• Hard Pruning an Australian Frangipani

    When we moved into our brand new home back in 2010, my brother and his partner at the time gave us a house warming present for the garden; a native Frangipani tree (Hymenosporum flavum).

    Back in 2010 I had no idea what type of garden we were going to create. I don’t even think I was considering of a native garden back then, let alone a habitat garden, so we were not sure where to correctly plant the tree.

    After doing some research I discovered the tree can grow quite tall – up to 15 meters – and I felt that something that high would have a large root system. So we put the tree in a half wine barrel in hopes the limited space for roots would curb the height.

    Fast forward to July last year and the tree was doing somewhat well, but not in the best position in the garden. When we received the design for our backyard, Betsy-Sue advised us the Frangipani should be moved from the pot into the ground, in the back corner of the yard.

    Betsy-Sue and I agreed that the Frangipani may not survive the move, but we would give it ago and if worst came to worst, we could always plant another one (or something else).

    So one weekend in August my man and I dug a big hole in the back corner of the yard and successfully got the Frangipani out of the barrel in one piece and into the ground. A nice aside is that we didn’t have to break the barrel, so we’ve been able to re-use the barrel for another plant in the garden.

    We gave the tree a good watering as soon as it was in the ground, gave it a feed of Seasol and fertiliser, and made sure to water the plant every day for a few weeks. After the first week in the ground the leaves started dropping, which we expected to happen. But we didn’t see any change for a few months and we started to think the move hadn’t gone well. But we persisted with watering the tree just in case our luck turned around.

    And it did!

    Once Spring was well and truly upon us, I was looking at the tree one weekend and spotted new growth on the top branches. The tree had survived the move! The downside was the canopy was high on the trunk and was not as bushy as we wanted; it was not going to offer us any privacy from the neighbours. So I began researching if the tree could be pruned back in order to rejuvenate the tree and develop a new canopy that was lower and bushier.

    The back of the plant tag states that “old plants can be rejuvenated by heavy pruning into old wood”, so the basis for doing a hard prune was there. But where in the old growth could I prune it back to?

    There was plenty of basic information on the internet on the Frangipani and how to grow it, but next to no information on how to do this advertised hard prune. Most sites just quoted the plant tag word-for-word, which didn’t help.

    I stumbled onto the Houzz forum where a few people asked what was the best way to prune the Frangipani. Most replies suggested to prune back to just above a major node in the trunk, and not to prune all the way to the ground (leave a meter). The Frangipani should then spurt into life and start growing again.

    It still didn’t provide me with exact directions on what to do, but I thought I’ll just prune the trunk back to about 1.5 meters above the ground and see what happens. I really didn’t have much to lose and the tree had made it this far. I decided to trust that it would work.

    In November I did the prune. I got my trusty saw and made a diagonal cut into the trunk to remove the canopy above. Using a diagonal cut will make sure the rain falls off the open cut and does not sit on top of it and cause the trunk to rot.

    So my one tip is to make sure you don’t do a horizontal cut into the wood!

    Two months later, I began to see the trunk start to burst into life. A few very tiny buds appeared just below where I had made the cut. Over the next two months, the buds have grown to where there are now distinct branch shoots that will develop into branches.

    I’m really surprised at how hardy and forgiving the Australian Frangipani tree has been in this process. Just when we thought it was done, it would surprise us with a flourish of growth. The process has given me more confidence as a novice gardener in that giving a plant a hard prune is not a scary process. The plant won’t die; it will bounce back pretty quickly and reward you with some fresh new growth.

    I also have dwarf forms of the Frangipani that I cut back as well, and they too have sprung back with new shoots. It’s good to know it wasn’t a fluke!

    I hope this article helps you with your decision to prune back your Australian Frangipani. You will be ok, just make sure you give it some love after the prune and you will see some new buds before too long!

  • Native Butterflies

    Lately I’ve noticed a few new visitors in my backyard – butterflies.

    These butterflies are native to Victoria. All but one was tricky to capture as they are small and a bit ‘flighty’, so it required me to be patient and hold the iPhone very still.

    Butterflies eventually bring insect eating native birds to the yard, so these additions to my habitat garden confirm the garden is making progress.

    Southern Dart
    Common Blue Grass
    Willow Herb Day-moth
  • Garden Update February 2019

    It’s only been a few months since I posted on my website, but boy has the garden grown!

    Spring arrived and everything took off like crazy. Each time I went outside everything had grown another centimetre.

    I was recently looking at the slideshow of when I finished adding the dry river bed to the backyard. The yard looks completely transformed.

