Ep.3 Native Landscaping - Ben Sims (Plants Grow Here, Ben's Gardens & LIAWA)

You're on the plants grow here podcast. I'm Daniel Fuller. Come along with me as we enter a hidden world of deep horticultural, ecological and landscape gardening knowledge with featured experts, industry professionals, and enthusiasts. In landscaping, the term native plants is thrown around quite a lot. And today we're going to learn a little bit more about what that actually means. Our guest is the other half of the plants grow hair podcast, my business partner, Ben Sims, who's the owner of Ben's gardens in Perth, and also a board member for the landscape Industry Association of Western Australia. Thanks for coming on the show. Ben. What exactly are native plants?
Well, native plants are plants that grow naturally in a specific area. They are sometimes only found in that particular area, or they can be more widespread such as across a whole continent like Australia, maybe say in the southern half. For example, some plants have a really wide distribution range, other plants have only endemic to an extremely small area. So such as an awkward or something like that they can be literally only found in an area that say 100 meters by 100 meters because they require the right soil the right climate and only that pollinator could be found in that area, for example.
So why should we landscape with native plants,
I native plants a great to landscape with provided they can suit the needs of the garden designer or the DIY person designing the garden, because in some cases, they can be put straight into the soil type that you've got it so you don't need to go to the nursery and buy bags of soil improver. That's not always the case. Sometimes it's better to use a bit of soil improvement. It just depends on the plant that we're talking about. But why do you use them? Because in the case of wi we've got the best native plants on the planet, so why not? It's a real question.
What benefit do native plants have over exotic plants,
native plants are much happier in general, apart from if we're talking weeds with exotics. But to grow in the environment that you've got at your particular garden, they generally more water wise because they're suited to the soil, the climate and everything. And in the case of wi natives, I daresay that you will get a lot more diversity of flowers and the shapes of the flowers, the colors of the flowers, the types of the flowers because there's something like 12,000 or more native Western Australian plants and you can literally choose 1000s if you want to grow them in your home garden,
insects can be incredibly beneficial in the garden. And I think that we don't really have a whole lot of time to go into this topic that might be for another episode. But what are some of the ways that we can encourage insects to get into our garden?
Good question, Daniel. Basically, a good place to start is using plants that you know and you won't know unless you read books, but say plants like from the mint family typically have very, very good insect attracting flowers. And there are many natives like that such as western India and plants like that will attract beneficial insects to your garden and some of them are very beautiful like the blue banded bee and who I don't know if you have that over there, but that's an absolute sight to see in the garden and that's so much interest so yeah, in a nutshell just planting the the right plants with the right flowers.
Well, how about birds? Are they attracted to the same sorts of flowers that insects saw? How do we get birds into the garden?
Generally bird attracting fails. insect attracting flowers are different but sometimes they attract both birds typically like the color red, so a lot of bird attracting fires are red. They also are attracted to other colored flowers. But red is a very good place to start. So a lot of grevilleas have red flowers. The temple tiny red chooser has a red flower. I could go on but I don't know whether it's because birds can just see red better or what it is, but they like red flowers and they also like nectar. So sometimes birds are also after insects. So that ties in with the question you asked before some birds insectivorous so they will go after the insects in your garden. So any native plant can generally attract some sort of bird, whether it's an insect eating bird or a nectar eating bird.
Some people say that native gardens can look a little bit scrappy and a little bit rowdy. What's your response to that? Do you think that that's true?
It just depends on the level of design and creativity used in the selection of the native plants. And then it also depends on the irrigation setup or the amount of water the plants get. And then it also depends on the on the pruning and whatnot, because that's very important to keep some native plants looking their best. So yes, they can. But if it's done with the right advice, and there's plenty of advice on the bends gardens web page on the blogs, there's at least 40 blogs talking about this. If you have Follow those tips, then you'll have no troubles at all keeping your native garden looking amazing, or creating an amazing native garden because there's a ton of really, really good information there.
I mean, it certainly wouldn't be true to say that exotic plants are maintenance free. I mean, that's just ridiculous. So what's your response to the claim that native gardens are harder to maintain than exotic ones?
It's simply not true. It's more of a plant selection issue and a maintenance issue really, and also an irrigation issue. Because if plants are stressed and not watered well enough, they're going to get a lot more worrying, and not be as lush and not going to look unattractive. So yes, exotic plants have been bred for a lot longer to be able to grow in gardens. But then there's a lot of native plants that do beautifully in gardens and outperform exotics, because they're not so stressed due to the needing as much water and nutrient and that sort of thing. So and they and they won't have as much pest disease issues, either if they're not as stressed, because that's a secondary problem, usually of water or nutrient stress.
What do you recommend some of the best places our listeners can go to find inspiration for their very own native garden?
The best place to start? Because there's so many different people contributing so many different ideas, as Pinterest is literally 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of photos on there from all over the world. Yes. So that's fantastic. And it's very visual, it's very easy to just quickly navigate through them. So I would say Pinterest is where I look. And also other professionals in the, in the native sort of garden industry type businesses look when they've sort of run out of ideas.
