Wattle we do?

Weed out the fact from the fiction about this fast-growing Australian tree.

Last winter we planted three pohutukawa on the other side of our stream. They were tall and skinny (lucky things) and they were supposed to fill out and cover up the bank. Obviously they’re far more committed to diet and exercise than I am, because they’re still tall and skinny and have probably only grown 10cm upward since we put them in.

However, alongside and behind them have grown about 100 self-seeded wattles, which are already about 4m tall and 3m wide and doing a fine job of what the pohutukawa were meant to do.

At the risk of getting into serious trouble with every native tree enthusiast in the country, I like the wattles a whole heap better. However, wattles are regarded about the same as gorse and tobacco weed in our neck of the woods.

Think of it as the evergreen version of the albizia and you may be able to grow a guilt-free wattle.

The partner, who loved wattles when he lived in the South Island, has been indoctrinated by an eco-enthusiast mate and is now wanting to attack them with the chainsaw if he’s not watched.

My love of wattles also came from gardening in the deep south – the first tree I ever owned was a Black Wattle (acacia mearnsii), and when I found one growing wild in the garden here a few years ago I greeted it with open arms.

The partner was all for giving it the chop, but I ran a great defence – it was a beautiful, pyramid shape, it had just produced the first of its buttery yellow flowers and the birds and bees were loving it.

No doubt it is the parent of the hundred offspring now gracing our bank, although their parentage may stretch much further back, since Black Wattle seeds survive in the soil for more than 50 years. They germinate following seed disturbance, so a quick subtropical downpour is really enough to get them going.

In my view, the wattle has numerous good points quite apart from its incredible growth speed and good looks. It attracts birds and bees, and most wattles are not poisonous to humans or animals, a consideration where we live with our collection of pets from the SPCA.

This gorgeous weeping acacia was on display at last year’s stunning Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

Furthermore, there is a school of thought that the acacia may have been the “burning bush” of the Bible and the wood was used to construct the Ark of the Tabernacle.

Until recently, the world laid claim to about 1300 species of acacia worldwide – most of them native to Australia – but a few years ago taxonomists divided acacia into five individual genera and who can be bothered counting them all?

Fortunately, there are several wattles you can grow without risking ecological estrangement, depending where you live, of course. My mother in Dunedin grew the Ovens Wattle (acacia pravissima). It has unusual triangular leaves on a small, spreading tree and it’ll do the same fluffy yellow flowers in late winter/early spring as the common old Black Wattle.

The Sallow Wattle (acacia floribunda) is a bushy tree with many scented, yellow flowers. I’m keen to try this because I love fragrant trees. Apparently, it’ll grow 5m in five years in wet conditions and on coastal sites. How could you not love that?

The acacia baileyana (Cootamundra Wattle) has gorgeous blue-green foliage, the characteristic yellow flowers and is well-known as an ornamental tree. The winter flowers are great for bees and again, it’s unlikely to poison anyone. I came across a weeping version of this at the Melbourne Flower Show last year and I’m eagerly awaiting its availability in New Zealand.

This gorgeous weeping acacia was also on display at last year’s stunning Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

I’m also hanging out for the best invention ever – a pink wattle. A few years back a pink wattle, now called acacia terminalis (sunshine wattle), was found in Tasmania and seeds were collected. Attempts were made to bring it into cultivation but it’s taken a while and it was only in 2010 that a limited number of plants were released onto the Australian market.

Now there are three shades of pink, they flower in the third year and they are said to be absolutely spectacular. I haven’t come across the seeds in New Zealand yet, but if they don’t hurry, you may see me on Border Patrol.

Wood turners

If you’re short of an idea for something quirky to brighten up your garden spaces, check out the Christchurch Woodturners’ Association display at the 2013 Ellerslie International Flower Show in Christchurch in March. It’s the first time the association has exhibited at Ellerslie. It’s entered the Hort Galore category and members will have some of their best wood-turning pieces on display within the Alice’s Adventures in Woodland: After the Tea Party exhibit.

The display is an outdoor fantasy scene with a number of quirky elements and visual surprises for spectators. The setting is the corner of a country courtyard garden, where a Mad Hatter-style tea party has been held and all the participants have left.

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