Winter Tips

Winter is Coming…

While we have been experiencing some uncharacteristically warm & sunny days, the days are getting shorter and Winter is Coming. Not sure what to do with all of your spare time now that Game of Thrones is over? Get into the garden this winter with these great garden tips for the cooler months.

Flowering Natives

While Melbourne winters aren’t quite as grim as Winterfell, the grey skies and rainy days can dampen the spirit. Reconnect with nature by bringing some colour in to your winter garden with top picks for winter flowering native shrubs.

Brighten up your winter garden with grevilleas, banksia, correa, wattle, and hakeas. Many of these species flower over the cooler months when things are slowing in the garden and make excellent cut flower specimens- allowing you to bring your beautiful flowering colour inside! Winter can be a tough time for nectar feeding insects. Plant these hardy flowering shrubs to attract pollinators to your garden this winter.

Correa ‘Dusky Bells’

There are numerous Correa species suited to Melbourne’s climate but ‘Dusky Bells’ is one of our favourites. It has a low growing form and makes a great small shrub or ground cover. The bold pink flowers add a great pop of colour at ground level against the dark foliage. Correa ‘Dusky Bells’ is a great drought tolerant, reliable species for a flowering display from March through to August.

Hakea laurina

It’s easy to see how the Pincushion Hakea gets its common name once you see it’s globular flower heads. Flowering from March through to August, the Pincushion Hakea is a favoured winter food source for nectar feeding bird and insects. The deep pink flowers decorated with cream ‘pins’ provide a beautiful contrast to the smooth grey-green leaves.

This medium evergreen shrub is a great option for a shrub or tree for an urban landscape as it can be pruned to shape. At maturity it can reach 3.5-5m in height and a width of about 3m. It has been used as an excellent street tree on Montague St, South Melbourne.

Grevillea ‘Moonlight’

Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ has a soft appearance with pale green to silver foliage. It is a beautiful large shrub bearing profuse cream coloured flowers year round. This grevillea will reach roughly 4m in width and height in Melbourne and is a softer alternative to the normally bold coloured flowers of Grevillea. This species is sensitive to phosphorus- be sure to use a low phosphorus fertiliser.

Correa Dusky Bells a great shrubbery plant that is a great small bird attractor.

Correa Dusky Bells a great shrubbery plant that is a great small bird attractor.

Hakea laurina – Pincushion Hakea is admired for its stunning flowers.

Hakea laurina – Pincushion Hakea is admired for its stunning flowers.

Grevillea Moonlight is one of the best grevilleas….it is tough & adaptable and also flowers all year round, not just through winter.

Grevillea Moonlight is one of the best grevilleas….it is tough & adaptable and also flowers all year round, not just through winter.

2. Vegetables

Brassicas thrive in the winter garden. Cauliflower, broccoli, collards and kale are well suited to grow in the cooler months.  These vegetables are known as cruciferous vegetables, which have a number of health benefits. They are rich in folate, vitamins C, E and K and fibre. Be sure to position plants in a spot where they can make the most of the sun where possible. Your herb garden can still thrive with a little extra care during the winter months. Position your herbs in a warmer and more protected area where they will receive plenty of light. Sowing seeds may prove to be more successful rather than growing from seedlings.


3. Mulch

As winter begins the ground is covered by the fallen leaves of autumn. We can incorporate these leaves as free, organic mulch to enrich the garden’s soil. The best practice to create leaf litter mulch is to incorporate them into composting procedures, keep the leaves moderately moist and turn the pile at least weekly. The addition of grass clippings adds extra nitrogen and helps to balance the composting. Leaf litter on the surface of our garden beds can also provide habitat for invertebrates crucial to the garden ecosystem.


4. Fertilisers

 It is important to remember to fertilise your gardens through the winter season to be sure your plants are receiving extra nutrients.  Remember to dilute your fertiliser as per packet instructions and apply at ground level as fertiliser can cause leaf burn. Be sure to use low phosphorous fertiliser on native Australian plants.