    Below is an update on how everything is looking and any changes I’ve made

    The Backyard

    Watching the backyard develop and transform has been a real delight.

    There’s a long way to go, but I think this time next year it will look more full and complete.

    I’m yet to add the paths on either side of the dry river bed, and that will be the next task once summer has finished.

    I added four Thyptomene seedlings to the side fence two weeks ago. The Fringe Myrtle plants just weren’t taking off as I had hoped. So they have been moved to pots where I can watch them hopefully grow better. I didn’t read anything about the Fringe Myrtle being slow growing, and I’m impatient! The Thryptomene is native to the Grampians area, and fast growing, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop.

    There are more plants in the ground than the photos reveal, but I am actually finished putting in the ‘structure’ plants. I just need to put in more ground covers and fill the gaps as they appear.

    The bird bath is the social scene for birds. I fill it everyday and clean it constantly. The yard design only has one bath added in, but I will get a few more so everyone gets to have a bath and drink!

    West-facing Sideyard

    To be honest, not a lot has happened in this area as there wasn’t much to do. But we have a pair of turtle doves constantly nesting in the Karri Oak shrub, so it’s really hard to do any work there as I don’t want to disturb them.

    While there was a break between sitting on eggs and raising chicks, I was able to get in and remove the Tea Tree that was not doing very well. The shrub has been replaced with a native Hemp (Gynatrix puchella) and Elderberry bush (Sambucus gaudichaudiana).

    I recently added an endangered hopbush groundcover (Dodonaea procumbens), however it’s not seen in these images.

    East-facing Sideyard

    The sideyard has gone through a temporary change as I gave the dwarf acacia fimbriata a hard prune.

    The plant is only supposed to be a 2m high shrub, but had grown well above the roof gutters and starting to droop into the neighbours yard. I did some research for doing a hard prune on Acacias, and everything indicated the bush will sprout new growth. There was already some new growth on branches I pruned some months before, so I have faith it will be ok.

    The downside is the frog bog gets more direct sun during the day than it did, so I’m making sure to top up the water every few days. I also added some more rocks, leaving gaps and hiding holes for frogs and lizards (when they eventually arrive).

    The Front yard

    The front yard looks amazing! I love walking home on the other side of the road so I get to see it from a distance and admire it.

    The main hedge is starting to take shape. I gave the Dodonaea bushes a trim recently so they start growing out and eventually join together.

  • Creating a dry river bed

    Last weekend I finally got around to (almost) completing the dry river bed that features in our backyard design.

    The left side of our backyard is a flat, decent-sized area that lacks ‘energy’. It’s also an area that puddles very quickly where there is a downpour of rain. Betsy-Sue did a great job in her design to break up the space with a dry river bed. Not only does it add interest to a boring area, but it allows for water to soak into the soil slowly and effectively.

    The river bed design

    The river bed is positioned on the left side of the backyard, in-between the fence and house footpath. The shape is almost a reverse ‘J’, with a large area at the back fence trailing down to a small area near the house.

    In the large section, Betsy-Sue advised to add three large rocks – two flat rocks and an upright rock in the middle. After the large section, two medium-sized rocks act as stepping stones to allow for the meandering path to continue, and smaller rocks will make up the rest of the river bed.

    The plans specified using sandstone rocks, but we decided to use the resources around us and salvage some basalt rock that is being excavated from the new estate areas being developed not far from us.

    Construction

    I had actually dug out the hole for the river bed back in July when I was in an over eager mood to get cracking on the design.

    The next step was getting the rocks.

    Mark and I went for a reconnaissance walk around the new development areas last Saturday afternoon to see what rocks were laying about. There is a lot of work going on in our area, and basalt rock is being dug up all the time, so we knew we would find plenty of rocks to fill the river bed.

    We weren’t sure how we’d go getting the bigger feature rocks, but a walk down beside Davis creek revealed a collection of striking purple colored rocks in different sizes, including three large rocks, so we made a note of the spot to come back with the ute later.

    Whilst we were walking around, we came across a big drift of flowering Indigofera Australis. I was really heartened to see local indigenous plants are being used in the area with great effect. The purple pea flowers are really pretty.

    Indigofera Australia will be planted behind the featured rocks in our backyard design, so it was possible to get a sense of what the end result will look like.

    We piled the rocks we found into small heaps on the side of the road, and came back with the Ute later in the afternoon to collect our haul. Everything was collected in one trip, but I will need to go back and collect more bucket loads of smaller rocks to complete the small part of the river bed. But at least the hard part was over!

