Australian Open Garden Scheme 2013

Wirrapunga was open to the public on the 21st & 22nd September 2013 from 10am to 4:30pm as part of the Australian Open Garden Scheme. Proo's Poem can be seen here. I spoke at 12noon and 3pm each day. The text of my talk follows:


Wirra = Bush; Apunga is the Goddess of Small Plants.

Motivation:In June, 1969, I purchased the block of land, on the corner of Stock and Williams Roads Mylor, which is now known as Warrawong Sanctuary. Stock Road is a road about 3 kilometres long, running from Heathfield to Mylor Township. In 1969, there were 45 species of native orchid growing along the sides of Stock Road. Today there are just five. In fact I photographed all these orchids at that time, since I was fascinated by them. I have the slides converted them to digital and put them on my website

Stock Road is not unique. This gradual loss of species has been happening across Australia ever since Europeans settled it. Probably the same sort of thing happened when aborigines settled it many thousands of years ago.

The first question is, why is this happening? To me, the answer is very clear. Consider our vegetable garden, here at Wirrapunga. It supplies us with a year round supply of all the vegetables that we need. It does this because we manage it in such a way so as to get this result.

Similarly, the plants that grew in the Aldgate Valley, 200 years ago, grew there because there was a management, created by the inhabitants of that time, which resulted in that particular eco-system. The bush was full of animals, of all sorts, grazing it. The people who lived here, 200 years ago, may have regularly burnt it.

The missing plants are no longer growing there because now there is a different management in place. Basically it is a “do nothing” management. Can you imagine what would happen to our vegetable garden if we changed to a “do nothing” management? It wouldn’t take long for the vegetation in it to change considerably.

So when I was retired from ESL I returned to my other love – management and understanding of our local bush. Wirrapunga is my attempt to demonstrate how to maintain our local bush for its maximum diversity.


Wirrapunga consists of a total 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres). We use 0.2 hectares (0.5 acre) for living which includes the house, an animal yard and a vegetable garden. The other 1.2 hectares (3 acres), I decided to return to what it was 200 years ago.

I knew that 40 years ago Wirrapunga was a pretty good block of native bushland. It was basically a “cow paddock” but it was never overgrazed nor improved. So it had some reasonable native vegetation on it.

However when we purchased the property it was a different story. It had been left to its own resources. It was covered in blackberries, broom and gorse. A house had been built on it and an English garden had been commenced. An irrigation system had been installed. Lawns has been sown and deciduous trees planted. In short there was little native vegetation left.

However, I have great faith in evolution. Plants don’t just disappear like that. I was confident that their seeds would be still in the soil waiting for the right set of conditions to blossom.


I had thought about this project as I had watched the orchids disappear from Stock Road. There would be five phases to my plan, although they overlap considerably.

Stage 1:       (Bushcare)

This is about removal of non indigenous plants. I believe it needs careful explanation. When weeds such as blackberries (or any other weed) are well established then it is not difficult to remove them. After they are removed there is a burst of germination of new plants, mostly blackberries or whatever has just been removed. However, amongst the weeds that germinate are a few indigenous seedlings which have been patiently waiting for the right set of events to trigger their germination.

It is important, at this stage, to weed out the unwanted plants very carefully leaving the wanted plants. I believe that seeds can lie dormant, in the soil, for probably a hundred years if events do not trigger their germination. If their germination is triggered and then they are not able to flourish and reproduce, thus again building their seed-bank in the soil, this species could well be lost. A good example of seeds longevity was given by the recent rains in the arid lands where species unseen for generations have miraculously reappeared.

On the other hand, if the regrowth of weeds is not managed then the wanted species, that have returned, will be lost because of competition of the weeds. They have beaten these plants once. That is why they disappeared. They will do it again if allowed.

The point here is that management of regrowth is a much bigger job than the original removal of weeds and this is where I notice the most damage being done. It is so easy to clear out a well established weed patch. I give an example.

Suppose you have an established broom forest. There would be, say, a bush every 4 metres. Therefore there would be about 600 broom plants per hectare. These are fairly easy to remove by hand. After they have been removed, broom seedlings will germinate about 2 cm apart. That is 25 million per hectare. This is now impossible to remove by hand so they would be allowed to regrow or they will be sprayed or removed somehow in bulk. In either case any seedlings of rare plants that have been waiting patiently to germinate are destroyed.

It is imperative, therefore, that weed removal not be overdone. I have found that the careful removal of the first regrowth germination of weeds takes about ten times the effort of the original removal. It took me five years to get from the top end of Wirrapunga to the bottom in the first removal. I should have spread it over ten years.

About 40% of the viable seeds in the soil germinate after an event triggering germination. This means that the 25 million seedlings removed after the first germination will be reduced to 10 million on the second germination. And so on until the area is stabilised with wanted plants. After that the occasional removal will continue forever.
Stage 2:       (Flora Restoration)

This is about encouraging indigenous plants to return. This is partly done under stage 1. However, there is another problem other than with just introduced species. For example there are indigenous woody weeds as well as non-indigenous woody weeds. In every eco-system there are more vigorous species that can overtake the less vigorous species if events allow it.

Plants have evolved over millions of years to respond to certain conditions and events.

The management regime which allowed the bio-diversity of the Aldgate Valley to be what it was 200 years ago, no longer applies. If a block of bushland is left to its own resources except for the removal of exotics plants then it will stabilise with about 40 species. This is much less than the 600 that occurred in the Aldgate Valley 200 years ago.

