Growing fresh fruit and vegetables at home is an important and enriching lifestyle choice of many of us on the Mornington Peninsula. A constant source of healthy seasonal foods is certainly a worthy dividend for the work that goes into our gardens. Most of our food plants are classed as ‘exotics’ in botanical terms, basically meaning they are not from Australia. Europe and Asia are the origin of the majority of our vegetables, herbs and fruit plants, and though we have great success in growing these food plants down here, they do require our attention. When plants are grown away from their native environment, they need our help to adjust to local conditions, be it soils, water, food, pests and diseases. So we pay special attention to our edible plants so that they may provide us with all we want.
In our wider gardens and landscape, we often plant ‘exotic’ ornamental plants to provide us with structure, beauty, scent, etc. Again, many of these plants come from faraway lands and require our attention to help them adjust to our local environment. Sometimes this may require significant or very regular work to maintain the health and form of particular plants, otherwise they may not be at their best.
It is for this reason that people continue to turn to local, or indigenous, plants to enhance their landscape. Plants that belong in our soils and are adapted to our ever-changing climatic conditions will naturally require far less input, support and care than their exotic friends from abroad. Thus gardens that use a majority of indigenous plants are very much ‘low maintenance’. This suits those of us who grow our own food just fine – there’s not a great deal more time we have to spend in the garden outside of tending to our crops. And it can be very costly if you have to pay for hired help!
There seems to be a common misconception that our indigenous plants are a bit untidy, or dull. Most people think about the masses of tea-tree on the Peninsula, or browning grasses, without actually seeing the more beautifully structured plants and pretty flowering plants. We have a range of very unique and stunning trees that will grow effortlessly in our home gardens, and for a variety of purposes: screening, shade and of course aesthetics. A combination of a number of different tree species under-planted with some flowering shrubs, grasses or groundcovers can replicate some of our beautiful coastal landscapes, while a closely planted row of small evergreen trees can provide a quick low-maintenance screen or wind barrier while looking good year-round. Add a few strategically placed local rocks (granite or limestone), gravel paths and mulch and you can quite easily transform a tired and maintenance-intense area of your garden into something beautiful and virtually maintenance-free.
Another important reason for using local plants is to help maintain habitat for our local bird, mammal and insect populations. Providing shelter and food for our indigenous animals is not only the responsibility of government and council; we can all do our bit by making sensible plant choices. Sure, a few exotics here and there is great and no problem at all, but if your entire landscape is made up of introduced species, you may want to have a think about how you may make some changes. You may be pleasantly surprised what interesting and beautiful local – and native – plants you can access and grow down our way.
So when you are next having to make decisions about what to plant and where, consider drawing your attention to the range of Mornington Peninsula indigenous plants.