This article was originally presented at the ANPSA 21st Biennial Seminar which was held in Canberra, ACT, 1 to 5 October 2001.
Diana Snape has been a committed member of Society for Growing Australian Plants/Australian Plants Society since 1960 - first in Sydney and then Melbourne.
Diana's first book "Meet the First 30 Elements" was a chemistry text, written for junior high school students, to meet a need she saw while teaching. Her second book "Australian Native Gardens: putting visions into practice" was published in 1992, soon after she retired from teaching. The following year Diana began the Garden Design Study Group, again to try to respond to a perceived need.
SGAP and the work of Study Groups
The Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) began in the late 1950s, with the goal of growing Australian plants to help in their ongoing preservation. The emphasis has been on the cultivation of individual plant species (and often individual plants of those species). This is of course extremely important and the essential work of most Study Groups has focussed on this approach. There has been so much to learn about growing Australian plants successfully in gardens and, until recently, so little effort made by the majority of other possible contributors in this field.
Garden 'experts', nursery people, horticulturists and landscape designers tend to stay well within their area of expertise and, with notable exceptions, this to date has largely meant exotic plants. Their area of expertise remains the dominant culture. In contrast, most Study Groups have worked to observe, record, correlate and expand knowledge of their area of study of Australian plants. Some have written valuable books so this knowledge can become more widely available and help widen the horizons of others, both inside and outside SGAP/Australian Plant Society (APS).
|Snape garden, Victoria.
Photo: Simon Griffiths
|Floyd garden, Victoria.
Photo: John Floyd
Slowness of change
After 40 years existence of SGAP/APS, we might have expected its influence to have started to become more apparent in the general community, with increasing awareness and appreciation of Australian plants. I think in general it has not. What are the problems?
I think there are a number of problems involved in the slowness of change. These include
After recognising the need to study garden design using Australian plants, I began the Study Group in 1993 with a small initial group who shared this interest. Its membership rose to 200 by 1996 and this membership of over 200 has been maintained since, with members in all States. This must reflect a need felt by many Society members. We are very pleased to include both amateur and professional designers among our members. Most of those initial members still belong and there is a small yearly turnover as members' needs and interests change.
What do GDSG members actually do?
The concept of design and the knowledge of plants to implement that design are so closely woven together that they are hard to separate. There are many ways we try to advance our skills.
Aims of the GDSG
The GDSG aims:
|Two feature plants that add character to an Australian garden are Banksia spinulosa (left) and Xanthorrhoea sp. (right)
Photos: Diana Snape and Jan Hall
In the future there are likely to be smaller blocks of land for many people (along with larger houses). So suburban gardens will tend to shrink. Due to the past work of APS/SGAP and increasingly the Horticultural Industry, many more Australian plants are now available in nurseries. More recently, the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority and Plant Breeders Rights have given further incentive for the development of appealing new plants. These include wonderful small plants, appropriate for the smaller gardens which will be more common. Beautiful gardens displaying such plants can help erase the bad impressions of those straggly, suburban 'bush gardens' of the 1960s and 1970s, and the myths of no maintenance. In small gardens, there can be concentrated focus on the design with extreme care taken in the choice of plants from the abundance on offer and their positioning in relation to the hard landscape.
Importance of indigenous plants
There is increasing interest in restricting the palette of plants for design to those indigenous to the area. Strictly speaking, plants from distant areas of Australia such as Western Australia can be as botanically distinct as those from Gondwana countries such as New Zealand or (horror!) South Africa. Just as many of us have been fussy in the past in growing only Australian plants, environmentally aware and sensitive people in the future may be so with growing their indigenous plants, of local provenance. With a smaller palette, design becomes very important to achieve a pleasing, garden-like effect but it will certainly have a 'sense of place' using the plants that belong there. This is the opposite effect to that described in the previous paragraph, with the increasing range of attractive or 'pretty' garden plants.
Greenhouse effects and climate change
The threat of climate change due to the greenhouse effect may bring challenges to everyone in the short or long term. An awareness of this threat in the 'changing world' could influence our approach to garden design. It's hard to predict what will happen but grouping plants with similar needs in our gardens will be even more important and a readiness to be adaptable in our selection of plants will help.
A growing number of computer programs deal with garden design and an increasing number of gardeners are likely to take advantage of these in the future. Programs also have lists of plants to suit different requirements. To date, only a limited number of plant lists concentrate on Australian plants but this emphasis should grow in the future.
An age of technology
To finish on a more philosophical note, the 'changing world' is likely to take people more and more away from the natural world we are fortunate to enjoy today. If populations keep expanding, natural areas will shrink even further. If the current trend continues, with more hours spent in front of computers, longer working hours for many people, more dependence on virtual reality, people will need gardens to help retain their love of nature and their humanity. Those gardens will be more rewarding, peaceful and harmonious if they are well designed, rather than just a jumble of plants.
Don't just grow plants - grow a garden.