Day.
Wattles belong to the genus Acacia, in the Mimosa family.
There are over 600 different species distributed throughout Australia with shapes varying from low, spreading shrubs to large, upright trees. It is often called ‘Mulga’. Whilst most are early spring and summer-flowering, there are wattles that bloom all year round.
Which is really clever and definitely something to ponder about: the resilience and endless adaptation of nature.