5. Garden Pests

Be sure to protect your young seedlings from nasty pests such as snails and caterpillars, which are most active during winter. White cabbage moths can be seen fluttering around the garden this time of year. Cabbage moth caterpillars love to munch on leaves of the brassica family. Spraying Dipel is a great way to keep caterpillars in check. Dipel is a bacterium strain that specifically targets caterpillars, meaning that it will not harm beneficial insects.

Aphids are sap-sucking insects that love the sugars in new spring growth. They excrete a sticky substance called ‘honeydew’ which attracts ants. So ants on your plants are a good indicator that you’ve got an aphid problem. Aphids can be removed by diluting 2 teaspoons of dishwashing liquid in a 500ml spray bottle and wiping with a damp cloth. Be sure to reapply pest control substances after rain.


6. Fungal Disease

With the mild and damp weather, fungal diseases thrive. Fungi grows in areas that are moist and do not receive sunlight. Be sure to clean up fallen leaves of rose bushes to control the spread of black spot. Old fruit fallen from stone fruit trees should be removed and composted. Old fruit, if left can cause brown rot fungus that could carry across to next seasons crop.  Your local plant nursery should be able to help you source the right fungicide for your fungal disease. 

Written by Bree Townsend  STEM’s Graduate Horticulturist/ Designer

Written by Bree Townsend

STEM’s Graduate Horticulturist/ Designer

7. Take away

Don’t let your green thumb go into hibernation this winter, maintain your interaction with your garden and be sure to liven it up with plenty of pops of colour with winter flowering native plants.

Spring Tips

Spring is a beautiful and exciting time to get into the garden, longer days and warmer weather provide the perfect opportunity to green up your life! Here’s a few helpful tips to get you started.  

1. Summer veggies.

It’s time to start sowing tomato, cucumber and zucchini seeds. Recycling old egg cartons are great for staring seeds, just fill with potting mix and plant one seed per compartment. Keep on a sunny window sill and mist daily with water. 

spring garden tips Australia

2. Mulch.

Now is the perfect time to mulch in preparation for summer. Applying a layer of coarse mulch 2-6 centimetres deep on your garden beds will not only help to suppress weeds but will help to retain soil moisture and reduce your irrigation needs. Be aware that forest mulch is better suited to native gardens as pine can restrict growth and spreading of plants. 


3. Lettuce.

You can grow lettuce all year round but the warmer weather and higher rainfall of spring means they’ll grow rapidly and you’ll be eating home grown salads in no time!

planting lettuce

4. Potatoes.

The humble potato is incredibly easily to grow at home, and provides an exciting treasure hunt harvest for kids. Now that the chance of frost has passed, plant your seed potatoes 30-50cm apart and 10cm deep. While you can plant supermarket potatoes you’ll get a much better result by growing certified seed potatoes- available online and from most nurseries. Your potatoes will be ready to harvest in the summer once the leaves have died back. Our favourites are King Edward and Russet Burbank- perfect for roasting and chips. 


5. Peaches.

Take care of your fruit trees to ensure a bumper summer crop. Keep an eye out for pests and disease. Spray your peach trees with a diluted copper solution when you see swollen leaf buds to prevent peach leaf curl (Taphrina deformans). 

peach leaf curl

6. Fertilise.

Spring is a great time to fertilise your garden and lawn because plants are actively growing. This means that your fertiliser will be taken up by the plants rather than leaching into the soil. Remember to dilute your fertiliser as per packet instructions and apply at ground level as fertiliser can cause leaf burn. If you’re growing native Australian plants be sure to use a low phosphorus fertiliser. We recommend Charlie carp. 


7. Garden pests.

Aphids and scale are sap sucking insects that love the sweet nectar of young growth. These can be removed by washing leaves and stems by diluting 2 teaspoons of dishwashing liquid in a 500ml spray bottle and wiping with a damp cloth. Ants on your fruit trees and roses are also a good indication that you’ve got an aphid problem.

aphid control

8. Kids.

Having trouble getting the whole family to eat their greens? Spring is a great time to get kids involved in gardening. If you’re planting directly in the ground have a hunt for worms and other mini beasts. Giving kids the opportunity to get their hands dirty and grow veggies is a great way to teach responsibility and patience. You’ll find that once they’ve grown and harvested they’re own vegetables they’ll be a lot more likely to eat them. Also try getting involved in learning about Australian native edible plants, we have so many, Dianella berries, lemon myrtle, yam daisies & riberry’s are just a few of hundreds of species you can eat and jazz up any dish.


