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Our members love sharing their stories, insights and experiences with others. Below are a selection of posts. Members are welcome to post their stories. 

Warren and Gloria Sheather are regularly posting articles on their garden in the Northern Tablelands. See their Garden Diary here.

Members' stories are also regularly published in GardenDrum, an online gardening magazine - a selection of these are provided for your interest. 


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  • 7 Sep 2017 7:17 AM | GLENDA BROWNE (Administrator)

    Burrendong Botanic Garden & Arboretum Positions Vacant 

    Burrendong Botanic Garden & Arboretum Botanic Garden Manager – full-time Horticulturist – full-time Maintenance Officer – Part-time (3 days per week)

    Burrendong Botanic Garden & Arboretum in the NSW Central West is situated 20 minutes from Wellington and is midway between the regional cities of Orange and Dubbo. Set near the shore of Lake Burrendong this 167 ha botanic garden is one of the largest regional botanic gardens in Australia and is home to a unique and diverse collection of Australian flora. 

    Due to a recent restructure the Burrendong Arboretum Trust is seeking to fill three newly created positions – Full time Botanic Garden Manager, Fulltime Horticulturist and a part time Maintenance Officer. 

    To be successful in these positions applicants will need to be good communicators, motivated, able to work independently and as part of a team. 

    For full Position descriptions and to apply contact the Burrendong Arboretum Trust Secretary Emily Falson at emilyfalson@yahoo.com.au 

    Applicants must address all selection criteria and include a full resume with three referees 

    For additional information contact Trust Chairman Michael Anlezark at michaeljanlezark@gmail.com or phone 0412 376 965. 

    Applications close October 2, 4pm 

  • 6 Sep 2017 2:41 PM | COLIN LAWRENCE (Administrator)

    Sunday September 10, Groups will start at intervals 10.00-10.30, finishing by 12.00 midday
    Celebrate Spring with us in a slow walk through the wildflowers of the coastal heath.
    Enjoy the beauty of the blooms against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Local
    experts will help with identification and ecological information.
    All welcome, all ages. Fairly easy walking along sandy tracks. Bring a hat and a drink.

  • 6 Sep 2017 11:00 AM | RALPH CARTWRIGHT (Administrator)

    Teresa James workshops


    1. Flora of Agnes Banks Nature Reserve

    Saturday 16 September (9.00 am to 12.00 pm)

    Details: The morning includes group plant identification exercises. Some notes will be provided.No previous knowledge is required.

    Cost: $50

    2. Plant identification walk at Scheyville

    Sunday 17 September (9.00 am to 12.00 pm)

    Details: Enjoy a spring-time morning walk in Scheyville National Park through endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland. No previous knowledge is required, beginners most welcome.

    Cost: $40

    Contact Teresa on t.james@optusnet.com.au

  • 6 Sep 2017 9:59 AM | MAREE MCCARTHY

    Hunter Wetlands, Shortland 10-3pm Sat 9th Sept.

    Newcastle Group Spring Plant Sale!!

    Education Carpark.

  • 3 Sep 2017 6:11 PM | RALPH CARTWRIGHT (Administrator)

    Nearly 130 members and visitors attended a very informative series of lectures and garden visits around the district over the weekend.

    Lovely weather, friendly, welcoming and very knowledgeable people to talk with.

    Here are some photos from the weekend. Rainforest is so hard to capture on film, but wonderful to walk through.

     

      

      

      

     

     

  • 14 Aug 2017 12:25 PM | RALPH CARTWRIGHT (Administrator)

    I took a trip about this time last year to Kakadu National Park which had many items of interest, both flora and fauna. (All photos included here were taken by myself.)  This is a summary of the talk that I gave to the Sutherland group of APS recently. Check out our District Group page.

    I did the trip, over six days and five nights, through Kakadu Walking Adventure which can be found here at this website: http://www.worldexpeditions.com/Australia/Trekking-Hiking/Kakadu-Walking-Adventure

    The first location we visited was Fogg Dam which was built as a water source for a failed rice growing project in 1956. It is located on the Adelaide River floodplain between Darwin and Kakadu and covers over 1,500 hectares and is now known as the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve. It features monsoon and eucalypt forest, open scrubland, melaleuca woodland, floodplain and open water which attract significant numbers of birds, reptiles, mammals and marsupials. 

