My Garden

by Fred Moody

I purchased my new home at North Rocks in mid 1976. It featured a northerly aspect and was situated on a 800 sq metre block containing 7 large gum trees (mostly in the front garden) and was basically a ‘bush block’. Being in the Hills Shire where tree preservation orders abound, this presented somewhat of a problem and so I initially worked with the block designing an Australian themed garden with Grevillias and other native plants. I had purchased around 50 grevillea species (and hybrids) most of which seemed to thrive with regular watering and pruning by both myself and the local parrots (kings, rosellas and rainbow lorikeets).


Paths were constructed using bush rock and retaining walls built using old railway sleepers (both major mistakes),which were later replaced as it was difficult to negotiate the uneven terrain of bush rock paving and the local termites enjoyed feasting on the retaining wall. As a member of the Australian army at that time, I was posted to a position which kept me away from home for lengthy periods allowing the grevilleas to go feral and unfortunately when I was at home they did not respond at all well to a serious pruning and as a result many “went to God” as the saying goes.


By 1979 I began collecting all sorts of tropical exotics and built the conservatory to form part of the front of the house and this structure is still there today. Later in 1979 I succumbed to family pressures to install a swimming pool(another mistake). The Family agreed to a swimming pool that would be temporary so I excavated and erected an 8 metre long keyhole shaped above ground pool which was removed in 1991 and this is where the 6 metre diameter hexagonal deck stands today. Some of my early plantings namely the Alexander palm (A. alexandrae), Solitaire palm (Ptychosperma elegans) and “coin spot tree fern” (Cyathea cooperi) still stand today and these plants were planted in the late 1970’s. Whilst all grew well, I was soon to learn that Cyathea ferns and swimming pools are not a good mix as these ferns release masses of spore on hot days and block the pool filter.


Just when we were settling in, the army hierarchy decided that I should go to Papua New Guinea (the home of truly tropical plants). During 1982/’83 I was posted to  defence advisor position in Port Moresby with occasional travelling to Lae and Mendi in the Southern Highlands. It was whilst in PNG that I rediscovered a desire for all things tropical, having made numerous visits to the Port Moresby Botanical Garden. On my return to Sydney I proceeded to launch myself “full on”  into a tropical garden. Thirsty gum trees disappeared one by one (and other Australian rainforest trees took their place) the soil was mulched and improved.


I proceeded to source palms from my old home town of Cairns, but many of these early acquisitions ended up becoming part of the mulch due mainly to my lack of experience of gardening in the sub-tropics. About 1985 I joined PACSOA and its Sydney branch and soon learnt that other members had made the same mistakes before me. I was also informed by some that if you lived West of Pennant Hills Road it was going to be an uphill battle to establish a palm garden. When I moved here we received light winter frosts, today my winter minimum is about 4 degrees C. thanks to the urban spread to Sydney’s West.  Through the society I was able to acquire palms more suitable to the Sydney region and the help I received from many of the more experienced members was invaluable and many of these advisors are still members of the Tropical Garden Society of Sydney today.


Buoyed by my successes I started to get more adventurous and experiment with the more  unusual plant families, and the garden now boasts about 100 palm species and cultivars among which are larger than average collections of Chamaedorea, Dypsis, Rhapis (species and variegated cultivars) and Australian palm species than are generally experienced in Sydney. The collection also includes palms and tree ferns clothed in rainforest climbers and orchids along with Philodndrons.


There are also some 15 small Australian rainforest trees and shrubs, around 15 various frangipani (in pots), some exotic trees such as the ‘snowflake’ (Trevisia palmata) with its huge compound fan palm like leaves and Ficus dammerops (syn Dammerops kingiana) with its massive simple leaves with a convoluted surface . The under storey is complemented with justicia, mussaenda, codieum (croton), heliconia, bromeliads,ferns, aroids and orchids and some small palms which are mature and fruiting at less than 1 metre high.


For new gardeners wanting that tropical theme, I suggest planting the smaller rainforest trees and palms first to establish a canopy, because as they grow you can always cull the plants that are out of scale or do not fit the overall

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