Western Basalt Plains

  • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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 馃槈

    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!

  • Dodonaea Viscosa Hop Bush – A native garden hedge

    A main feature of our front yard design will be a hedge that meanders it’s way across the front yard. We live on the main road that enters our estate, so we wanted not only something that could reduce the noise of the constant traffic, but also some privacy from the passers by.

    Surprisingly there are lots of native Australian plants that can be used for a hedge. Most people perceive Australian plants as being quite rugged and unable to coax into shape, but the same pruning techniques used to shape traditional hedging plants can also be used on Australian natives. Provided you have the patience to keep on top of the pruning, you can shape any native plant to fit into a formal or informal garden style.

    The plant we are using for our hedge is the Dodonaea Viscosa (supp Cuneata), or Wedge-leaved Hop Bush, and is indigenous to our area. Most articles on the internet mention the Hop Bush makes for a very effective informal hedge as well as a habitat plant. The Hop Bush is an open, evergreen shrub that grows between 1 – 3 meters high and about 1.5 meters wide. The majority of the examples I’ve seen in this area grow to about 2 meters.

    I see this plant used a lot in council landscaping and I get the feeling it’s a trusty work horse for the environment. One of the walking paths I frequently use on my morning walks has a row of them planted a couple of years ago. So it’s great to have been able to watch how the stock tube plants mature.

    I have also seen a purple version of the Hop Bush growing in front yards. Whilst the purple colour is very pretty, unfortunately it’s a New Zealand plant and not native to Australia – despite what is signposted at your local Bunnings!

    The Hop Bush flowers in spring with coloured fruit. The color can be anywhere from a deep red, through to oranges and yellows. The bush is really pretty when you stand back and I think it will look amazing in our front yard.

    Apparently the fruits were used to brew beer by the early European Australians, hence the shrub is called a Hop Bush. Maybe there is a side business for me – ‘Western Plains Beer’ perhaps?!

  • The Acacia Paradoxa – Native Bird Habitat Shrub

    One of the plants included in our front yard landscape redesign is the Acacia Paradoxa, otherwise known as the Hedge Wattle or Kangaroo Thorn. This plant will be planted on the ‘house’ side of the Hopbush hedge, and will act as a food source for moths, butterflies, insects, parrots and pigeons, as well as a nesting refuge for small birds, such as the Blue Fairy Wrens and Thornbills.

    I see this plant every day on my walk around the local lake. It’s used quite often in new parks and revegation projects around this area, so it’s likely you’ll have seen it. At first I thought it looked scraggly and unattractive, but it’s grown on me over the last few months. Each time I see it and take a closer look, it reveals more of it’s features that I know will work well in the front yard for our bird habitat.

    The Paradoxa is not a naturally attractive plant when compared to other native plants, and I will place an educated bet on you having never given it a second look! From a distance it’s an untidy looking shrub, that grows to about 2 meters tall and wide. The shrub has small sticky-looking leaves that grow close to the branch, and there are thorns on either side (which accounts for the ‘Thorn’ part in it’s nickname). Like most Acacias, the Paradoxa flowers in Spring with small little, yellow balls. The prolific flowering is a lovely reminder that the cold winder months are over and it’s time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine!

    The thorny nature of the Paradoxa gives it a weed-like appearance, and people do often mistake the Paradoxa for the introduced African Boxthorn (which is a classified noxious weed). It got grouped with the boxthorn because the Paradoxa easily establishes itself from seed in disturbed sites. But unlike the African Boxthorn, Paradoxa will natually thin itself out over time as other plants establish themselves around it.

    As you can imagine, the Paradoxa is a perfect plant for the small birds to shelter and nest in. I can’t see too many cats or Myna birds being determined enough to get through all those spikes when there might be an easier target elsewhere.

    From my reading it’s recommended to prune the bush lightly after flowering (apparently it does not like hard pruning) to keep the bush healthy and give it a denser and compact habit. Looks like I’m going to need to invest in some thick gardening gloves to deal with all those thorns!

    I’m really interested to see if I can prune the Paradoxa into a pleasing shape. The examples I see on my morning walks have just been left to their own accord and look messy. But that said, I really like the architectural nature of the shrub and think it could add a strong structural element in the front yard.

