Given the title of this post, you might think that I am going to tell you about another favourite children’s book. But no, I actually want to talk about these peculiar looking knobbly things which I spotted in a bowl in the kitchen the other day. I asked Karoline what they were and she told me they were gumnuts from the gum trees in the garden. She had collected some to see if they were ready to give up their seeds.
Australia has big problems with non-native plants that have been introduced and, away from their natural environment which keeps them in check, have spread like wildfire, choking out the native plants. The seeds of gum trees are very fine, those little hair like things that you can see around the gumnuts, and it’s difficult for them to penetrate the thick European grass to implant in the soil. Karoline and Peter collect seeds from their gum trees and give them to volunteers who grow them in plant pots. The resulting seedlings are returned to Karoline and Peter for them to sell locally. It’s cheaper than buying young gum trees from a nursery and the added advantage is that these seedlings are ideally suited for the local soil. Because not only are there hundreds of species of gum trees, but even within species there are genetic variations which means that seedlings from local trees will fare much better than seedlings from the same species of tree from another area of Australia.
As well as being involved in this tree planting scheme, Karoline is also a member of the local Landcare Group. There are Landcare Groups all over Australia, run by ordinary members of the community who care about the local environment. Karoline’s group recently received funding to help clear the blackberry bushes from an area of land along the creek. This is because blackberry bushes, an entirely inoffensive, even welcome addition to a British garden, are a scourge in Australia. They spread rapidly over large areas forming impenetrable thorny thickets which wreak havoc on native vegetation. The term blackberrying here does not mean picking some delicious fruits to make jam, it means tearing out and destroying blackberry bushes. That’s right. In Australia blackberries are evil. It takes some getting used to.
Karoline told me, and I believe that she’s right, that the area where she and Peter live has benefited from the arrival of humans. They’ve reintroduced native vegetation, removed weeds and generally made sure that the land is at its best. The one bit of inadvertent disruption they have caused, through building dams to provide the properties with water, is an increase in the population of wild kangaroos which now have a plentiful supply of water to drink.