    The next day I was up early and out in the backyard sorting through the rocks. Once I had set aside the feature rocks I set about constructing the river bed.

    I started with the stepping stone area first and worked my way out on either side. The bigger rocks were added to the large area to create a base for the feature rocks, and I gradually transitioned the size of the rocks to lead into smaller ones in the small area.

    The final step was placing the feature rocks on the rock base. I then washed down the feature rocks to bring out the color.

    A bird bath will be positioned at the end of the small section, with kangaroo grasses and an Eremophila bush to the side that will provide food and shelter. I’m thinking of planting some sedges in the river bed to add some additional food for the birds to nibble on while they take a bath. The green, straw-like foliage of the sedges will look nice poking out of the bed.

    Now to wait for the end result!

    I’m really happy with the way it brings life to the yard. I’m excited to see the purple flowers and green foliage of the Indigofera Australis eventually surrounding it. The meandering path will tie everything together nicely and it will be a nice space to wander through.

    I can see birds resting on the feature rocks as they make their way around the neighborhood. And fingers crossed there will even be a few blue tongue lizards enjoying a sun bake too!

  • Creating a Frog Bog

    Australia is blessed with a unique frog diversity, and is home to over 200 frog species, with 10 frog species local to the western basalt plains.

    Unfortunately frog populations are depleting at an alarming rate – 43 of our frog species’ are listed as endangered or vulnerable, and three are presumed extinct.

    The biggest reason for the decline is the loss of habitat due to housing development.

    So when Betsy-Sue drew up the design for our backyard, I asked her to include an area for a frog bog. I wanted to give the local frogs somewhere to go and be happy little hoppers!

    Frog Bog basics

    For frogs to thrive, they need moisture, food and shelter – just like we do!

    Ideally, a frog bog should be located in an area of the garden that receives shade and some sun (about 70% shade and 30% sun). In our garden, the perfect area is on the right side of the house where only the morning sun comes through.

    Beside the alfresco area we planted an acacia bush quite some time ago that is now at ceiling height. The bush provides a lot of shade, and I noticed last Summer that it’s a very cool spot to wander through.

    The shade from the acacia bush will ensure that some algae grows, which is necessary for happy froggers, and the fallen leaf litter will provide sustenance for tadpoles that may come along.

    As well as shade and water, frogs also need dedicated areas adjacent to the bog where they can hang out! Rocks, logs, leaf litter and appropriate plants will keep the frogs happy.

    The last consideration is noise. Frogs can be pretty loud croaking and singing all night, so it goes without saying the bog needs to be neighbor-friendly. We don’t cause any unnecessary issues or disputes!

    The frog bog design

    Below is the design Betsy-Sue drew up and the plants recommended for the area.

    Construction

    We decided not to go to the effort of creating a natural bog. Instead, we purchased a kids ‘clamshell’ sandpit/pool from the local Big W. It cost about $20, which is far cheaper than buying one of those expensive custom fiberglass ponds.

    The clamshell was sanded lightly and then spray painted black. We did this so the water would be reflective otherwise we would still see the bright green and it would ruin the overall effect.

    Once the clamshell was ready it took a few minutes to dig the hole and put it into position.

    I added some logs and basalt rocks, that I had salvaged from cleaning up the front yard earlier this year, around the edge and in the pond. Frogs aren’t actually swimming all the time, so you need to have something for them to climb onto to get in and out of the bog. The log I added wasn’t a very ‘heavy’ one, so I ended up putting a brick in the water to weigh the log down. That’s ok as it adds a layer under the water.

    The final step before adding plants is to fill the clamshell up with water. Filling up frog ponds can be a bit tricky because our tap water is chlorinated. To allow the chemicals to dissipate, the water needed to stand for a good 5 days with nothing else in it.

    Plants

    Frogs and tadpoles need a variety of plants, both in and out of the water. The plants need to be local to the area and include shrubs, grasses, ground covers and water plants. These plants not only offer shelter and food for tadpoles and frogs, but also attract insects and bugs.

    Unfortunately the plants listed in Betsy-Sue’s design, whilst indigenous to the area, weren’t available at the local native nursery. But after asking the nursery assistant we came away with 4 alternatives that will do just as well:

    • Craspedia paludicola – ‘Swamp Billy Buttons’
    • Ornduffia reniformis – ‘Running Marsh Flower’
    • Myriophyllum crispatum – ‘Water Milfoil’
    • Gahnia filum – ‘Chaffy Saw Sedge’ (replacing the carex gaudichaudiana)

    The billy buttons and marsh flower will eventually have yellow flowers that will look attractive. The sedges at the back grow to about 1 meter high and wide.

