Sunday, September 28, 2008

Betting on hedges

My wife Pam and I have a code word which we use to announce to each other that the morning newspaper is here – "thud" – because that is what happens most mornings here. Our newsagent, Nathan, is a pretty good shot, landing each paper with a thud on a narrow path that's edged on both sides by hedges. With a 95% accuracy rating, Nathan could throw newspapers for Australia at the Newsagents' Olympics. But it's the 5% of his throws which don't result in a good, solid 'thud' which have prompted this little posting about hedges and front gardens

Here's what happens sometimes when Nathan misses the path. Like a javelin waving around after it has landed, the Sydney Morning Herald occasionally sits there poking a hole in our hedge. For some reason, a fair percentage of Nathan's misses end up in this hole, when he misses to the right.

When Nathan misses to the left this is the usual result. The hedge on this side of the path gets bit more sunshine than the other one, and so is a bit more dense, and tends to hold the paper rather than let it through.

There are a few different hedges out front. In the foreground is a newspaper-catching lilly pilly hedge. The plant's cultivar name is cute – 'Tiny Trev' – a native Aussie lilly pilly bred for hedging. In the background is a Murraya paniculata, one of Sydney's best hedging plants. This tough specimen is in full shade for four whole months in winter and never complains. Then over summer all it gets is blazing hot afternoon sun every day. A wondrous plant.

This is another of our short-but-sweet, three-metre-long Tiny Trev hedges, just after trimming. You can see a couple of dents and hollows here and there where Nathan tossed in a particularly heavy edition of the Herald complete with bonus shopping supplements that I don't read. The holes will slowly fill with new growth, and the best I can manage with this hedge is a neatly trimmed shagginess.

But here's the real nemesis of Tiny Trev, the psyllid, a tiny, sap-sucking insect that creates lots of ugly little pimples in the plant's new leaves. Infestations can get bad, but regular trimming plus follow-up sprays of a non-organic spray product, Confidor, keep the problem under control quite well. The only organic solution would be to rip out all the Tiny Trev hedges and start again with psyllid-resistant plants, and right now that's just too much work!

In between the hedges I have planted foliage plants of different hues. In the foreground is a groundcover native Cootamundra wattle (Acacia baileyana prostrate form) and behind that is native Correa alba, which I regularly prune into a dome, for a shape contrast against the square hedges. The Correa produces lots of small white flowers in autumn, but it's really just a foliage plant. The groundcover wattle is a lush, wild, almost untamable beast that spills through the front fence and either delights or terrifies all passers-by. It does produce golden ball flowers in winter, but not that many. Again, it's the lovely blue-green foliage which is its best feature.

Here's a cross-section style shot of the different foliage colours out front. Tiny Trev foreground, wattle in the middle-ground, and grey-leaved Correa alba behind.

In winter and spring the new growth on the Tiny Trev lilly pilly is a lovely, rich red colour that adds to the picture, and complements the other native plant we have out front, our eucalyptus street tree.

The street tree's formal name is Eucalyptus leucoxylon 'Rosea', but another name for it is the pink-flowered form of the yellow gum. It's a wonderful flowering gum, starting its blooming each year in autumn (very early April) and continuing all the way to spring (late September). It's still in flower now, and native lorikeets and honeyeaters are constantly jockeying for feeding rights on its branches. It'll still be in bloom in October.

Though a gorgeous, long-flowering and fairly small tree (around 5-6m) it's a shocker of a street citizen, dropping leaves and twigs all over the footpath, and turning any car parked under its branches into a sea of gum nuts, twigs, flowers and other detritus overnight. Add to that several dollops of bird poo on the windscreen, and maybe even a bonus of the evilly black and smeary poo of the fruit bats which feed in the tree at night, and every local in our street now knows not to park there! But aside from being thoroughly anti-social, it is the loveliest tree in the street.

And so that's a quick dip into my front yard. Spring is in full swing out in the backyard now. Predicted maximum today is 33, which is seriously warm for spring. Everything had a good drink this morning, there are plenty of jobs to do, so I'd better stop blogging and get down to the real reason I am here on this planet – to do some gardening!


Tracey said...

Has Nathan considered using the letter box? Beautiful garden. Wonderful to see your success with natives. - Tracey (Hort Student Ryde Tafe)

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the Tiny Trev hedges mate.
I had over 10 metres of these as a border hedge and they were doing just fine, getting well watered etc. They were about 10 years old (at about 80 cm in ht.) and growing very well requiring trimming about every 4 or 5 months to keep them neat. Then after trimming last year they all died at once fairly suddenly. Just dropped the leaves gradually and died (and it was not due to the lilly pilly psyllid as I did not have that insect). When the plants attempted new growth the leaves would look like something was eating them. The close planted rows of english box immediately behind the dead tiny trev hedges are very healthy and still growing beautifully. When I cut back one of the apparently dead hedge rows so only the trunks of the 5 tiny trevs in that row remained, leaves started to sprout from the trunks. So not yet totally dead it seems but those trunks will be removed.
Never again will I plant any Aust natives (either trees or shrubs)in my garden. After many years of experience with natives it's a waste of time and effort and in the end they mostly wind up looking terrible/scraggy or die because (other than large native trees) many have a very limited life or get borers in them etc etc.

