Reviewed by Rod McLary
Planting Australian native gardens was growing in popularity in the 1970s. However, there was an opposing school of thought which argued that native gardens were lacking in variety and attractiveness, and, what’s more, the plants looked as harsh as the environment from which they came. This perception – if it was ever true – was most likely brought about by the gardeners’ poor selection of plants and wrong placement of them rather than anything intrinsically wrong with the plants themselves.
Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. We are more aware of the ecology of plants and the need to select those which are indigenous to the environment into which they are to be planted. Similarly, the role of plants in encouraging and supporting bird, animal and insect life is far more acknowledged now than ever before.
Into this environment comes this book – habitat – whose sub-title quite aptly describes its purpose. The sub-title reads ‘a practical guide to creating a wild-life friendly Australian garden’. The key words are ‘practical’, ‘wild-life’ and ‘garden’.
The author AB Bishop – as she says in the Introduction – ‘lives in the bush’ with her partner on three acres in a 600-hectare area zoned ‘Special Use Zone 2’ by the Victorian Government. Quite rightly, she feels ‘spoiled’ by living in such a special environment which provides her with the opportunity to express in a very practical way her love for Australian native flora and fauna.
Supported by numerous beautiful photographs of the common and the not-so-common flora and fauna, the text of the book is simply and articulately written. Ms Bishop has an easy and friendly style of writing which engages the reader and urges her/him to share her enthusiasms.
The book is divided into two parts – Biodiversity for Life and Backyard Habitat. Each part is sub-divided into chapters – three and seven respectively. There are also, at the end of the book, sections with suggestions for further reading, acknowledgements and an extensive index.
The first chapter sets out the purpose of the ‘habitat garden’ – it is about the creatures which inhabit the garden. Ms Bishop encourages the reader to see plants from an entirely different perspective – habitat gardens are ‘designed and planted with the intention of attracting local fauna’ . But, for those who see the world through a wider lens, the habitat garden also plays an important role in protecting diversity and the health of the planet. There is also a personal benefit derived from such gardens. In the 1960s, German psychologist Erich Fromm coined the word ‘biophilia’ which in essence refers to the natural human tendency to connect with the natural world in order to sustain our own lives . We can see this in many new commercial buildings which incorporate in their structures vertical, courtyard and roof gardens. Other buildings such as hospitals and aged care facilities develop gardens in which the residents are actively encouraged to touch the plants and breathe in the perfumed air.
Part 1 concludes with a chapter on ‘the backyard ecosystem’ – thus bringing our focus down to own backyard [so to speak]. Starting from the soil up, the chapter examines on what can be done to create the habitat garden. With detailed and clear explanations, Ms Bishop sets out what needs to be done and who [or what] will benefit from this work.
Part 2 is about ‘plants for your habitat garden’ and considers in detail the role that plants play for animals and birds. This part also describes simple strategies such as allowing plants go to seed so that zebra finches will be attracted to your garden to complex strategies adopted by plants to protect themselves. Some plants can recognise the saliva of whatever is eating them and are able to release pheromones which will attract beneficial predators of that insect . The book abounds in such facts which are fascinating in themselves but also add a depth of purpose in developing the habitat garden.
In addition, there are lists of plants suitable for particular sites whether in the tropics, the sub-tropics or the Tasmanian highlands. Interestingly – and in keeping with the purpose of the book – plants are also described according to the purpose to which the plant is put by the birds and animals which frequent its branches. Some plants are for shade; some for shelter; and some are for socialising – who would have thought!
More seriously though, there is also a comprehensive plant directory which separates plants according to their potential height, their suitability for particular climatic regions; their requirements for sunlight; and their capacity for the production of nectar, fruit and seed.
Further chapters in Part 2 set out the particular requirements of the fauna – from earthworms to frogs to animals – which the habitat garden is intended to attract. Again, the detail provided by Ms Bishop will assist even the least ‘green-thumbed’ of her readers to achieve the desired outcome.
The penultimate chapter examines the design of a habitat garden and, for those who are encouraged to go further, a range of other projects is included. A case study is included and other case studies are included at the end of each chapter. Each of the case studies provides first-hand knowledge and experience about how to achieve the tasks set out in the relevant chapter.
As the sub-title to the book says, this is a ‘practical’ guide to building a habitat garden’. The book achieves its purpose with ease. It is a down-to-earth guide with the distinct advantage of being written by an author who not only knows what she is talking about but does so with an enthusiastic and easy writing style. It is a book not only for gardeners but those who would like to gain extensive knowledge about and an understanding of the plants and animals in our gardens and bush.
AB Bishop is a horticulturalist and a ‘garden trouble-shooter’. She is also a writer and has written for The Age newspaper and continues to write for the Gardening Australia magazine. Ms Bishop also works part-time in a native nursery where she is surrounded by thousands of native plants and like-minded people.
by AB Bishop
ISBN 978 176052 347 3
335 pp; $39.99