Maybe you should stick to vegies, Clive

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.

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7 Responses to “Maybe you should stick to vegies, Clive”

  1. Darren (Green Change) Says:

    I chose not to renew my Diggers membership this year. Their advertised “8 free packets of seeds” for new members was very misleading. They weren’t free at all – you had to order something from each season’s catalogue to get them.

    If you don’t live in Melbourne (where you can use the free admission to their gardens), Diggers membership amounts to an expensive subscription to a mediocre quarterly magazine. The discounts to members are really pretty small if you’re not ordering huge quantities of seeds and other garden products.

    Leave ’em to it, I say.

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  2. foodnstuff Says:

    Hi Darren, thanks for the comments and reminding me about the ‘free seeds’. I’ve never once received any free seeds from Diggers. I was at Heronswood once and asked if I could pick up my free seeds (seeing the display on the counter) and was told, “oh, they’re only for sending out with postal orders”. !!!

    I agree; leave ’em to it. I won’t be renewing my subscription either.

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  3. Tracey Says:

    I had a very similar reaction to the recent Diggers catalogue. I’m not an expert on Australian ecosystems or eucalypt species, but I am a biologist by training, and I found Blazey’s comments angry, dismissive and short on evidence.

    I’ve persisted with Diggers for a few years because I think Blazey does some good as a vocal advocate for gardeners but one of my pet hates is the half-truths, misinformatio and pseudoscience that gets passed around the gardening community. I’d already decided not to renew my membership next year, this catalogue reminds me why!

    There are other sources for veggie seeds – Cornucopia and Eden are both good, and a bit cheaper (or at least more seeds for a similar price). Plus their service is way faster and more personal.

    Although for what its worth I did always get my free seeds from Diggers (you don’t have to order anything else to get them or pay postage, but you need to actually ask for them). I’ve always managed to get things I would have bought anyway.

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  4. foodnstuff Says:

    Hi Tracey, yes, agree with everything you say. There certainly are better seed sources around. I’ve found that when Diggers advertises a new catalogue line, it’s only a matter of 12 months or so before it’s available at other suppliers too.

    I considered writing to Blazey, but thought it probably wouldn’t be published and decided instead on the blogpost. Maybe I’ll send him the link!

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  5. Chris Says:

    My backyard is bushland and like you, I can’t stop the jungle from growing!!

    What I love about natives is they aren’t precious, they don’t mind neglect and the animals flock to them from everywhere. We have all manner of native animals around here and it’s great!

    I haven’t read the Digger’s article you’re referring to, but it stands to reason if you sell vegetable seeds, they aren’t going to do well under a bunch of eucalyptus trees. So for the author I suppose they do seem rather antisocial.

    Which is really quite a shame, because the wildlife around here have a very close relationship with the native plants. I’d rather see the plants and animals together. 🙂

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  6. foodnstuff Says:

    Hi Chris, I’ve been keeping up with your blog. I love to see the plants and animals together, too. My vegie garden is well away from the bush, so I have no problems with competition. I don’t think anyone would be silly enough to try and establish vegetables under eucalypts anyway, so I don’t understand why Clive Blazey is so against them. In a large garden, at least, there’s room for both and there are plenty of small-growing eucalypt species around.

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  7. Chris Says:

    Definitely agree with you. My veg garden and native one, have their own areas where they serve their own purposes. Shrubs like grevillias, acacias and wattles do well in suburban gardens too – and can even help to establish fruit trees in an exposed area.

    If you’re saving water by “not” irrigating natives, then you have more water for your vegetables and fruit trees. To me that makes a lot more sense in managing resources.

    I’ve been watching your blog too and love the idea with the wicking boxes. When I finish building this darn retaining wall (only a few more courses to go) I want to seriously tackle the veg patch. Wicking boxes make a lot of sense where water is an issue.

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