9. Roses.

Prune your roses now to ensure beautiful blooms late in the season. By pruning your roses while they’re actively growing the pruning wounds heal quicker and they’ll be less prone to disease. Remember to cut your roses at a slight angle to allow water to run off, and never remove more than 30% of the plant.

how to prune roses

10.Get growing.

A garden is constantly evolving- whether you’ve got a large back yard, a balcony or a window sill. No matter how much space you’ve got to work with- just give it a go. Perhaps you’ll use this spring to grow some herbs, perfect that front lawn or grow a new indoor plant. Remember not to be too hard on yourself- even the most seasoned gardener has their downfalls. Just get your hands dirty and enjoy!

The Aquarium Principle


All too often we hear people talking about balance. Balance your work and personal life, balance your diet and exercise. It seems that everything around us is about balance.

And what happens when we can’t balance all these things? That’s right, we experience instability where things don’t quite work. This is especially true of the natural environment where plants and animals have evolved over millennia to be in balance with one another.

My view on balance was something I learned at a young age.

My first incidental experience of environmental balance was on my 8th birthday when Mum and Dad bought me a giant 4-ft fish tank. As a kid I was obsessed with animals, insects, birds and reptiles. It was time to learn about the world of aquatics and about ‘balance’. The balance of an ecosystem; the good and the bad.

I call this form of balance ‘The Aquarium Principle'.

 Fish keeping has entirely changed my perspective on the world around me and I apply this principle to everything I do as a Landscape Architect.

I want you to imagine that an aquarium is a little planet Earth. Think of those complex systems that are working to create balance in a forest. Think about how trees work. They absorb carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen and filter nutrients that are absorbed into the soil. Trees provide homes and food for all the weird and wonderful life forms that exist around us. They are an essential component for the health of this world. We already know how removing an element disturbs the balance and causes major problems. We know that to live on Earth we need sunlight, oxygen and water. Plants, insects and animals to use these to live and to die and thus create a cycle.

An aquarium will need to have the same set of rules if we are to play Mother Nature. I did not play by the rules of nature when I started my new endeavour. I had a sterile tank with tap water, rocks, a plastic plant, a ‘No Fishing’ sign and lots of fish. The only thing I did have right was a light and a filter. I was heartbroken when Zeebs, Speckle and Goldie number 10 did not swim for long. They floated, and the water was making my room stink.

But I never gave up. I so desperately wanted an aquarium like the one on my fish food tin! So I wandered down to the creek that runs through our beautiful rural property. I looked at the clean water, listened to the songs of insects and frogs and observed the schools of fish swimming in water where the sun had warmed the surface. I realised that if it worked here then I must use the things from the creek in my aquarium.

I had started to play by the rules.

I brought home some plants, soil, snails and popped it all in. What I didn’t know was at the micro level that I was also bringing in healthy thriving bacteria. Just like we know that yoghurt provides our stomachs with good bacteria, this also is the case with water whereby bacteria break down and feed on waste products. I popped it all in and I had my first successful tank. The snails ate the algae, the plants absorbed the waste, the fish ate the plants, the bacteria broke down the waste for the plants to absorb and so on.

But a closed system does eventually build up with waste. This is when balance or ‘The Aquarium Principle’ comes into play, for my balance became un-balanced and my tank, my mini ‘World’, collapsed. I had too much waste and not enough waste-absorbing life forms.

But with the failures I did not give up because I was obsessed. So obsessed I ended up working at an aquarium when I was 16. By the time I was 18 I had 15 4-ft tanks around the house, when I announced I was going to University my Dad said “Good! Take your tanks with you.” I took 3, and even got a job at another aquarium whilst at University and I even started a business at Uni where I set up and created environments in aquariums.

Through the years I learned about water. The different types, the quality, the chemistry and the science behind healthy water and how to maintain it. I learned about the different varieties of plants suited to the type of aquarium you want, about all the different types of fish species and how they can be used in different ways to keep your tank healthy.