    I also want to add some extra color in the bog using ‘Lythrum salicaria’ (Purple Loosestrife). Lythrum has purple flower spikes in summer and looks really pretty, but I need to wait a couple of months before they are available at the nursery.

    Around the side is some ‘River Mint’, a groundcover herb that can be used like mint, and a saltbush. These will provide areas beside the pond for frogs to wander around in and shelter.

    I also added a solar light to the side of the pond. I’m hoping the light will attract some insects at night for the frogs to eat. It also looks pretty when walking past the alfresco door at night.

    Will it work?

    They say that if you build it, they will come.

    It’s been a week since I added the plants and there hasn’t been any action yet. But here’s hoping. I’m looking forward to hearing the first frog call come from the bog – that will be a very satisfying moment for me knowing I have create a habitat garden.

    Out of the frogs local to our area, below area the species that I think we’ll eventually hear in the frog bog:

    • Southern Brown Tree Frog
    • Growling Grass Frog
    • Eastern Common Froglet
    • Eastern Banjo Frog/Pobblebonk
    • Spotted Marsh Frog

    The hard part will be to get a photo of them out and about, or an audio clip of them making noises. I may need to figure out a time-lapse deal thing with the GoPro.

  • Redesigning our backyard

    Back in April our house was lucky enough to be chosen for a local council program, Habitat Heroes. Part of the program included a free landscape design for a section of our garden, and we chose to use it on our front yard.

    But that didn’t mean our backyard didn’t need any work. Far from it!

    Our backyard is as barren as a yard could be. Aside from some syzygium’s we planted along the back fence to give us some privacy from very close neighbors, we don’t have anything else growing. Mark and I had discussed many times on what to do with the backyard – do we put down turf and forget about it, or do we create a garden that we will enjoy, but needs some upkeep? With no clear direction, we chose to do nothing for a long time. Until a few months ago 😉

    We were so impressed with Betsy-Sue’s design for the front yard that we reached out to her to see if she could do her magic with the backyard.

    Design requirements

    The requirements we had for the backyard design were:

    • Protection and privacy from neighbors on all sides.
    • Habitat to attract native birds, bees, frogs reptiles (except snakes).
    • A windbreak to prevent the strong west winds from blasting right through the yard.
    • A garden that invites us to go outside and sit, relax and unwind.

    I remember saying to Betsy-Sue in the consult that while the neighborhood we lived in wasn’t that inviting, we wanted to make our little piece of the western suburbs as beautiful as it could be.

    Our backyard design

    About a week after the consult, Betsy-Sue presented us with this incredible design.

    I honestly didn’t think something so intricate and beautiful could fit into our backyard. I feel relaxed just looking at the design. It invites me to go and explore the garden, sit on a bench with a G’n’T and watch the wildlife enjoy a habitat created for them.

    I love it.

    A place to sit and relax

    Aside from lots of native and indigenous plants to provide visual appeal at the ground, eye and above the head levels, Betsy-Sue has drawn in a dry river bed on the left side of the yard, and what we are calling an ‘elevated daybed’ on the right. Surrounding the features are small eucalyptus trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, groundcovers and a native lawn we won’t need to mow!

    The right-side of the house has a ‘frog bog’ just outside the Alfresco area, and a section toward the front of the house for native bees that come to visit the bee hotel we received from the Habitat Heroes program.

    The plants

    Ninety percent of the plants in the design are indigenous to the western basalt plains area that we live in. The other ten percent are plants native to Australia.

    I will likely swap a few of the native plants for an indigenous alternative, but I’m excited to see how this design takes shape over the next few years.

    Cleaning Up and Getting Ready

    I’ve already started on the left side of the yard and it’s going along really well.

    The space for the dry river bed was dug out and I was able to use the dirt in other areas of the garden. I’m going for regular walks down to the new development area to collect local basalt rocks for the river bed. We’ll need to make a special trip with the ute and ask the development site manager if we can take a few large rocks for the rock feature and stepping stones.

    This area is an old volcanic plain so there are masses of basalt rocks being dug up. Some people think the honeycomb look of the rock is a bit 70’s, but I find the structure and color of the rocks fascinating. Plus it matches the landscape of the area so it won’t look out of place among the plants we’re growing.

    Some plants are already in and establishing well. I will write about each plant in separate posts so that I can track how they grow, but this is how the yard is looking at the time of this post (September 2018).

    Bring on the next two or so years as garden starts to take shape and provide us with an area we can enjoy!