Blank Canvas – Before and After

By Malcolm McPherson

As part of the COVID-19 times we asked volunteers about taking ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. This inspired Malcolm to tell his story – goals, struggles and challenges converting his concrete pad ‘front’ and ‘back’ yards into a native garden and native habitat.

At the end of the article there are some useful links to RFS – assest protection zones, creating a native garden in a fire prone areas and a guide to native plants to grow in fire prone areas within the Blue Mountains.

Creating a native habitat – great for pollinators. Photo: Malcolm McPherson

To read the full story click on the download.

When you buy a new house, the garden may not have been important to your decision. The garden may be well designed and maintained. If it is not to your taste, you can gradually change it. In my case, the garden was non-existent. It was a blank canvas. Worse than that, the front had been completely concreted over and at the back was a large expanse of concrete which had formed the slab for a large workshed and associated driveway. A large dog had trampled anything green. A significant area of that part of the backyard that was not under concrete was heavily shaded by neighbours’ deciduous trees.

Removing concrete is heavy work. I used a jackhammer, concrete saw and angle grinder for the first time in my life. You do not know what you will find under the concrete. If the original pour had been over fibro as happens sometimes in older buildings (see Caution note below), the cost of removal can be prohibitive. The soil beneath may have been filled or contaminated with material not conducive to plant growth. Bringing in some native soil mix is good insurance. Eight or ten centimetres is enough for the plants to become established.

Before, Beginning, During and After Photos – creating a native garden from a concrete pad.

When designing a garden it is always necessary to consider physical constraints such as powerlines and clotheslines. Planting prickly or spiky plants next to paths is best avoided!

There is always the temptation to choose plants that represent environments that we like. Tree ferns and other species that like a damp environment along stream banks are not going to survive on the top of the plateau where most of the older mountain town dwellings are located. Finding plants that live on the top of the plateau that can also tolerate shade was a challenge. It is not a common situation in nature in the mountains.

As with bushcare planting in denuded areas, planting is something of a gamble. Acacia terminalis is reputed to be a hardy colonising species, one that would seem to have been ideally suited to my bare garden. The few that have done well are in sheltered positions. Unlike bushcare locations, it is usually possible to keep up the water until plants are established. Until larger shrubs and trees are established, it is best to think of plant succession. In the beginning, it is about whatever grows. The end result may take some years to accomplish.

CAUTION:  Asbestos has been used in thousands of homes throughout Australia. It is most commonly found in fibro. In 2003, the manufacture and supply of asbestos was banned. If you suspect Asbestos on your property then the safest way to remove any quantity of asbestos is to get an appropriately licensed professional to come and do the work for you. SafeWork NSW has a list of licensed asbestos assessors on the SafeWork NSW website. For advice on removal, disposal, and transport of asbestos waste materials in NSW contact Office of Environment & Heritage Pollution Line on 131555 or your local council .View this Working safely with Asbestos around the home Fact Sheet

Useful Links:

Rural Fire Service

RFS – Standards for Asset Protection Zones

Blue Mountains City Council Guide: Best local native plants for use in bushfire prone locations