I got so good at aquarium keeping that my mini worlds did not need a water change for 9 months. The only thing I needed to do was feed the fish and top up the evaporated water. By creating bacteria-rich water, the bacteria helped break down the waste during the nitrogen cycle.

I had learned how to create a balanced system.

All the species of plants I had selected had different roles in absorbing waste and cleaning the water. The various fish species also had different roles. From the bottom-dwelling catfish cleaning up the mess and eating the algae to the middle-dwelling fish who create all the mess but would clean up and tidy the tank and plants and the top-dwelling fish who would skim the top of the water in search of debris and remaining food.

Everything in the tank had a role and if I was to remove one of these essential components the tank would change. Sometimes it would change and create its own balance but if it was something too essential, then everything would crash. If I put too many fish in, they would eat all the plants, then there would be too much waste for the plants to absorb and then the ammonia levels would become toxic and create a disaster. I can go through so many examples of how the balance could be slightly altered and would usually end in failure. This is ‘The Aquarium Principle’.

This principle works in the same way as it does on Earth.

You can apply it to your garden, to the row of street trees, parks, forests and even your home. If you do not have the essential components to support and maintain life then your world starts to crash. If you create a garden with plants that do not belong to your area then they won’t survive unless you tend to them. They won’t provide food to benefit local animals and the animals that live in that area will move away, which then causes other disturbances to the balance.

Native animals

Micro bats are a good example of this. Extensive works around Melbourne’s waterways and the clearing of trees and habitats have led to the decline of this species. An individual Micro bat can consume up to 600 mosquitoes in one night. When you have your BBQ and you get bitten by these pesky insects, think about how those little bats could have helped you out.

Exotic plants

The rows of London Plane trees in Melbourne’s CBD are also an issue. Have you ever wondered the impact that exotic trees have on natural balance? Australia is a country which has created its own balance over hundreds of millions of years. Plane trees are deciduous. In its native environment the leaves that fall would provide nutrients to understory plants that would thrive during the only time light penetrates the floor. So what happens to all these leaves in Melbourne? They end up in the storm water drains, or polluting machines have to go into the city every day to sweep them up. These leaves which are nutrient-rich are now a waste product. As we learned from the fish tank, waste products that are not absorbed by another plant can become a problem.

And what about its impact on bio diversity? Non-native trees negatively impact native plants and animals. We also know that the Plane tree's tiny pollen spores increase hay fever and allergies. The list goes on and on.

This is why we need to address issues of imbalance and make sure to implement strategies that don’t negatively impact our ecosystems.

So next time you notice something isn't working in your outdoor space, step back and take a moment to understand why this might be. Something within your area is most likely unbalanced and you may be able to pinpoint what it is and implement a change to fix the problem.

‘The Aquarium Principle’ has become a rule in all my design methods.

It ties in well with my mission to conserve nature, educate people, promote sustainable designs, look after our local environments and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth. This is what I am all about and I love being a Landscape Architect.

My friend Pringle


How a rescued Lorikeet came to influence my garden designs

Growing up on a farm gives you experiences like no other. I was fortunate to grow up with farming parents who were environmentally conscious. My father respected all animals, except foxes and rabbits or anything he considered pest species. 

When my siblings or I started screaming that there was a spider in the house dad would say "Oh, poor incy wincy spider. Don't kill him, he does good. He eats all those pesky bugs and keeps the flies away." To our horror, he would pick it up and put it outside. He would show us the blue tongues and the small skinks on our property. In fact if he found any animal he would bring it to show us and teach us about it.

My Dad instilled in me a love for all animals

My childhood was filled with moments where Dad showed us how much care he has for animals. Often when we were driving along rural roads, we would see a snake that had been run over, and Dad would become furious at the unseen drivers for their lack of respect for the animal. If Dad saw a snake crossing the road, he would always stop beside it and make noises so it would slither back into the protection of the grass and shrubs.

Dad also revegetated the creek that ran through our property with local species. He even germinated the existing indigenous eucalyptus from the 200 year old trees that cover our property, allowing for the trees native to the area to grow once again. And just like that you learn valuable lessons from a young age; respect and passion for the environment around you. 

