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Into Horticulture

Issue 3   June 2011

Biochar and earthworms get along
Researchers have found that lack of moisture when dry biochar was incorporated into soil caused unwanted effects on earthworms. This suggests that when biochar is used in the field, pre-wetting or immediate irrigation after incorporation may be may be necessary. Fortunately, biochar was found to have no effect on the reproduction or immune systems of earthworms studied. Source: Study Finds Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy May Be Safe for Soil Animals

Eucalyptus genome holds potential for new, better forestry crops The complete genetic sequence (about 640 million DNA base pairs) of Eucalyptus grandis has been published. It took more than 130 researchers four years to complete the project. It's hoped that the information will facilitate the breeding of forestry trees suited to production of wood, paper, biofuels or other bioproducts, or with other desirable characteristics. Source: Eucalyptus tree genome deciphered

Natural disease suppression a complex process
Scientists from Dutch and American laboratories have found 17 microorganisms working together in soil from a sugar beet field that suppresses the root pathogen Rhizoctonia solani. This relationship, discovered with the help of DNA technology, is much more complex than found in past studies of disease-suppressive soils. The plant also plays its part by releasing food for the microbes through its roots. Source: It Takes a Community of Soil Microbes to Protect Plants From Disease

Climate key to cactus diversity
Genomic analysis suggests that while the Cactus family probably emerged some 35 million years ago, rapid diversification did not occur until between 5 and 10 million years ago. This coincides with major periods of speciation in other succulents around the world, suggesting a major change in global climate at that time. The scientists think that a drop in temperature (indicated by other studies) led to reduced rainfall. It is also possible that a drop in atmospheric CO2 may have also given the succulents a competitive advantage. Tropical grasses with the C4 mode of photosynthesis also expanded at this time. Source: Succulent plants waited for cool, dry Earth to make their mark

Leaf venation a limit to growth
A study of fossil leaves suggest that an increase in the number of veins per unit area of leaf may have increased the efficiency of water movement through plants and made the first rainforest giants possible. Source: First rainforests arose when plants solved plumbing problem

New Qld sweet potatoes to revolutionise market
Queensland scientists are working on new sweet potato varieties with new colours and flavours, enhanced nutritional content and a fatter and more consistent shape. Vigour and resistance to pests and diseases will also be sought-after features. Currently, the orange 'Beauregard' variety makes up 95% of Australian production. Purple and white varieties are also sold, but the season is short. The Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation expects their new sweet potatoes to become available in marketplace in the next couple of years. Source: How sweet it is - the science of sweetpotato

Biodegradable pots research
An American study which looked at strength, water loss and decomposition of plant containers made from various types of biodegradable materials shows that for successful use in nursery production, choice of pot will depend on the type of plants and conditions under which they are being grown. Media release including link to the HortTechnology journal article here: New information provides sustainable options for greenhouse operations

Tannins could be a problem in hotter drier climates
A U.S. study has shown that under hot, drought-like conditions, red maple leaves accumulate tannins that interfere with enzymes in soil. When such leaves fall, they could impair decomposition, nutrient cycling, and subsequent plant growth. Source: Drought-exposed leaves adversely affect soil nutrients, study shows

Study examines relationship of children to plants
A Finnish study suggests that "horticultural interventions" could assist urban children establish a relationship with plants and the environment, and that access to natural areas enables play such as building huts and climbing trees. Girls were generally more interested in plants and had a greater appreciation of their beauty, while the boy's attitude toward plants was more utilitarian. Sources: Researchers say children need horticultural interventions and Children's Relationship to Plants among Primary School Children in Finland: Comparisons by Location and Gender
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Feature Article

Making and Keeping Garden Inventories - A Vital Part of Garden History

by Dr Michael Simpson

Most people enjoy visiting a well prepared private or public garden. Very few understand or appreciate that cataloguing the garden from each bulb and groundcover to the largest tree is vital to a garden's long-term existence and value.

There are so few references for Queensland's gardening heritage, it's as though there was no Australia north of the Tweed. We go further to say that the lack of accessable records has made it easy to sweep aside Queensland historic gardens and landscapes.

In order to give future researchers valuable material, existing public and private gardens should have inventories, plans and photographs collated and published in as many formats as possible.

My original motivation for keeping an inventory of our garden at "The Shambles" (available at was to record the successes and failures among plant species, to assist with maintenance and as a basis for further research in garden books, magazines and nursery catalogues.

We have found that many "old fashioned" colourful ornamentals in our garden are found in the 1875 and 1885 Brisbane Botanical Garden Catalogue as well as in earlier nursery catalogues.

In our book "Australian Gardens Making History, the Vital Role of Making and Keeping Garden Inventories" we have attempted to verify the heritage credentials of many common garden plants by consulting such sources.