    The dam has had a history of weed invasion and an aquatic weed harvester was brought to the dam by the local friends group. It was brought in to control a floating invasive weed, Eleocharis sphacelata (a native species but considered a weed in this situation). The plan was to use low-risk prisoners trained up to operate the machine and the expectation was that it would work full time, 5 days a week, all year round to clear the weeds and open-up the waterways again. The removed biomass was to be used as a saleable item. Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well. The resulting biomass was too low in nutrients to be viable so the scheme ran out of money to buy fuel. Also, the weeds proved too tough for the machine, which was used as more of a floating bulldozer to push the weeds to the edge where they could dry out and later be burned. The dam was a great place for bird watching. 

    Plants seen there included Nymphaea violacea (Lotus Lily) and Nymphoides indica (Water Snowflake). The flowers of both species are mostly pink, white or blue-mauve with yellow centres. Both species are used by Aboriginals for food, using both the root-stock and seeds which are ground to make flour. 

    Most of the rivers have Alligator in the name, as that is what the early explorers believed they were seeing. They were of course much more dangerous crocodiles and we saw several on our trip.

    Other plants seen included Clerodendrum costatum, a Lamiaceae member which has a bright red calyx surrounding the developing fruit. It is a common small to medium shrub often found in monsoon vine forest margins. 

    Bossiaea bossiaeoides (resembling a Bossiaea) is a leafless but cladodenous (having modified stems) pea-flower which might make an unusual rockery plant in sunny gardens. The Traditional Owners use it as a calendar plant. It indicates the season that honey is available in bee’s nests. 

    Banksia dentata is the only Banksia species growing in the tropical North and also up into southern New Guinea. It is a gnarled tree to 7 m. Flowering over the cooler months, it attracts various species of honeyeaters. It is one of the 4 Banksia species collected by Banks in 1770. The local aborigines used the old seed cones to transport fire as they would smoulder for up to two hours. It re-sprouts after fire from a woody lignotuber. 

    Hibiscus sabdariffa was observed. Despite being well known in Australia, this is actually a species of Hibiscus native to West Africa and, therefore, a weed. Several plants were seen in various locations including around car parks and alongside tracks. Our guides suggested that they were grown from seed discarded from jam sandwiches! 

    The walk took in a rock formation called Boo–rong-goy, but is commonly mis-called Nourlangie Rock. It is the site of several wonderful world-class rock-art galleries. We did a very interesting 10km circular walk through a range of different vegetation types with many unusual rock formations. In several places, the walkers were rewarded with spectacular views out over the savanna plains and woodlands with Arnhem Land in the background. 

    The tropical savannas are well known for their termite mounds and there were some quite enormous examples, including the largest one in Kakadu (in terms of mass). It is still active and is known to be at least 40 years old which means the Queen has been alive for that long and has been pushing out eggs all the time to keep the mound growing and healthy. 

    Other species of note observed were Grevillea dryandri, G. heliosperma and G. angulata. Several other Hibiscus included H. symonii and H. leptocladus

    The Kapok Tree or Cotton Tree was a very interesting specimen. With its bright red flowers up to 20 cm in diameter! It is a native but also extends north into the wet tropics. 

    The area is home to 3 species of pandanus including Pandanus aqauticus.

    Asteromyrtus symphyocarpa or Liniment Tree (pictured) is another plant with a very striking flower. The aboriginies used the leaves for a variety of medicinal purposes and in 1982, it was investigated by the  Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research with members from the CSIRO and the Uni of NSW  for its commercial applications. 

    Xanthostemon paradoxus and Eucalyptus salmonophloia (Salmon Gum) of which the hollow branches were used to make didgeridoos. Other eucalypts included E. miniata and E. phoenicea

    Calytrix exstipulata was common in the area and was successfully used to flavour the lamb roast for dinner one night. We also came across the cycad Cycas lane-poolei – one of the few Australian Cycas species. 

    I finished my talk by highlighting an insect, Leichhardt’s Grasshopper, which spends most of its lifecycle on a Lamiaceae member, Pityrodia jamesii. This plant has small, hairy and sticky leaves which are described as very aromatic, a mix of mint and tea tree oil to taste. Leichardt’s grasshopper, named after the explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt, who was the first European to describe them in 1845, have arresting aposematic markings to deter predators. 

    Their interesting life cycle begins as a grub underground feeding on the roots of this plant. As they emerge to feed on the leaves, they make their way further up the plant eventually to mate and then lay eggs at the base of the plant - to start the cycle all over again. 

    A great adventure, highly recommended.

  • 28 Jul 2017 2:39 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    Menai Group's April speaker was Lisa Harvey speaking on her Honours project – to fit tracking collars to Powerful Owls to enable research into habitat in urban Sydney.

