Garden inspiration: a Mount Kembla rainforest garden

There are so many ways to grow and appreciate the indigenous plants of the Illawarra. They can be incorporated into edible gardens, mixed in with exotics in garden beds and borders, grown as lawns, or used as feature plants. 

The garden shown here uses local native plants, and a small number of other species, to create leafy outdoor spaces. As well as being visually delightful, this garden was designed by its creator Philip Zylstra to use rainforest plants that are more suitable in areas of high fire risk than eucalypts or acacias.

The garden features local native plants, with an open space designed to allowing people to socialise and enjoy the surrounding vegetation.
Growing on deep rich soils in the Mount Kembla area, the plants in this garden are doing extraordinarily well, surviving the difficult summer of 2019-20 and powering on since then. Plants that might, in Towradgi or Port Kembla, look a bit scrappy, are lush and sleek in this context. 

Luscious Downy Ground Fern (Hypolepis glandulifera) is surprisingly tough and sun-tolerant for a fern, and can be used to shade smaller seedlings during the hot dry summer months. 

The reddish new growth on the plant in the centre of this picture makes a striking contrast with the range of greens of the surrounding foliage. The central plant is Brush Pepperberry (Tasmannia insipida).

So much going on, up to and including a young Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), all framed by some stunning Wollongong Woollybutts (Eucalyptus saligna x. botryoides) in the background!

Here are some of Philip's own words and images showing the progression of this beautiful garden over the last couple of years. 
April 2019: You can see the general design of the area and the beds as I expand them. Watch the young Pencil Cedar (Polyscias murrayi) near the centre of the left-hand bed as the garden ages.

April 2020. I’ve expanded the bed in the foreground and added a path along with an Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius)Soft Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica) against the fence, and a series of Cheese Trees (Glochidion ferdinandi)Scentless Rosewood (Synoum glandulosumand Sassafras (Doryphora sassafras) trees.

October 2021. A lot of growth has happened in the foreground beds, and I’ve added some more structure with stone steps. The mid-storey trees are much larger now, and the Polyscias murrayi has grown from 1m to 6.5m in 2.5 years.

It's inspiring to see what has been achieved in this garden over just a few years. The ideas here could be used in gardens across the region, providing a huge range of benefits, from aesthetic charm, to retaining local ecosystems, attracting local wildlife, and cooling urban areas. 

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