It would appear that early Queensland gardens contained a wide variety of colourful and exotic plants collected in a far more adventurous spirit than today. The genetic material from surviving gardens is a precious resource.

Kyleigh & Michael Simpson own "The Shambles" at Montville and have produced a number of books and DVDs about their garden and heritage plants. Visit The Shambles website for more information.

Featured Plant

Starting in the next issue, the featured plant spot will give an overview of something interesting, unusual or underused. Get in touch if there's something particular you would like to see profiled.

International Trends

A theme that seems to have been popping up a lot lately is the idea that non-native species aren't necessarily bad. This would appear to result from recent comments by some ecologists in the journal Nature, which suggest that a "nativism" ideology has often gotten in the way of a more scientific assessment of alien species and the beneficial roles they might be playing in ecosystems. (Media release here: Ecology biased against non-native species?. Restricted access article here: Don't judge species on their origins). Perhaps a more pragmatic attitude to non-native species might stop gardeners being denied (whether by guilt or actual legislation) attractive and easy-to-grow plants because those species caused a perceived problem in certain localities or even because they might cause such a problem in the future.

Meanwhile, many look to big garden shows like Chelsea to spot trends, but one wonders to what extent the exhibitors are trend setters or trend followers. The much-talked about Irish Sky Garden would appear to be simply the interest in veetical and rooftop gardens taken to an extreme. Nevertheless, if you'd like to check out the scene at Chelsea this year, there is still extensive coverage online even though the show is now over. For pictures, videos and commentary, visit:
RHS Chelsea Flower Show Official website, Royal Horticultural Society
Chelsea Flower Show The Telegraph newspaper, UK
The RHS Chelsea Flower at the BBC website

The "Grow Your Own" trend has been talked about for a while now, but for many, the backyard vegetable patch might soon represent the difference between eating and not eating, even here in "The Lucky Country":
Families forced to steal food The Daily Telegraph

Editorial - Growing Gardening (Part Two)

The last edition of this newsletter discussed the declining interest in gardening in Australia and some of the likely reasons for it. If you work in the nursery and garden industry, or if you recognise the many benefits to individuals and society that gardening (both private and municipal) can bring, you have a responsibility to help fight the decline.

So, what can be done to "grow" gardening?

Provide inspiration - Put that little extra effort into your front yard or business premises. Raise the standard.

Share your knowledge - It might sound obvious, but are you taking advantage of every opportunity to pass on the things you've learned to family and friends, especially the young ones? Perhaps you have gardening books or spare tools you can pass on, too.*

Take an interest, praise their efforts - Why not let a stranger know how nice their garden looks as you pass by?

Spruik - Remind your neighbours what landscaping could do for their property price or time on market (quite altruistically, of course).

Get political - Let your government representatives know about the economic benefits of both private and public gardens and attractive streescaping (from local employment in nurseries to the potential for international garden tourism). Ask candidates what they will do for parks and gardens if elected. Vote for the candidates that recognise the importance of parks and gardens.

Be community minded - Contact council and ask for street trees to be planted in your nature strip. Alert authorities to weeds or tree vandalism on public land. Support garden clubs and community gardening efforts, in whatever way you can.

Give gardening gifts - There are items to suit all levels of experience, all types of accommodation and all manner of celebrations (for more specific ideas go to Garden Gift Ideas. Besides introducing new players to gardening, it also helps support the industry in the short term.

More thoughts for nurseries, garden centres and other garden businesses:

Advertising and marketing is important to your own business, but you're also doing your part for the industry as a whole by keeping gardening in front of the public and reminding them that it's an important and worthwhile activity.

Another consideration is whether you're making it as easy as possible for the potential customer to find out information about products (growers, manufactures) and where they can buy them (retailers). If someone has seen something they want to purchase, all but the most highly motivated will give up if they need to hire a private detective to find out where to buy one. A properly designed website with attention paid to search engine optimisation (SEO) and online marketing would be a starting point in this day and age, but traditional media, even TV, may also be an option if your budget extends that far.

Technical information including video can be made available to a wide audience at small cost via the internet these days. Why not print your URL on the plant label, leading customers to more cultural information and landscaping ideas available on your website? Besides helping the customer, it makes you look authoritative and you can cross-promote other lines.

There may be opportunities for professionals to share their knowledge, and promote their own businesses along the way, via articles in local publications or talks and demonstrations at various community events. On the other hand, you might bring the public into your business by making space available to clubs or charity events (not necessarily garden-related organisations) where they can see your stock and/or display gardens. Could you offer some of your products or services as a prize for a charity raffle?

In conclusion...

Any one of the above suggestions, taken in isolation, might not have a huge effect on the public perception of gardening, but a culture is the cumulative effect of thousands of small interactions. Meanwhile, get out there and enjoy your own garden!

* P.S. And if you think this newsletter might help someone, please let them know about it.
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