    The Powerful Owl is Australia’s largest apex nocturnal predator owl, it is present along the Eastern Coast and is listed as vulnerable in NSW.  

    The owl is a territorial obligate hollow nester, 60cm in height with a wingspan of 140cm, it is estimated Sydney has 50-60 pairs with approximately 10-12 additional single birds. 

    The Powerful Owl Project was initiated by Birdlife Australia in 2011. This project is a citizen science project investigating breeding success, habitat use and diet of Powerful Owls in Sydney and the Central Coast. Lisa’s research extended this project to find more information about habitat use and  diet and to compare home range sizes of the Powerful Owl in areas of varying degrees of urbanisation across Sydney.

    To succeed, GPS transmitters with a weak link harness designed to fall off after a number of weeks were attached to 3 females & 2 males.  Suitable trees with reasonably clear surrounding foliage had to be located to enable the slinging of a net, raised with the aid of a bow and arrow, to trap an owl responding to the call of a female, male or even a young owl. 

    The owls were fitted with transmitters and tracked during the breeding season throughout the Sydney region. The GPS GSM transmitters enabled remote access to data via the mobile phone network. GPS fixes were first recorded ½ hourly then switched to hourly throughout the tracking period.  Lisa showed the results of the main areas tracked, multiple home range trips with the owls in Balgowlah Heights, Bonnet Bay, Menai, Centennial Park and the Botanic Gardens.

    The availability of vegetation may affect home range size, the variations found were: Botanic Gardens approx. 650ha, Centennial Park approx. 300ha, Bonnet Bay approx. 220ha, Balgowlah Heights approx. 110ha, Menai approx. 20ha.

    Greenspace is an important element to habitat. Different types of greenspaces were used such as structured gardens in the Royal Botanic Gardens and natural bushland in the Sydney Harbour National Park at Balgowlah. Overall 85% of GPS locations were recorded in greenspace, dwelling density within an owl’s home range varied between 0.43 & 6.26 km2.  Balgowlah had approx. 80% greenspace, Bonnet Bay approx. 60%, Botanic Gardens approx. 90%, Centennial Park approx. 95% and Menai approx. 99%.

    Collection and dissection of owl regurgitate assisted in determining the diet consumed by the tracked owls and also other known pairs throughout Sydney. Of the 74 pellets analysed, prey items were identified from bone fragments, hair and feathers.

    The GPS results in the Sydney region showed the common ringtail possum rating approx. 35% on the scale, the flying fox approx. 15%, rats approx. 15%, birds approx. 14%, common brush tail possum approx. 10%, sugar gliders approx. 3%, rabbits approx. 3% and unknown mammalians approx. 3%.

    What is the future for urban Powerful Owls? Prey is unlikely to be a limiting factor due to the abundance of key prey items such as the Common Ringtail Possum and Common Brushtail Possum. Habitat loss, especially the loss of old trees capable of producing large hollows for breeding is likely to be a significant concern.  Other issues include human-wildlife conflict, with the Powerful Owl being susceptible to car strike and collisions with buildings.  In highly urbanised areas, the owls may have to fly further afield to find greenspace and because of the risks associated with urban areas, greenspace design in cities could help reduce this risk. 

    Future projects will entail research into hollow availability and characteristics of greenspaces.

    The dedicated teams tracking, monitoring, researching and sharing their findings on these magnificent owls is greatly appreciated by all – we thank Lisa, Birdlife Australia, The University of Sydney, The City of Sydney and the Royal Botanic Gardens for their generosity.

  • 24 Jul 2017 9:39 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    During a recent trip to Europe, I noticed a lot of quite large, home-made bee ‘hotels’. On my return, I undertook a bit of research and I found some excellent information on different home-made ‘hotels’ in the EU and UK. 

    After looking at all the pictures on that site, I decided to make one myself, to hopefully provide a home to our native solitary bees and other insects as they are important pollinators and pest controllers in gardens. They need to be encouraged as tidy gardens, lawns and lack of dead wood, mean less and less habitat for them.  

    The technical details of my ‘hotel’ are as follows: 


    • The back of the hotel is the same as the front.
    • The three drill diameters used to drill the wood were: 3.3mm, 6.5mm and 11mm. Depth of the holes were the drill length.
    • The sections of timber are old chemical free pine or Oregon.
    • The upright branches and the branches in the 50mm diameter plastic tubes were from the weedy Lantana plant. The soft core of the horizontal branches, were drilled out but not the vertical branches.
    • The ‘hotel’ sits on a 200x50 hardwood base.
    • I sited the ‘hotel’ in my garden so it receives dappled morning sun and full afternoon sun. Not ideal, as apparently it should be in a position that receives full sun, as the bees only become active around 18oC and above. A position that receives full sun is not possible in my northern Sydney suburban garden due to neighbouring trees.