Okay, Pinterest, that's a pretty good recommendation. And there are many landscape gardeners out there who are actually doing the native landscapes, or is that something that our listeners are going to need to get more of a specialized landscape to help them out with?
When I started my business nearly seven years ago, there was a lot less there was still some that are good. And but there were a few and far between, there's more people having a go at it. And it's getting better and better as a whole, which is really good. Competition is great having high standards in that if God and design is fantastic, because it raises the customer's interest in it as well. And it's traded more professionally. So customers are willing to spend more on Native gardens, I think going back nearly seven years. They traded it as a low cost cheap way to install a garden. But now it's looked at as a high like it's used a lot in high end homes as well. So it's definitely shook that budget sort of tag, which is great, because you can now really design some nice native gardens and not be too constrained by budget.
And how about designers? There are many landscape designers out there who are focusing on the native landscapes. Yeah,
there are over here, Sue tolac, from wild about gardens does a great job. She's been doing it for the best part of 20 years. She's fantastic. So she comes to mind when it comes to native garden design. Other designers can do it some conduct really well. Others sort of stick to the basics a bit too much their overall design is good. But in my opinion, they're not testing themselves enough with the plant palette and the selection. And Matthew lon car of the nursery industry keeps talking about this. He really wishes people would push the limits more with the design side of things with plants. It's a bit lacking in some designs over here, on an obit over in Victoria. So But to answer your question, there are some but Sue is probably the one that comes to mind and not not that there's not others. But she specializes in that. So that's why she comes to mind.
Well, I heard that there are a lot of up and coming landscape is out there whose ears are perking up right now. And they're thinking, Oh, hello, there might be a little bit of a niche there for me to get into.
Absolutely. It's definitely not crowded at all. As far as doing things at a higher level.
What are some of the areas for improvement that you notice on a regular basis coming from some of the DIY gardens that you see,
the biggest mistake that any DIY gardener will do is just start choosing just one of each plant. But then the other thing I don't like is when the professionals and the professional designers just to block planting, because it looks artificial. It looks it looks like it doesn't look natural at all. So what I try and do is a mixture of the two but obviously not one of everything, but you know, blended in a bit more of it like what you see at Kings Park, but I'd probably have a little more repetition just so it looks a little bit more designing sometimes it just depends on what the client wants. But yeah, not one of everything that that just is quite hard on the eye. It just makes it easier on the eye if you have some some repetition and some blocks, but I like to sort of also have some nice layers and some variation as well to make it look natural.
Can you please describe in a little bit more detail what exactly you're talking about when you talk about some of those layers and the differentiation.
So a lot of landscapers and designers will go to a big wholesaler and choose all their plants just off that list. Whereas what I like to do is go to 345 nurseries if I have to. I know I could make a lot more money if I didn't. But I think overall the end result with the diversity of the plants that you've got to use will be worth it. Create a really, really nice garden that both you and the customers happy with. So yeah, that's what I'm trying to get out there. And just using more than just say, three, four or five plates in the design, why not push it to 10 1520? You know, there's plenty of room for it. And it looks a lot better anyway, in my opinion, but everyone has a different style.
What's your favorite reticulation setup for native plants?
I think native plants really, really lend themselves to correctly installed drip irrigation system. I like to spiral around the plants. Because over here our souls are Sandy and the rail method. I find it can work if you're using the right Jeff lon, but I like to get more emitters around each plant just to help them establish better and to reduce the need for hand watering. But there's more than one way to skin a cat. So yeah, that's my favorite reticulation setup for natives. It's not the only one, but it just vastly reduces the need for hand watering.
So why would the drip irrigation be more advantageous than if our listeners were to just go out and grab a sprinkler and just chuck it on their garden,
because there's a lot of water that doesn't land around the root zone, there's a lot of water that lands off target and there's a lot more evaporation because it's hitting above the might be landing on top of Marsh and then just evaporating off straightaway. Whereas drip irrigation will be under the mouse. So for that water to evaporate, it's got to evaporate through the mouse, but the mouse is already there to prevent evaporation so that water will naturally go down into the soil and yeah, get down to the root zone where you need it is essentially wire.
So you'll from Perth in Western Australia in the soil around your area is sort of known to be a little bit godless, meaning that it's very sandy soil and the water and nutrients don't tend to stick around in the soil they just tend to drain straight through. Do you recommend any soil preparation when it comes to planting natives?
Yeah, definitely. And in some cases, for sure, especially if it's not on an irrigation system. So it's only getting hand watering. And not that often. Absolutely. So products like terracotta or Bailey's so matters with soil solver. A really good, it just depends, I really don't want to change the properties of the soil too much. And I want to keep that Sandy type consistency, I'll use terracotta because it's a Hydra joke with a few additives. And that doesn't actually change the properties of the soil at all. It just increases the water holding ability and adds a bit of nutrient. So yeah, it really depends on the identity. It depends on the type of plate you're trying to use, and how often it's getting water and how it's getting water.
