Nature strips go native

Carolyn Boyd March 13, 2012

If you want some native plants in your garden but aren't quite sure where to start, the nature strip could be the perfect place.

Last week I gathered the kids – aged three and five – some shovels, buckets and 30 tube stocks of native ground covers and set about converting our 15 metre-long nature strip into a native garden.

Natives are perfect for nature strips because they are already adapted to the environment and won't need much if any watering, or mowing.

Many native nature strips seem to feature a variety of plants but I prefer  the ordered look that a groundcover affords rather than a mix of grasses and other native plants. So we opted for a single variety, a low-growing, matting groundcover that has nice green leaves and a pretty white flower – Creeping Boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium)  – which will take on the green appearance of lawn when it really gets going.

It's worth noting that many councils have height restrictions on what you can plant in the nature strip – varying between 50 cm and 1 metre. Many councils and water authorities actively encourage the replacement of nature strips, however, many will ask you to gain permission first. See examples here from Western Australia, NSW and in the country, Wagga Wagga.

Somewhere in the mix we had considered an edible nature strip. Herbs and low-growing vegetables on the nature strip really appealed for the community factor, but then I remembered that the community includes dogs. Dogs that pee, and poo, especially when they are out on walks, so that idea went out the window.

While other people have successfully done this, we were worried that once the initial enthusiasm wanes,  the nature strip could turn into a bed of weeds with a bit of thyme and basil sprouting in between.

We do still want some edibles at picking height facing the street to let other members of the community enjoy them, but are planning to put those inside our front fence.

How the garden was completed – seven steps

1. First up, we spoke to the council about what we could plant on the nature strip.

In our case, the council was doing works in the street and kindly tore up all of the old grass when they were removing the footpath at the same time.

They even back-filled the area with fresh soil, which was mighty nice of them.

Given most people won't have that chance, the next best way to tackle it could be to apply weedkiller and wait a couple of weeks for it to work before removing the grass.

2. We didn't get around to the job for a few months after the grass was torn out so a few weeds had popped up in the meantime and a bit of grass that had been left around the power pole had started to spread. So two weeks before planting, we hit that with weedkiller. A bit of digging and ripping out the dead weeds and voila! The soil is ready to go.

Originally we had laid a conduit to run a watering system with the intention of replanting lawn in the new soil. But with the choice of a drought-tolerant native groundcover, we don't need to use it.

4. Off to the plant shop. A quick web search reveals a native plant nursery that specialises in plants that are endemic to the area that we live. That's important because they will be varieties that are suited to the local conditions, rather than a native plant from another part of Australia. All up the plants cost about $80.

5. We lay all of the plants out where we want to plant them. The five-year-old is tasked with digging the holes, and then helping with the planting.

6. The couple of scoops of mulch (about $100 and there is plenty left over) we have ordered from the landscapers arrive and we spread that fairly thickly over the strip. And water everything in well. We'll need to keep watering for the next month until the plants become established, and then there'll be no more need for a hose.

7. Some maintenance will still be required – weeding and trimming up the edges so they don't encroach on the path. But this should be a lot less work than mowing and watering, and once the groundcover grows together we expect few weeds.

Would you replace the lawn on your nature strip with a native plant? Should we see more of this - or less?

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