Spent the morning working in our hectare of natural bush and collected the mail on my way inside for lunch. The spring edition of the Diggers Garden Club newsletter and catalogue was there so I settled down to read.
Whoa! A double-page spread of letters referring back to an anti-eucalypt article in the previous (winter edition) newsletter. Letters in favour and letters against.
I can’t remember reading the offending article and couldn’t find the previous newsletter, but a seemingly-informed correspondent wrote in to counter some of the mis-information given about eucalypts and the pre-European extent of rainforest in South-eastern Australia. Apparently it had been claimed that eucalyptus forests and woodlands destroy competion from other species because of their adaptation to fire. Also that they destroy soil carbon, destroy soil fertility and reduce rainfall.
The writer was angry with the claims made and this was evident in the tone of the letter, but I didn’t think it was ‘rude’ or ‘arrogant’ as the (obviously annoyed) proprietor of Diggers (Clive Blazey), claimed in his reply.
Blazey claimed that gardeners “have a much more comprehensive understanding of ecology than any other community group.” Well, I’d agree that the general community is woefully ignorant of ecological matters, but as someone who’s been propagating and selling native plants to people for 20 years or so, I can vouch for the fact that the average gardener is pretty ignorant, too. Comments like, “I don’t want anything with white flowers, because they attract mosquitoes”, spring to mind.
But it was this comment from Blazey that really raised my hackles: “We all know that eucalypts are anti-social plants that produce chemicals that keep neighbouring plants away.”
We all know….? Huh? Do we? Now I’d like Mr Blazey to come and take a stroll through our bush block. There are dozens of eucalypts, some large, handsome specimens and plenty of smaller ones. Apart from the walking tracks I’ve made through the bush to enable easier management and appreciation, there is not one piece of bare ground in the place. The understorey layer is covered in a mixture of small shrubs, grasses, herbaceous plants, terrestrial orchids and other wildflowers. At last count there were over 130 species; I’m told that’s pretty good diversity for such a small area. As far as keeping neighbouring plants away, well, I’d have to say that I don’t see any evidence of that here. Even the walking tracks I’ve put in have to be continually kept open, because as soon as I turn my back something will self-seed and grow there. Apparently nobody told all these other plants that eucalypts don’t like them.
As for ‘anti-social’!! Not a very scientific comment and one which doesn’t have a whole lot of knowledge of evolutionary biology attached to it. Nothing in nature is anti-social (although I’d have to make allowances for Homo sapiens, I suppose). Eucalypts have evolved to be good at what they do, which is to survive and spread eucalyptus genes around. The huge diversity of plants that occupy the understorey attracts birds and other creatures which prey on insects which attack eucalypts; it’s not a successful strategy to eliminate the organisms that help you. Life is about co-operation, not competition.
As for selectively quoting Colin Tudge: “In much of the world they have become weeds, ousting the native flora….” Well, of course! Tudge is commenting on the weed potential of eucalypts planted in other countries. Of course they oust native flora there, just as many exotic plants here (deliberately introduced by ecologically-ignorant gardeners and some of them sold by Diggers) escape from gardens and oust the species that have evolved in this country.
“Eucalypts thrive and dominate so they are the biggest threat to the survival of gardens and our business”. Yes, Clive, you said it all. Your business is to sell, exotic (non-native) plants to non-ecological gardeners, in fact one of the letters in defence of the eucalypt commented on the lack of native plants in the Diggers range.
There will always be gardeners who hate eucalypts and there will be gardeners who love them. I accept that large species shouldn’t be planted in small gardens or near houses, but as Dr Beth Gott said in her defence of them, there are plenty of small-growing species suitable for small gardens. Blazey doesn’t even acknowledge this fact in his reply.
Although I consider myself an ecological gardener, I’ve accepted that Diggers sell plants for ordinary gardeners and not ecological gardeners. I like their colourful, attractive catalogues. I joined Diggers purely to avail myself of the food plant species they sell, because I want to be self-sufficient in food. I’ve been down to Heronswood and bought plants and seeds from them. I’ve accepted that the plants are expensive and that many of them haven’t grown well or survived for me, but after reading Clive Blazey’s not very well-argued, intensely anti-eucalypt letter, I think it might be time to review my Diggers membership.