Waterwise Garden

Waterwise Garden

Gardening Australia Magazine, December 2008

A vital step when establishing a new garden is to choose plants that are suitable for the climate. SOPHIE THOMSON meets a South Australian couple who have created a sustainable garden on an exposed hillside that receives little rainfall.

Gardeners across Australia are looking to create sustainable, climate-compatible gardens. Over the past nine years, South Australian gardeners Sarah and Roger Budarick have managed to do this with their garden, Boat’s End, at Currency Creek, about 80km south of Adelaide. Here, close to the mouth of the Murray River, they have converted a bare and exposed hillside paddock into a stunning garden, despite extreme conditions.

Sarah and Roger bought the 16ha property in 1999, however the garden, which occupies about 0.7ha, was not started for several years. The first garden beds were planted around the building they call ‘The Red Shed’ and, Sarah says, “the garden just grew from there”.

Getting started
Her first plantings were remnants of previous gardens. Many didn’t survive. Around the same time, Sarah joined the inaugural committee of the South Australian branch of The Mediterranean Garden Society and changed her approach to gardening. “The growing awareness that we couldn’t continue to garden in the same way we had been doing sparked a desire to try out new ways of doing things that didn’t require constant pampering,” she explains.

The garden was set up using a number of axes and focal points. A central path follows the contours of the slope of the hill, and other paths have developed from this. The garden is casual and unobtrusive; it sits in the landscape without making too much of an impact on its surrounds. “This is not a neat and tidy garden but we like to think it is an interesting one,” says Sarah. “It’s not pretty – we’ve tried to concentrate on form and texture rather than colour, opting for muted colours we think reflect the colours of the wider landscape.”

Appropriate plants
Choosing the right plants is important if you want to create a climate-compatible garden. Sarah recommends growing plants you find attractive and which suit the environment. “Select plants that are drought tolerant and which you like the look of,” she says. “Drought-tolerant gardens don’t have to be all spiky cacti if that doesn’t appeal to you.”

The correct soil and plant care is also vital. “Soil preparation is important, as is mulching, and I recommend that you try to ‘stress’ your plants,” she says. “Don’t water them the minute you see them start drooping. Instead, wait to see how far you can push them – basically, this is done to grow them tough!”

Interesting features
Sarah has incorporated Australian natives with climate-compatible exotics to great effect. Silver foliage plants are used extensively because they are tough, they tolerate drought and wind, and they are good at providing a contrasting colour in the garden. Large plantings of a number of succulent species, including cotyledon and graptoveria, are used for the year-round structure they contribute.

A number of native plants, including westringia, correa and rhagodia, are clipped into hedges to provide a formal look. Sarah has also hedged Grevillea olivacea, a plant she believes should be used more often. “It is quick-growing and makes a great drought-tolerant alternative to pittosporum,” she explains. “It responds well to pruning and can be used in very formal ways.”

Two large clipped cones of Grevillea ‘Winpara Gem’ form a centrepiece in the garden. To minimise run-off and to maximise water soaking into the soil, soft surfaces – including gravel, dirt and lawn – are used for all paths. Although this is a climate-compatible garden, it also includes some lawn. The kikuyu lawn survives on rainfall alone and, although it may brown off in summer, it quickly greens up after the rain.

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