    And of course I’m hoping it will become home to a lucky family of Wrens, or other small birds!

  • Redesigning Our Front Yard

    I’m what you would call an experimental Gardner – I plant something, somewhere (anywhere), and see how it grows. As a result I make plenty of mistakes by putting plants in the wrong places, and I end up pulling them out later down the track. The only positive out of what I do is that I’m good at growing plants and helping them flourish.

    But I totally suck at garden design.

    Take me for a walk in a local park and I can name almost all of the native plants I see. I can also tell you if they are indigenous to the Victorian Western Basalt Plains. But ask me for advice on how I would put them together to make an attractive native garden… nope, I’m as clueless as they come!

    Habitat Heroes Initiative

    My local council in the Wyndham area have a really great initiative, called ‘Habitat Heroes‘. The project runs twice a year and aims at helping residents in the council area to establish a native habitat in their garden that provides shelter and food for the native wildlife that pass through. Part of the initiative is a complimentary landscape design for a small section of your garden.

    We’ve been lucky enough to be included with this round of the initiative, and it’s been really fun to be involved in it! I kinda wished I had done it sooner though (and I want to see if I can be involved in it again!).

    A couple of weeks ago, the amazing Besty-Sue from Dirtscape Dreaming came to visit and drew up a landscape design for our front yard. And I absolutely love it!

    The requirements we had for our front yard design were:

    • Protection and privacy from the busy street.
    • Habitat to attract native birds and reptiles (except snakes).
    • Habitat that will entice the wildlife to venture into the backyard and make it their home.
    • A windbreak to prevent litter from coming into our yard.
    • A relaxing garden for me to look out on from my office window.

    The design Betsy-Sue drew up encompasses all those things.

    Our Front Yard Design

    The main feature of the design is a Wedge-leaf Hopbush hedge that curves it’s way across the front yard to provide privacy from the street and as a windbreak. Along the driveway a Silver Banksia shrub, Poa grasses and Nodding Saltbush ground-cover will offer food for insects and birds. Behind the Hopbush hedge will be an Acacia Paradoxa shrub to provide shelter for smaller birds, some Rushes, Red-leg grasses and Eremophila bushes Desert Cassia to give the birds fruit and seeds to eat, trailing ground-covers for attracting insects and finally, some Cushion Bushes to add decorative foliage and break up the green. We will also add a bird bath beside the acacia to give the birds something to drink from and have a bath in.

    Beside the fence will be two Native Violet trees. The tree has scented flowers and a prickly habitat for attracting smaller birds, and also to prevent rubbish from the neighbors constantly overflowing bin from coming into our yard (Aherm!). From the information I can find, the Native Violet tree is able to be pruned to look like a privet hedge, so it’s shape can flow on from the Hopbush hedge nicely.

    Finally, at the front of the yard, we will be keeping the existing prostrate Eremophila ground cover, but add to it some yellow wildflowers in the form of Billy Buttons, Clustered Everlastings and Lemon Beauty Heads.

    It sounds like a lot of work, but I’m pretty sure my experience with being able to help plants grow will be a positive skill in establishing and nurturing the garden.

    Another great bonus of the Habitat Heroes initiative is we will be given 30 stocktube plants for free, so getting part of the design established will cost me nothing at all! However my design has more than 30 plants, so I will forking out just a little bit of money for the remaining plants.

    Cleaning Up and Getting Ready

    Before we get the plants and put them in the ground, the front yard needs a little bit of preparation.

    Aside from the obvious weeds that need a bit of treatment, there is a little bit of garden removal that needs to happen.

    We spent last weekend getting rid of the Native Broom tree that was in the back corner of the yard. While it is beautiful when it’s flowering, it was coming to the end of it’s life and was maybe a bit too big for the area I had planted it in. But on the plus side, we have trimmed down and are keeping the thicker wood from the tree. We will use them to provide shelter and sunbathing areas for any lizards that decide to make our yard home.

    I’ve left a small gallery of what our yard looks like now so that you can see the progress along the way. If you like the design of the yard, you are welcome to use it for your own design or use aspects of it to create a little native corner in your own garden.