When asked to rescue a neglected garden, the weeds were up, over and under the fence invading neighbouring gardens. Thick undergrowth made it hard for its elderly owner to safely reach the letterbox, let alone stroll around the garden. Where to start?
When the sickle broke, and the brush cutter cord snapped in resentment, it was time to turn to a hire company. A brush cutter with a metal blade made quick work of slashing woody weeds down. Why own one when you can hire one for the weekend?
Friends loaned a chainsaw. Neighbours agreed to share a green skip. The towering hibiscus – unpruned for a generation – had an overdue haircut. Cuttings were taken to fill gaps in the row.
After gathering fallen branches and trimming shoots growing sideways at eye level, suddenly a garden emerged from jungle. Off to the council resource recovery centre and the green waste became mulch.
It’s easy to lose precious things in a cleanup. Checking as you weed can reveal irreplaceable valuables.
A statue of buddha, face down, not far from a heap of discarded bricks buried in undergrowth.
Up the poinciana grew a veteran Richmond Birdwing vine, the only food plant of its endangered namesake butterfly, both rainforest species found between Maclean (NSW) and Maryborough (QLD). Community plantings of this vine is helping protect a beautiful, iconic butterfly from extinction. Now liberated, it continues its vital work.
Only two other plants thrive under the poinciana, both native. Oplismenus aemulus, a basket grass, is a food plant of native butterflies (doubleday skipper and white-brand skipper) and Commelina cyanea, scurvy weed, has tiny blue flowers that are powerfully attractive to teddy bear and blue-banded bees. Growing into each other, they form a lawn-like surface. Planting basket grass cuttings has extended the area and trimming by brush cutter has allowed this living surface to further expand greenery over otherwise bare soil.
Bulbs are often lost in cleanups. Mature clumps of Peruvian daffodil (Hymenocallis x festalis) survive to scent next summer. And mistletoe, often miscast as foes, are in reality valuable indicators of environmental health. Their leaves and flowers provide nourishing food for wildlife and are especially valuable for sustaining wildlife during drought. This one is Amyema congener, a host plant for the purple azure butterfly, and it’s blooming away in its bottlebrush host, adding ecological value.
A slow mow allowed lizards time to find safety. Clippings became the first mulch the beds had received in a generation.
A much loved bird bath, now cleaned and painted, has a plinth allowing it to stand upright and hold water. Lorikeets quickly found it and now bathe daily, bringing life to the scene.
A range of old pesticides were lurking in the shed. When it comes to doing the right thing, most Australian gardeners are able to hand them over to their local authority for what is known as ‘safe disposal’. At the time of sale, thirty years ago, all the pesticides in this shed were regarded by the national regulator as safe for use by home gardeners. All are now banned. This is an example of unused pesticides sitting in garden sheds around Australia. Once they’re given to the local council, what happens next?
I spoke with the National Toxics Network, experts in chemicals, conservation, the law, and international conventions that aim to eliminate Persistent Organic Pollutants. NTN said when pesticides are surrendered to council they go to landfill. If you’re lucky, that landfill site will be lined to stop toxins leaching into aquifers, creeks and ground water. If toxins are discovered to be leaching from landfill, it may then be tested to identify the contaminants. But what happens next, no one really knows.
Other than these surrendered, unused chemicals, nothing has gone to landfill in this thrifty rescue.
By rearranging the bricks, buddha now has an altar fringed with relocated bromeliads. Add a veteran cane chair found in the shed and its owner can now, when she feels up to it, contemplate her garden in the fresh air under the shade of the poinciana tree planted by her mother.
Maybe next year she’ll spot a Richmond Birdwing butterfly.