Basically this means that areas must always be available for new, less vigorous, small species to inhabit. Careful attention must be given to managing more aggressive species from overcoming less aggressive species.

In short, to get the best out of a bush garden, it has to be gardened. Two hundred years ago the Adelaide Hills was grassy woodland. On the 5th June 1851, just 15 years after the first Europeans arrived in South Australia, Hugh Proby wrote a letter home to England soon after arriving in Adelaide. He spoke of the vegetation of Mount Lofty – how he could ride a horse going along “most excellent cantering ground for any distance”. Try cantering a horse through Cleland National Park today.

However! It is interesting to look at the makeup of this grassland. Over 80% were not grasses but other small plants. Orchids and lilies abound. The Adelaide Hills had an incredible biodiversity of plants and animals. Alas – today they are all but gone.

Stage 3:       (Gardening)

Source the remainder of species from wherever I could and physically return them. Since most of the plants that I want are not available, I have to collect seeds and cuttings and grow most of them.

Stage 4:       (called conservation)    

Management of biodiversity by ensuring that the more vigorous plants do not overcome less vigorous species. This is about trying to imitate the events which occurred in the Aldgate Valley 200 years ago. Then, this would have been carried out by fire and animals grazing. Now, I have to simulate this. Most of this I simply do with a heavy duty lawn mower. I try to mow each area every few years.

As Wirrapunga improves, year by year, more have become interested in the project. Last year it was awarded with a Certificate of Excellence under the Sustainable Landscapes Native Garden Awards. This year it has been invited into the Australian Open Garden Scheme. As such I believe it will be the first indigenous garden in the Open Garden Scheme. But hopefully, it will not be the last.

I t is my strong belief that indigenous native gardens should become the norm in gardening. I plan to do my best to bring this about.

Stage 5:       Wildlife habitat.

This is about making the garden a complete natural community with allowance made for all the animals, from worms to bandicoots, being able to live there as they once did.

This means piles of debris and rocks, pools of water, nest boxes, fox and cat free areas, native bee and wasp homes, overwintering quarters for ladybirds, etc etc etc.

It is very important, for me, to have wildlife in my garden. Much of the enjoyment is about the birds and animals going about their business around me. I have a resident echidna who often works the bottom garden, breaking up the old wood for grubs and searching the leaf litter for worms. At present kookaburras and kingfishers are digging into the last of the standing dead pines, trying to develop a nesting hole. I once had a resident brown snake who often spent time with me but unfortunately was killed on the road but just a week or two ago another took up residency in my garden.

It is about 1.2 metres (4 feet) long. When a brown snake catches its prey, such as a mouse, it doesn't just grab it and swallow it, it sort of hurls itself head first at the mouse, catches it in its mouth and then totally surrounds the mouse with its body and waits till the mouse dies. It then swallows it. Anyway! I was out in the garden weeding. I was using a hand weeder and was weeding out some small flat weeds (smooth cats ear). I have developed a very neat twitch where I put the point of the digger near the weed, give a small flick and the weed flies through the air a bit. Much like a frog hopping. The snake had just woken from its winter sleep and was probably quite hungry. It saw these things hopping around and decided it had its breakfast. I did not know it was there. The first thing I knew was this bloody great snake whacked into my legs. It then raised its head looking for the "frog" it had just missed. At this stage the snakes head was about 4 cms from my groin and I was wondering what I should do. I didn't want to move because it was sort of wrapped round my legs.I thought the only thing I could do if it bit me was to go home, ring 000, and hope they got to me in time. Anyway! then it realised I was there and, with great panic, disappeared into the undergrowth.

If I attempt to put some numbers to what I am trying to do, it goes something like this: There were about 600 species of plants growing in the Aldgate Valley 200 years ago. Before we commenced Wirrapunga there were about 300 species of indigenous plants, remaining in the Aldgate Valley. The other 300 species still grow within 10 kilometres of the Aldgate Valley.

Of the total 600 species, referred to above, about 100 are now classed as rare, endangered or vulnerable.

Let me describe the results so far.

Twelve years ago there were between 20 to 40 species of indigenous plants at Wirrapunga.

Twelve years into the plan the removal of non-indigenous vegetation is under control but I will have to continue for a number of years to come. However! Each year I am now able to remove all introduced plants before they seed or reproduce. I have now achieved this goal now for three years, although this year had me battling..

Over 200 species returned under Stage 2. These included a number of rare species. This far exceeded my best expectations. I now expect the rate of return of species by themselves to slow continually.

I have been able to source and physically return a further 200 species. Therefore, at present, Wirrapunga boasts over 400 species of plants that are indigenous to the Aldgate Valley and sourced within 10 kilometres of the Aldgate Valley.




I would like to finish by making a “political statement”. I believe the most serious problem facing the world is loss of biodiversity. I did not hear one mention of biodiversity during the election campaign. I heard an enormous amount of talk about carbon.

Let me state some facts.
We (Australia) produces 1.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
We (Australia) contribute to over 20% of world biodiversity loss.
We (Australia) spend –    $1 billion+ per year on direct action climate change – Liberal, or              -         $10 billion+ per year on carbon trading – Labor.
We (Australia) spend $125 million per year on biodiversity.

This means that we are happy to spend ten times more (Liberals, 100 times more Labor) on a problem where we can contribute less than a tenth as much.

Why? Because our politicians are more interested in strutting the world stage than actually achieving anything.

Finally I would appeal to all of you to do something. Go and talk to the people at the Scott Creek Conservation Park stand out there and see just what you can do if you are serious.

Thank you for coming today.