    A few unanswered questions:

    • Will it work? Time will tell and apparently it can take up to 12 months to weather and lose its ‘newness’ before the tenants decide to call it home. Then again, there may be no native bees or other small insects to use it.
    • Should it be higher off the ground?
    • If it does not work, will it be the home to ants (hope not)?
    • Should it have a night light for those ‘guests’ returning back late (just joking).
  • 24 Jul 2017 9:32 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    While rhododendrons are very popular plants in Australian gardens, there are only two species that we can truly call our own. 

    They are both Vireya Rhododendrons - rainforest species found in mountainous tropical areas of SE Asia, New Guinea and North Queensland. These species are members of the Erica family, which has a fairly small representation in Australia.

    Rhododendron lochiae was long thought to be the only Australian member of the genus, but in 1995 it was realised that there was a second and separate species which was named Rhododendron notiale

    Rhododendron lochiae grows naturally in north-eastern Queensland. Growing to 1.2m, this shrub has stiff foliage and reddish young stems. The flowers are spectacular, rosy-red bells which are borne in summer and autumn. It is slow-growing. 

    Rhododendron notiale is different from R. lochiae in that the shape of the flower tube is curved rather than straight. See a picture. Stems of Rhododendron notiale are not red like those of Rhododendron lochiae. R. notiale is indigenous to north Queensland.

    Vireyas are popular garden plants and will grow as far south as Melbourne provided they are protected from frost. Rhododendron lochiae has been hybridised with various other species to produce a number of garden plants such as ‘Tropic Fanfare’ and ‘Arthur’s Choice’.

    Both these native rhododendrons and the cultivars, require a sheltered position in a shaded location. They require acid soil, high in organic matter. In their rainforest homes they often grow as epiphytes wherever they can find sufficient light. They can be grown successfully in pots in an orchid-growing medium. Pruning lightly after flowering and pinching out young plants will help to produce compact specimens. 

    Propagation is relatively easy from cuttings. 

  • 19 Jul 2017 8:57 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    For many years, I have been growing native plants, reading gardening books, listening to garden gurus, advising people on what native plants to grow in their gardens and listening to other people’s gardening problems. During this time, I have concluded that there is only one important garden principle that one must try to follow to succeed in your garden that that is: 

    Do not fight your site. 

    The plant’s natural growing conditions must closely match your site to maximise results. Failure to do this results in plants that grow far below their best and eventually require removal. 

    Your site’s environmental factors will determine how successful a plant will or will not grow. Try to accurately assess theses important factors:

    • Amount of light – full sun, no sun, morning or afternoon, shady etc. 
    • Soil types -- heavy clay, sandy or somewhere in between.
    • Soil water retention -- evenly moist, boggy or does it dry out quickly due to root competition from nearby plants. 

    Once you have assessed your site, the following are examples of mismatching conditions:

    • Trying to grow a plant that needs full sun in a shady position -- you will have a plant that grows weakly, flowers poorly and is susceptible to scale. Not a good look.
    • Trying to grow a plant that needs a shady/dappled light position in a full sun position -- the plant will at best wilt, because it is too hot, and at worst burn and die.  
    • Trying to grow a plant that needs a moist position in a dry position -- you will need to continually water it just to keep it alive. 
    • Trying to grow a plant that needs a dry position in a moist to wet soil -- you will need to provide additional drainage or add soil to raise the planting position.
    • Not selecting plants for the correct soil type. Plants that grow naturally in lighter, sandy soils often do not have a strong enough root system to establish themselves in heavy, clay loam. To grow a plant in this situation requires it to be staked and watered often. Conversely, plants that grow naturally in heavy clay loam, will establish in any soil as they usually have a stronger root system and are more adaptive. 

    Over the years, I have seen many examples of plants deciding their most suitable position in your garden, especially if they self-seed i.e. moving away from a sunny dry position to a more suitable shadier and moist position.  

    If your site does not suit the plants on your ‘wish list’ then all is not lost. Plant them in a suitable size pot. This way:    

    • They can be moved around to maximise sun and shade requirements.
    • You can provide the right soil and water requirements.

    To conclude --- know your site and learn to live with its limitations.

    By Jeff Howes

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