Intro to Australian Native plants with Lorena Retallick (my Mum)
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Firstly, What is your background with Australia native plants?
I have always loved nature in all its forms, walking through the bush is home. I was given an opportunity where it was imperative to understand natives. Working as an operations manager for a non for profit, government subsidised company for people with special needs, mental health, work cover and disadvantaged. The role included propagating and buying plants for the onsite retail area, stocking stands around the district and filling orders for councils/farmers. I realised that is was important to stand apart and not compete with local nurseries and saw the opportunity to propagate native plants for the area. Having no background in this field I researched, experimented and joined the Australian Native Plant Society.
If someone is about to start prepping their garden for native plants, what are some things they can do?
Take a walk around your area, see what grows locally. Look at your soil type, rainfall, sun exposure to gauge the type of landscaping you are trying to create. What do you want, ie formal, or a natural setting. The following are ideas to consider;
-Birds, butterflies, frog and insect attracting plants to provide habitat, shelter and food
-Plants that are fire retardant
-Shade or windbreaks
-Low water use, drought tolerant
-Limestone, clay or sand tolerant
-Flowering colour and times
-Plant structure and growth rate, will it need regular pruning or be low maintenance
Understanding what is offered in nurseries isn't necessarily what will grow, a lot of plants are produced interstate or outside of your area. When buying a plant its important to spend time hardening them to your climate, rehabbing them from any heavy chemicals for at least 2 weeks.
What are the easiest natives to grow for beginners?
Grow what is local to your area, I cannot stress enough that it is imperative to ensure the genetic integrity for nearby native vegetation and ecology is supported. The plants will be stronger and longer-lasting in your garden.
Low maintenance plants are the easiest ie;
-Flaxes like Dianella or grasses like Lomandra
-Different varieties of native daisies such as Olearia
-Groundcovers like Myoporum
-Saltbushes or Maireana can make a great contrast as well
There are so many wonderful options
Why is it important to grow native plants?
This is an integral question, we can all become part of the important corridors needed to protect our precious natural environment.
When buying plants what should people look for?
Enjoy the experience, gravitate to what you like, read the labels and see if it is a good fit for your garden. Give yourself time to look at all the plants and have a general plan according to your personality.
How do you grow from seed? Or do you know any good resources on the subject?
Depending on the seed for most species there is a lot of good information on Google or Youtube. Dean Nicole's book on eucalyptus is very helpful.
I’ll give you an example of growing Eucalyptus;
-Most varieties can be sought all year round, collect the seed pods from the year before.
-Place in a hot, dry place to release as needed.
-Keep in the fridge until planting times November through to December
-Get a good quality native potting mix and wet it down with a 6 month slow realise fertiliser
-Pack it down tightly into tubes and sprinkle the seed on top
-Put another layer of soil on top then some gravel (gravel will keep the birds away and mulch)
-Place it into a shade house until it shoots, Water twice a day for 10 minutes.
-Prick out the extras and leave the strongest one in the middle
-Once it has two leaves take it outside and start with a light soluble fertiliser weekly and monthly fungicide if it is a humid year
-Once established fertilise fortnightly and weed as necessary
-Cover with shade cloth in extreme heat or wind to protect but leave uncovered to produce strong healthy growth.
-Eucalyptus has a long taproot so take care not to break and plant in the ground up to a third of the stem to ensure the root grows straight down in the soil.
Any pro tips from a former nursery manager?
Research, keep up with the trends, go to as many nurseries as possible. Love the challenge, if it is impossible to propagate, go for it, trust your instincts, look at each season to guide you.
Do you remember what it was that drew you towards plants?
I spent different times in my childhood with my grandparents. My poppy’s love of his garden drew me in, he taught me the basic like how to mix soils. He had three big bins of garden soil, peat and river sand which we collected locally and mixed according to each plants needs. His expertise was getting Asian plants to flower each year in the Adelaide climate and he consulted with the Adelaide botanic gardens. His garden was prolific with all different varieties. None were native but his last love was Peony’s, something I've taken with me. I love all plants not necessarily native to Australia. He taught me so much without even knowing, not just with plants but also his strong intelligence for humanity, peace and love.
Something that I admired growing up was your love for trees. Would you agree you are a forest bather?
I had to find out what a forest bather was, I thought I was a tree hugger haha. It is my personal need to hug a tree, walk barefoot, feel.
I know you have worked a lot with Eremophilas, do you gravitate towards a certain native?
I love all plants and have never found a favourite if I did specialise it would be coastal or Mallee vegetation. I fell into Eremophila because I saw the journey of this species evolve from an interest in the varieties to experimentation of cuttings and grafting for the nursery industry. They were just beginning to be understood and I was lucky to be exposed to some of the leaders of this field, Keith Pitman, Ken Warne and Brenton Tucker. I have loved seeing them grow naturally at the Gawler Rangers in SA and WA. They suited the limestone and rainfall in my area on the Yorke Peninsula and are a good fit for the nursery that I worked in. I learnt how to propagate them and planted a lot of different varieties in my backyard to ensure suitability as they were a good seller.
Favourite tea at the moment! Can't forget the integral question?
Hibiscus with honey :)
Thank you for your time doing this Mum, I really appreciate it and I know others will too.