Aabandoned by humans, uninhabitable, a typical Melbourne suburban house sinks into a swamp – possibly caused by flooding or rising sea levels. A wild tangle of vegetation creeps around and above the built structures, a forest of self-seeding garden escapees.
Or that’s the plan, anyway. At this point, the exhibit is not so much a garden as a construction site from a builder’s anxious dream. On March 31 it will be ready for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show at Carlton Gardens. The installation, titled Coming Soon, is a showcase garden by Akas Landscape Architecture and Nrth Landscapes, exploring a possible future for Melbourne’s suburban yards.
The corner, and only the corner, of a wooden plank house leans casually over a pile of bluestone rubble – volcanic basalt, the characteristic bedrock of Melbourne’s lava plains to the west and north . Over the next week, hundreds of potted trees, shrubs and herbs will be moved, hidden under soil and mulch to suggest a garden abandoned for decades.
The exhibition was scheduled for the 2020 show, then delayed twice due to Covid-19. Still, it looks eerily similar to footage of Queensland’s recent devastating floods – close enough for another exhibitor to call it “a bit tacky, considering what’s going on”.
“Well, I think it’s in very bad taste for the government not to act on climate change”, declares the co-director of Akas, Alistair Kirkpatrick, with a touch of acuity. He is joined by another co-director, Anthony Sharples.
So which plants did they choose as likely survivors of a climate catastrophe that is forcing humans to flee?
“A lot of the plants we have there are already heavily used garden plants, which was intentional,” says Sharples. “native, indigenous [native to the Melbourne region] and exotic plants – we wanted to use all three. If the landscape is left to itself, the plant will constitute a new ecology. We’re going to have so many escape houseplants, and so many different types of plants that intertwine. All the plants we chose, we saw growing in abandoned gardens in Melbourne.
Trees like silver dollar gum (Cinated Eucalyptus), gingko (ginkgo biloba) and coastal tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) will be piled thick on typical council-approved shrubs and grasses like lomandra (Long-leaved Lomandra) and miscanthus (Miscanthus oligostachyus). The heaviest shade will provide shelter for the Soft Carpet Bugler (Ajuga reptans) and native Australian violets (Viola hederacea). And there are a handful of old-school favorites like Ginger Lily (Hedychium gardnerianum) and lamb’s ears (Byzantine Stachys).
Kirkpatrick suggests that the distinction between “native” and “introduced” plants might not always stand up to close scientific scrutiny.
“Dr. Angela Moles did this amazing study on Arctotheca calendula [cape dandelion], a South African weed. She discovered that it was so genetically different from its South African counterpart that, from a scientific point of view, it was actually a native Australian species. So I think we have to go beyond that binary.
Meanwhile, Nrth Landscaping completes construction of the new old house, a process that involved some creative problem solving.
To create the peeling paint effect, landscaper Ryan Parker smeared new boards with slippery lanolin, then painted without waiting for them to dry between coats — something you’re not supposed to do. On the roof, carpenter Danny drives rusty roofing nails at deliberately odd angles.
The result is strangely decrepit.
“We just bought all these materials in the name of sustainability, so we’re contradicting each other a bit, but as long as they can be hacked and [we can] start over in a way that can be uncovered, unpacked and taken somewhere…” Parker shrugs.
In fact, the siding is one of the few things purchased new for the project, with the house’s corrugated iron roof and sash window salvaged.
As sustainable gardens become more popular, customers are more open to recycled materials and prefer less tightly controlled aesthetics.
“A lot of people will say they want to go out into their garden, they want it to feel like their own little oasis and to feel overgrown,” says Sharples.
But it’s a difficult balancing act: when sustainability is fashionable, it risks being reduced to an aesthetic. What can gardeners do to ensure that sustainability is more than a mood?
Sharples’ answer is immediate: Build a pond.
“Water is the heart of the garden. It keeps the space cool. It brings animals and biodiversity into the garden. And it’s so relaxing to sit next to a pond.
What about tenants and people living in small spaces? Is it possible for me to have a water feature on my small balcony I ask?
“Yes absolutely!” said Sharples. Any large, wide-mouthed container that holds water, he says, can be a pond, as long as it’s big enough for fish (to keep mosquito larvae away) and aquatic plants (to keep fish in). happy). But even a simple birdbath can be a lifesaver for native birds and bees in hot weather.
Also, he adds, don’t assume that a native animal will always choose a native plant. Australian ecosystems have changed rapidly; an introduced plant could now provide an essential resource for native animals, particularly if native food sources or nesting sites have diminished. Dense shrubs are especially important for small native birds.
Ultimately, the team hopes the exhibit will inspire people to build not just fish ponds, but political momentum as well.
“If we don’t act on climate change immediately,” says Kirkpatrick, “this is what will happen soon.”
“And the world will be fine. But we won’t.