Thursday, October 17, 2019


The mulberry waits

I haven't done a property post for a while, because it's looking grim out there. Nothing is growing. It's either dead, dying or hanging on for dear life. We didn't know it at the time, but when first moving to our property in 2007, it was at the end of a drought. The rain steadily picked up, year after year, until the massive Statewide flood in 2011. So it's fair to say, ALL our land management practises, revolved around some sort of wet season. But what about the dry?

The drying off period manifested itself from 2017, onwards. For 2017 was the last year, our main gully flooded. It has always been my guide for how the growing season will perform, and hasn't failed to be accurate in it's predictions. No flooding for (almost) two years now, and the landscape has become a tinderbox. Ripe for bushfire.


Despite the confronting reality of landscape, dying off, there is a valid purpose behind it all. For when something dies, something new emerges from it. I was contemplating this recently, when dealing with the remnants of death in the landscape. Namely, this acacia tree we felled, five years ago. It's a short lived species, and needed to be removed when disease made the branches weak.

The remnants remained in the yard (near the house) and knew it needed dealing with. Many consider burning large wood piles, but with such a widespread fuel load in our dry region, there comes a risk of starting a bushfire too. I wouldn't risk it now. But there was something I COULD do in the meantime, to help break it down quicker.

But first, a trip down memory lane:

January 2014

When the tree was in it's hey day, it helped shelter plants I had growing underneath. Especially this cycad (or sago palm). It established under the dappled shade, for many years. When we had to take the tree out, I had concerns for the cycad. Would it survive? Well, it did! But not without war wounds every summer. Like these scorched new fronds...


This was actually, last year's, emergent leaves. They were deep green at first. After receiving several 40+ temps (C) days, the damage was done. It happens every year. New, tender fronds, emerge from the centre. They eventually, end up fried too. The solution, would be a new tree. I have plans for that. But we're doing some landscape work and aren't sure, where the final lay of the land will be.

In the meantime though, the cycad's former guardian tree, had one final gift to offer...

Reunited again

I cut the branches into more manageable pieces, and dragged them to the cycad. Now instead of being protected from above, the trees' remains, can now protect the soil underneath. Any rain we do receive (even minimal amounts) will harbour life under the decaying branches. Meaning, life for the cycad to draw from. It will also halt any water coming down the slope, and eroding the soil away.

Now bushfire, is a very real threat - don't get me wrong. But the problem with removing all the combustible material, is when the rains eventually return - usually in large and fast quantities, it takes away the soil. When you live on slopes, like we do (our house is built on a slope) simply removing combustible materials, merely invites a different catastrophe to take place.

So land management in the dry, involves getting that vertical, woody material, down to the ground. It has a better chance of holding onto moisture, and being broken down by fungi, when in contact with the soil.

Different sizes

The thicker branches are laid on the slope, like a retaining wall. It protects the root-zone of a living plant - which is also holding the slope in place. This vital relationship between life and death, makes a struggling landscape, stay together. Because the natural cycle at present, is one of decline. Where many things are dying off. Therefore, it's important to use them, strategically, to protect what remains.

Mulch material

The smaller twiggy material and bark, is laid underneath. Protecting the soil from evaporation, but more importantly, providing the opportunity for fungi and micro-organisms to maintain a steady population. It's easy to see them working in a wet cycle, because you're constantly having to replace the mulch material, the micro-organisms consume. In a dry cycle though, they're much slower. But still performing their vital job of decay disposal.

You may be wondering, how do I know they're still present though? How can I tell?

Bird watching

All of nature is struggling for a meal, in the dry. But these brush turkeys, are particularly adept at finding moisture and micro-organisms, present in the soil. Which is why they're in the process of digging up my entire garden. Particularly, where I've laid woody material down.

It's their biological purpose, to seek out life in the soil. And it's my biological purpose to stop them uprooting my plants. Which is why...


...I've taken to putting more woody material down, to stop them! I know they're still going to find a way in, eventually. They're persistent like that, and I've got a lot of garden to cover. Plus the soil life, eventually breaks it down for the turkeys to move. But their tenacious digging, reminds me of two vital things I have to CONTINUE doing in the landscape:

  • Return new woody material to the soil, as micro-organisms successfully break down the old

  • Identify where I can make connections in the declining landscape, to preserve what remains

The tree has died, but the cycad keeps growing

Because the temptation in the decline seasons, is to see everything as following the trend of decline. When really, there's a vital thread of connection, which still needs identifying and maintaining. It's important. Because that's what creates the resilience for nature to bounce back, when the conditions are right again. Much faster, as well.

Instead of viewing our landscape, as a dry and desolate tinderbox, I'm looking for ways to join the relationships of living connections. Because that is what's going to hold our land together, and ultimately bring it back from the brink. Using everything that is already here. We've seen and managed the wet years. Now it is time to do the same, for the dry ones.

New fronds in the making

When paying close enough attention, you'll notice the potential for new life emerging. It's not always going to be about managing a cornucopia of abundance. Which makes it all the more important, to pay attention to where life is congregating in the decline. Then develop strategies to manage those areas better.

In permaculture terms, it's known as using the edges and valuing the marginal. As this is where the most life/energy/relationships will intersect, one another. Even in what's considered a barren area of production. So I encourage you to take another look at your dry and desolate garden. What IS thriving there? And are the animals using those areas, giving you hints on strategies for development?

I haven't finished evaluating our dry landscape strategies, especially in terms of bushfire mitigation. I'm contemplating new plant species, irrigation and how many native hardwoods we're going to carry on the land. Because the native species pop up like weeds. We need a long term management plan for those. So as you can see, there's still plenty to keep me busy in the garden, in the dry.

Are you in the process of making changes to how you garden, long term - due to any number of reasons?


  1. A very interesting post, I often comment we live in a dry part of the UK, but we still get enough rain to allow us to garden in a green and colourful way. I can't imagine the skills required to garden in your climate. We watch the bush fires on the news, the bigger ones are always reported, and thank every thing it is not an issue for us. I'm sure you will find the balance, you love you land it shows in your writing.

  2. I really do love our land. It's such a priviledge to have. Even in it's present state. I can tell you love your garden, in the UK too. We all work with what we've got, through the ups and downs. Hopefully coming through the other side, learning what we needed too. Gardens can teach us, a lot. :)

  3. The post speaks to me on so many levels, particularly on trying to find balance when facing contradictory gardening conditions. You are so right about the judicious use of woody and carbonaceous material to protect and nourish both plants and soil. And I agree that the key is diligent observation. Living ecosystems are constantly changing, making it impossible to form concrete solutions. We have to be part of the ecosystem by adapting with it.

    1. Those last two sentences, sums it up really. It's an evolving eco-system, which means our approaches have to be prepared to evolve too. What works one year, may not work the next - and so on. No wonder Elders were revered in times gone by. Because they had accumulated a great deal of experience between extremes, to adapt. It's much harder when starting from scratch.

  4. Chris, I hope you got some rain in the storm yesterday. We only got about 1mm here but we will take any bit of moisture and it was nice to see that Stanthorpe got more rain, You seem to manage your land down there so well. In our garden I put in more succulents in the dry weather. It will rain again sometime like our farmers keep saying :-)

    1. Thanks Chel. We did receive the tail end of the rain, with only minor hail. Both tanks are full now. Things are starting to green up again, but the ground water still needs a lot more to really get that growth cranking reliably. On the plus side, we haven't had to mow a great deal, lol. Succulents are a great idea. I'm having to lean on them more too.


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