I have always been fascinated by animals. I believe I have an ability to read them and gain their affection if they think I am worth their time. If I found an injured, orphaned or sick animal I would care for it. And through doing this I have learned all the wonderful personalities each animal has. No matter what type of animal I cared for, their loyalty and trust is shared, in exactly the same way as you receive loyalty from a dog or cat. Which brings me to my story about Pringle.

Rescuing a baby Lorikeet

For someone like me I had the best job. I worked in an aquarium that also specialised in all animal husbandry.

One day a gentleman brought in a little baby bird wrapped in a towel. He had found the injured chick on the ground on his walk in the park. With minimal feathers, it looked like it had fallen from the nest. I realised straight away it was a juvenile Rainbow Lorikeet, native to Australia. 

It wasn't in good shape. Its head was drooping on each attempt to lift it and when birds display this type of weakness it is not a good sign. Birds are very good at masking their illnesses, because if they show weakness in the wild, predators and even fellow friends would prey on them, as this is an easy meal and could also be costly burden to the flock.

This little bird needed hydration and nutrients to survive so I had to give it electrolytes fast. One of my colleagues was drinking a bottle of Gatorade and with no other electrolytes available in the shop I gave a spoonful to the Lorikeet. She drank it without hesitation and within half an hour she was sitting upright and chirping.

Maybe it was my subconscious that thought this little bird looked like a green can of Pringles chips, or whatever it was, this was the first name that popped into my head. So that's how she got her name, Pringle.

Nursing Pringle back to health

For the next 2-3 weeks I fed Pringle on a hand rearing bird formula for Lorikeets. I would feed her 6-8 times through the day and night if she wanted it and she slept with me in my bed. Lucky for me Loris don't poo in their sleeping quarters! Soon enough Pringle had all her adult feathers and I had an amazing little friend. 

Because of Pringle's situation it would have been hard for her to re-join her wild brothers and sisters. It's the same for many wild animals; that's why it is very important to never touch or take any wildlife from their nest, den or burrow. However, in situations where an animal will have no other chance of survival unless taken into care by a human, that would be the right decision for the animal. 

Keeping Pringle as my pet and friend

Pringle is fully socialised with people and I think sometimes she thinks she is a person. Unfortunately wild Lorikeets don't like her and she is wary of them. But she is a wonderful friend and loves all the things Lorikeets do; water and baths, fruit, especially grapes, crazy chatter, chasing after balls and spending time playing in the garden.

Having grown up with a variety of different animals I think it's very important to remember that we share our beautiful earth with them. Pringle isn't contained in a cage and I have made sure that she has a garden to play in. She likes to eat the grevilleas when they're flowering and she loves to eat the mint leaves and climb high up into the pittosporum.

How Pringle influences my garden designs

Lorikeets eat a very different diet from other birds. Lorikeets enjoy the sweet delights of nature and their main diet consists of the sugary nectar and fruits produced by many plants, especially Australian plants. Their feathery tongue gets into many evolutionary adapted plants and the benefit for the plant is pollination and succession of the species.

I have planted many varieties of plants in my garden specifically for her. The plants have brought in wild skinks, different birds, praying mantis, and a wide variety of bugs and pollinating insects, all of which love our garden and enjoy being in it as much as we do.

It is time to make a shift in the way we design, to work with the Earth not against it. We need to work together on all levels, incorporating all the wonderful plants and animals suited to each individual location. Move away from traditionally designing spaces that only cater for humans. Reduce the amount of plants that don't suit our native environments and allow animals to thrive and share their spaces with us. 

As humans and buildings take away natural habitats for animals, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to provide habitats for them in our gardens. By choosing native and local plant species we provide protection and nourishment for local birds, marsupials, skinks, butterflies and other insects.

I like to think that if Pringle were wild she would visit to eat my grevilleas and grapes, climb the pittosporum tree and make all her ridiculous but delightful noises. Pet or not, I would still design my garden to cater for her and for all animals. 

If you would like to meet my friend Pringle (yes, she often comes on site visits with me!) and discuss a garden design that will attract native animals to your home, please get in touch.