Are there any groups out there that our listeners can join? Maybe they're looking to meet some like minded people and learn a little bit more about those native plants?
Absolutely. A fantastic group that I joined back in 2013 was the wild fast society and we have monthly meetings and it's extremely informative. There's been fantastic lectures or speakers such as Alex George, the world famous botanist that specializes in bankss, Hans Lammers, the survival expert, Bob Cooper, talking about bush talker and how to survive on plants in the bush. There's some of the highlights for me, Adam Krause talking about carnivorous plants was excellent. You just saw to take it for granted over the years, how many amazing speakers that you get to see each month and it's something I never miss. And I've basically kept that up for seven years.
A lot of our listeners are going to be on social media and I reckon their social media is a pretty great way to slowly initiate yourself into some of the finer plant details over time. Are there any social media accounts that you personally recommend that our listeners follow?
Absolutely, as someone that that's that comes to mind is Angus Stewart. And I remember listening to Angus or sorry, watching Angus on gardening, Australia A long time ago for quite a long time and just loving the way he presented native plants. So he now is on Facebook, gardening with Angus, I believe. And he's got a great website called gardening with Angus. And he's absolutely fantastic. And Angus, if you're listening, we would love to have you on the show. I know you're very busy. But we would absolutely love for you to come on and share your knowledge because yeah, he's been doing all sorts of things. I believe he did first class honors at Sydney Uni and was into kangaroo paw breeding. I don't know if he was doing it back then. But he's done a lot of that. He's worked with some of the some of the best people out there. And Kate sharing his knowledge and keeps keeps learning. Yeah. So sort of interesting. Yeah. Really, really good. So I definitely follow Angus. He's definitely the best Oregon.
Yeah, we'd love to get Angus on the show. Even if we don't end up getting him on the show. We definitely recommend our listeners to follow some of his stuff on social media and elsewhere. And we'll make sure we drop some links in the show notes. If you're interested. Are there any others?
Well, yeah, you're if you want to jump on the Ben's gardens website and there's blogs there there's about 40 of them and it's a lot of wi focus knowledge. So if you want to learn about Western Australia, wildflowers and how to grow them in your garden. Yeah, listen, and there are even a lot of people even growing them in Tasmania and states like Victoria and property shore, South Australia just about everywhere. So yay. Just follow some of the information that I've put up there and and have it go really because yeah, there's it's all about experimenting, just have a go and if it doesn't work just try something else.
Yeah, that's it mate. And if you're going from seeds, it can be really quite cheap.
Yeah, it depends on your success right state seeds can be extremely stubborn at times and can really push your patients.
Right I say direction that seeds too much trouble
discouraging cut at all. definitely have a go at seeds. Just be aware that seeds have a dormancy factor or a germination inhibitor sometimes, and you've got to understand what that is. A fantastic example is condoms. And Richard, if you're listening, we'd love to get you on and talk about condoms because in Perth, I don't know anyone who knows more than Richard and he's a great speaker when it comes to that. But yeah, he's managed to successfully find a way to crack the code on quantum germination and he successfully grows them by the truckload. He's very good at it. But that's just one example of something that a lot of people struggled with and he's overcome it. Other plants. Yes, like peas and stuff. They've got a hard suit coat. So you either need to scratch it or boil the seed and then they'll germinate other plants like kangaroo paws. David talked about smoke water in the volunteer episode about Red Seal. So smoke quarter will help many things germinate. So on wi natives, especially that have evolved with fire, then, yeah, definitely try smoke water. It's not that expensive. And if it doesn't, it's not going to hurt them. So it can only help them or not do anything. So yeah, there's quite a lot. Angus has got a fantastic book that I've read for the second time. And he's actually got me out there doing a lot of cuttings and suits. So well done. Angus, your books very convincing cold, let's propagate. That's a fantastic book. And he talks about cuttings, division and seed. And it's extremely comprehensive, but anyone could understand it. Or if you have a little bit of trouble, send me an email, and I can talk plant and decode anything you might not understand.
Yep. And there will be a nice little link down there in the show notes. As I said previously,
yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Because that will give you a lot more confidence, because that's where I learned because I'm, I'm a bit of a rookie when it comes to propagation.
That's it. Yep. He said it, Ben, just get out there and have a go, guys. And if you fail, just try again. Thanks for coming on the show, Ben. I hope our listeners have learned a lot about Native landscaping. And I definitely recommend everyone to get out there and learn a little bit more about the topic through some of the resources that we've talked about. And also source your own resources and let us know on social media, some of your favorite places to get info.
Absolutely. Thanks for having me down. And then please check out the Ben's gardens website under the blog section because there's a lot of information that we get a lot out of
check the show notes for that one, folks. So that was been the other half of plants grow here. He mainly works in the background, but he will be coming on from time to time to help us explain some of the basic topics of working with plants. We're both curious to know some of your favorite native plants. Let us know on social media at plants grow here on Twitter, and on our Facebook group which is also in the show notes.

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