Recreating the Country blog
Dear reader, can you imagine this?
You’re walking along a shady city street in spring and the nature strip is sprinkled with the rich colours of native wildflowers and grasses. The mauve star-shape flowers of the chocolate lilies wave in the breeze and the yellow button flowers of the native everlastings meander onto the footpath softening its hard grey edge.
People are stopping to take photos of the amazing Hoary Sunray daisy as its delightful white and yellow flowers welcome the morning sun. Children are fascinated by the beautiful moths and butterflies that flit from flower to flower. The birdsong in the trees above adds a welcome serenity to this natural streetscape.
What I’m describing is a wonderful feature of our Australian heritage that has evolved and flourished on our dry continent for millennia. Their are hundreds of remarkable species that make up the list of grassland plants unique to the dryer parts of Australia. Many of these plants can still be seen on country roadsides where they are now protected.
Doesn’t it make sense to welcome them back into our cities which was their home, before they were exiled?
The mown nature strip? - we can do much better!
The nature strip is a common and familiar feature of our cities and towns. It is usually a green or straw coloured mown strip of grass monotonously bordering our streets. Some nature strips have been planted with trees, often inappropriately large, requiring annual expensive pruning to keep them below overhead powerlines.
Strangely, nature strips are public land that is looked after by private citizens. For this reason they are often cut very short to minimize the tedium of maintenance. It’s a chore that home owners endure week after week, month after month and year after year, for little reward
What if these barren strips of grass were planted with long-lived, low maintenance native wildflowers and grasses local to the area? The wildflowers would also bring back beautiful native insects and birds, adding layers of beauty and song to our city streets.
There are many advantages of converting our mown strips to low maintenance grasslands and heathlands. Here are a few;
Birrarung Marr in central Melbourne
A very popular trial planting at Birrarung Marr, along the banks of the Yarra River in central Melbourne has been an unqualified success.
Watch a 5 minute Gardening Australia story about it here>
Tracksides at Birrarung Marr have been planted with colourful native gardens that could be the way of the future for urban spaces. Dr Claire Farrell from the University of Melbourne’s School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences explains;
“The Woody Meadow project is modelled on natural heathland plant communities across southern Australia. These are self-sustaining, tough and drought tolerant shrubs that are used to growing with low levels of nutrients. Many are beautiful flowering plants.”
Claire explained how the plants are cut back hard to 15cm once every 2 or 3 years to encourage lush growth and prolific flowering.
They're doing it overseas
Planting meadows of native herbs has become a popular design strategy for many UK and US councils.
The city of Sheffield in the United Kingdom has been experimenting with replanting wildflower meadows along walkways and roadsides.
Many States in the US have seen the benefits of replanting roadways to native wildflowers, as Australian grassland restoration expert Dr Paul Gibson-Roy found this on his 2015 Churchill Fellowship in the US. Click here to read more about what Paul discovered
‘Prairie natives are much used on roadsides in Minnesota. The State Department of Transport was one of the largest users of native seed, buying many thousands of pounds for sowing (or installed as plants) over thousands of acres of roadsides’.
Our plants are the toughest in the world
The driest and oldest continent in the world has produced some of the toughest plants. That means they can cope with drought and low nutrient soils which is ideal for the variety of difficult conditions that can be found on nature strips.
Another attractive feature of Australian grassland and heathland plants is their longevity. For example, in our dry and exposed grasslands these remarkable small plants can live for decades, even centuries. The ubiquitous Kangaroo Grass can live over 100 years and the extraordinary Feather-heads even longer. The only maintenance that they need is mowing every 5 years, which mimics the occasional grazing by a mob of kangaroos.
My nature strip is changing
In September 2018 I planted a section of my nature strip with indigenous plants and have had very encouraging results.
In my November blog I'm looking forward to discussing how to design, prepare and plant your own magnificent nature strip. I'll also suggest suitable species and where to find indigenous herbs, shrubs and trees for these remarkable transitions.
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.