Various varieties of Box - like Japanese box, make wonderful hedge or row plants, grow like weeds, look terrific, respond well to clipping and are mostly as tough as nails. I have lots of them, some over 20 years old and looking great. None I planted (about 100 by now) EVER died and that includes the english box.

Don't waste your time growing hedges of tiny trev because they will not last no matter how well you care for them - as I found out.

Cancel your newspaper mate. Some moron tossing a heavy paper into your lovely manicured hedges every morning will soon ruin them.

Location: Killara, Sydney

Jamie said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for sharing those thoughts, which I somewhat agree with. However, this post you commented on just this sunny December 2012 morning was written back in 2008, so it's more than four years later and the Trevs are still here.

Well, the Tiny Trevs are still alive but they are now a bit ugly, and I'll be pulling them out in autumn next year, because the psyllids have won. For a while I stayed on top of the psyllids by using Confidor, but I stopped using Confidor altogether in my front garden two years ago, due to growing evidence that it damages populations of other beneficial insects, including bees. Once I stopped the Confidor, the Trevs went downhill, but the tough little things refuse to die.

As for other natives, I see several of them as the highest maintenance plants I have here. They need constant clipping to stop looking scraggy, and their lifespan is short: about five years seems a good run with the grevilleas I grow.

However, I do have an Acacia cognata (one of those weeping foliage-style little wattles) in a pot, and it's not only beautiful but the sheer fact of keeping the fussy thing alive is like a little badge of honour. .

And my groundcover Acacia baileyana is the most vigorous, beautiful, healthy monster of a plant in the whole garden, so I don't agree with a blanket condemnation of natives.

Think about it for a moment: all the roses, hibiscus, azaleas, camellias etc etc etc from Europe, Japan and China have had some centuries of careful development as garden-worthy plants. No wonder they are so tough and reliable.

On the other hand, the development of natives for gardens is in its infancy, just a couple of decades of development so far. Give them time and they will keep on getting better, which is already what is happening with some of them, although I do concede there are many, many dud native plants on the market to make gardening frustrating for folk like you and me.



Anonymous said...

Well there you go Jamie. I am not surprised they did not last.

Sorry to hear about your Tiny Trevs - dwarf lilly pilly - but hopefully these posts will save people from planting them and then finding they are not stayers like many native species people are conned into buying. As for wattles, in Sydney they come with borers built in as a free extra when you buy them.

Just plant some of the full size japanese box in the place of the Tiny Trevs and you will be surprised how quickly they will grow if you have not used them before. Then you will have a nice hedge again which will not only last and look great with its beautiful foliage but will out live you. Just toss a few bags of compost into the soil before planting because they love it.

You have a really nice garden.

I don't believe in using garden chemical sprays and the like and I NEVER use them. If the plants you have cannot survive without being sprayed with chemicals then in my opinion you are growing the wrong plants in your garden. Pull them out and plant the tough good looking ones.

I have a stack of beautiful gardenias in my garden which a lot of people spray with various chemicals to ward off one or 2 nasties. Mine all survived very nicely without using anything thank you. Keep them growing healthily with correct watering and a bit of fertiiser now and then, a couple of clippings a year and you do not need any chemicals.

I noticed you mentioned in your post :
"In the background is a Murraya paniculata, one of Sydney's best hedging plants. This tough specimen is in full shade for four whole months in winter and never complains. Then over summer all it gets is blazing hot afternoon sun every day. A wondrous plant."

Good luck with that because I heard Graham Ross on his radio Gardening show this morning talking about a new problem with these which is killing off some of these plants in home gardens. He said he has a heap of them in his garden and is now worried so is watching them closely weekly. They are a great plant but if they are going to fail due to disease then I would not use them now.

Cheers all.

Jamie said...

Guess what! The Tiny Trevs live on. The psyllids did a stack of damage but in the last year they've magically "gone". It's now June 2014 and the two Trev hedges leading up to the front door are thriving quite nicely in fact.

The other Trev hedge down the side passage are fairly crook looking but the plants themselves are well and truly alive. I have decided to not maintain these side passage Trevs as hedges, but to let them live on as plants with an overbearing big brother of a Cootamundra wattle making life hard for them. But the Trevs keep on sprouting new growth and poking through.

So, while you had bad luck with the Trevs, for the record I think I should report in that my Tiny Trevs are tough little survivors. They aren't raging successes, either, but the plants themselves live on - not one of them has carked it.

Rebecca A. Maynard said...

What I saw was something uniquely Stewart - the Stearman, a Cub, the 150, maybe a Champ all in formation. For years, they've flown a bunch of their airplanes to breakfast before they open on January 1st.
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