Facing gardening challenges

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A new book from CSIRO Publishing

We have certainly had some very extreme weather lately in Sydney - searing heat, torrid humidity and recurrent storms with heavy rains: a real challenge for our gardens. A new, easy-to-read book published by CSIRO Publishing, called Australian Garden Rescue: Restoring a damaged garden by Mary Horsfall, explores how changing weather patterns may impact on our gardens and how we can adapt to these in the way we garden. However, the book is also a practical manual for incorporating many helpful general organic practices into our gardening and would be very useful for gardeners just starting out as well as for more seasoned ones seeking to learn more about some of the environmentally sustainable ideas that have come into vogue in recent times - which can prevent many problems occurring in our gardens in the first place.

A compost heap to recycle garden waste is important in an organic garden

Good gardening practices are essential for a flourishing garden as well as for coping with particular problems. Mary is an organic gardener and one of her basic premises is that improving our soil is key to success. Ongoing incorporation of organic matter into the soil is vital to retain moisture, add nutrients and encourage the millions of life forms that exist in healthy soil. Choosing the right plant for the right spot in the garden is also a very important consideration, and Mary looks at issues such as pH, soil type, sun exposure and frost occurrence in determining which plants will do best where, giving plant lists that could be helpful for beginning gardeners. However, I felt that one oversight here was that different climate zones in Australia weren't really emphasised, which could lead to disappointment for people who plant some of these suggested specimens if their climate isn't suitable (eg lily-of-the-valley is given as a perennial to plant in shaded areas, without noting that this plant won't do well in areas with mild winters - as many of us in Sydney have found to our chagrin!).

Mary then examines a variety of major issues that affect gardeners (and which may become more frequent in the future) - heatwaves, drought, frost, floods, cyclones and bushfires - and gives very practical advice on how we can cope with these problems. The chapters on drought-proofing the garden are relevant to us all, and there are lots of great ideas, such as the use of wicking beds, rainwater gardens and simple irrigation systems.

Regenerating bushland in an area previously burnt by fire, Yengo National Park, NSW

The sections covering cyclones, floods and bushfires are sobering in conveying the catastrophic effect these natural disasters can have on gardens, yet Mary provides some great strategies that will give hope to anyone who has been through one of these ordeals. Having recently visited a garden that is being wonderfully restored after a major bushfire last year, it is heartening to see how some of the shrubs and trees do regenerate back after time, and how resilient gardeners can be in recreating a garden after utter devastation.

The book ends with chapters dealing with non-chemical ways of coping with large and small pests, diseases and weeds, which are useful for any gardener, whether or not they are facing other immediate gardening challenges. I enjoyed reading about Mary's tried-and-tested strategies, and I felt as if she were a kind gardening friend giving me the benefits of her long experience. She even carries out little experiments to compare the effectiveness of different methods (for example, on the use of vinegar as a weedkiller), which I found intriguing - I think we should all do this occasionally in our own gardens too!

The book concludes with a chapter celebrating the importance of gardening and gardens in our lives and for society, and reiterates the necessity for gardeners to be adaptable to change in all its forms. The hints given in the book will certainly assist us in this. I finished the book with a feeling of optimism, and plenty of ideas in my head for my own garden.