Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Thankyou Lauren and Kelmed

I received an email of your comments on my post below but for some reason they're not showing up on the blog itself (?)

Lauren: I've looked at Eric King Park on the satellite view of Google Maps. WOW!  Can see already that it too is a rough diamond waiting to be polished. Appears to have a flowing water feature and all(!) I'll definitely schedule a ride to Bunbury soon to check it out. Thanks for the heads up. If you'd like to email me on graydenprovis1@gmail.com I'll get back to you once I've had a look at it. Given your family link to it, we will have good leverage in terms of getting the council to agree to / fund an upgrade. I would be happy to do the design work for free if the council funds the actual work.

Kelmed: thanks for the article link. I'm actually having trouble opening it (old browser) but even from the byline I can guess what it's about: that "wise" water use is relative, not absolute. It depends very much on the benefits the water produces. We need to get a bit more sophisticated around this topic in that sense.

Monday, February 19, 2018

This is personal

Since 1982 I've been involved in local government Parks and Gardens. In that time I also did a twelve year stint designing gardens for the luxury home market. You learn a lot doing that. Much more than you realise at the time.

For the last three years I've not done much at all. Partly by choice, partly because the job market doesn't want to know over 50's. Then one day my wife says "you might be interested in this". It was an ad on Gumtree from someone wanting a gardener.

In Oakford.

Normally, I wouldn't bother - for two reasons:

(a) it's a gardener ("I'm above that") and

(b) it's too far from home.

But I couldn't look away. The person had included a picture of their garden and it spoke to me. It was a large, formal "Paul Bangay" type garden.


But you see these days I'm about motorcycling, so having to ride to a job miles from home isn't a chore, it's a bonus! So, sight unseen, I responded to the ad and said "I would LOVE to maintain your garden!" Long story short, I met the owner, showed her my portfolio of design work and she immediately said "yes". I now go there three mornings a week. I get my rides in for the week, she has someone at her garden every second day - we're both happy.

But the thing that has really surprised me is how much I actually love the work. The garden is a magnificent "rough diamond" just waiting to be cut and polished. The owner has significant resources and any improvements I want to make she approves. Happy days :) We've decided to aim for entering it in the 2019 Open Garden Scheme. By then it will be pretty nice but, God-willing, by 2028 it will be the finest garden in Perth. No empty boast here. It WILL. There will be nothing else like it.

The point of me telling you all this is because I want to encourage you to do something:


Don't let the "that's beneath you" voice win. Bollocks to that. ALL work is honourable (well, some clearly isn't, but you know what I mean). When you're doing the thing that you would do for free, you know you've found your thing. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone else, only to you. How do you find this "thing"? You learn to listen. As you go along in life, a little voice will frequently be telling you "I like this" but mostly it gets drowned out by "it's beneath you" or "it's not practical". You have to learn to hear "I like this and latch on to it. Follow it. Dismiss the loud, know-it-all "it's not practical" voice and follow the gentle, quiet one instead. Seriously, do this assiduously and something will happen. It takes a bit of courage though. I didn't do it for a long time because of what others might think. Then one day I realised that others don't think (about me). They're too busy worrying about what others think of them!. In that day I became free. And I'm here to tell ya folks, it feels pretty damn good. This blog has ultimately just been a cause for frustration. I haven't been able to produce the change I want to see. But on "the farm" (that's what I call the garden), I can MAKE the changes happen. In at least one small corner of the planet, I can create the world I want to see.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

You never get used to this

In local government it happens all the time - in the streets and in the parks - and each time it is an affront. 

When growing things is your training, it kicks you in the guts. However as Parks officers you learn to wear it and keep planting.

What you DON'T expect is when it happens in your own backyard!

Yep, Lou The Terrorist has had another busy night.

I still reckon he would make good sausages...

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I didn't think it was that hard

Soon after I commenced as Manager Parks and Gardens at the Town of Claremont I attended an in-house workshop where staff were asked what was the single most important thing that made Claremont a great place to live. 

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you'll know what my answer was


I could tell the workshop facilitator was a little underwhelmed by my lack of imagination so I offered this explanation:

"You're asking what is the single most important thing. I say 'trees' because you can remove any other single element out of the town and it will still be a good place to live but remove all the trees and it will be an appalling place to live. To my mind the answer must therefore be 'trees'."

I could see his eyeballs rolling around in his head as he tried to compute my logic. Personally, I didn't think it was that hard. Thought it was a no-brainer in fact. Clearly not.

Everyone else offered other opinions: heritage houses, public services, proximity to city/coast/river etc etc.

All important things of course, but lose any ONE of them and life would still be pretty good in Claremont.

On the other hand, lose the trees….

See what I mean?

Yes? No?

Maybe your eyes are rolling around in your head too?

Oh well, I still say it's a no-brainer.

To this brain anyway.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

I'll tell you what works

The byline of this blog says it's a reflection on what works and what doesn't in terms of making public open space usable.

Look at this picture. Who wouldn't want to be in this space? The guy on the right with the dog was just soaking it up. I knew how he felt. I didn't want to leave either.

Now mentally remove the tree. What are you left with? A whole lot of gravel, a large granite outcrop and a few piddly shrubs. No-one would EVER want to linger in that environment, right?


We put far too much emphasis on expensive paving and fixtures and miss what really counts (Elizabeth Quay is a perfect recent example). Look again at the picture: no fancy paving, no expensive fixtures... yet an incredibly peaceful place that makes you want to linger.

It's Central Park in New York BTW. Check out an aerial picture of the park sometime and be staggered at the canopy cover. And this in a cold climate! How much more do WE have to do this!!

But notice something else: the tree is BIG. We have to use more large-growing species if we want to get the same effect. There are far too many small to medium trees being used in Perth because people are anxious about root damage. Two things: (a) "meh" to a bit of root damage - accept it's the price you have to pay to have great POS and (b) the damage is never as bad as you imagine. We can all point to the horror stories but the reality is that they are relatively few and far between. The vast majority of large trees cause few problems. If we constantly design for the worst case scenario we will end up with the worst case: POS that nobody actually uses.

PS…to really get a sense of this space, click on the picture.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stuff aesthetics, do what is right for the tree!

See how I staked and tied my tree in the post below?

You ANGLE the stakes, folks.


For two reasons:

a) it helps the stakes withstand the pulling force of the ties…really important in Perth sand

b) it keeps the tops of the stakes away from the swaying branches of the tree….really important in reducing damage

Why don't all councils do this?

In some cases it's just a lack of training. But in others it's "aesthetics". They want everything "neat and uniform".

Bing bong. Sorry. It must always be tree first, aesthetics second. Besides, if ALL your trees are planted with angled stakes, there IS uniformity(!)

While we're at it, if you enlarge the picture you'll also see the correct way to tie a young tree…ie TWO SEPARATE TIES, each pulling in the opposite direction. "Oh, there's lots of correct ways to tie trees" folks will say. No. There isn't. I've tried them all. This is the ONLY way that works over the long haul.

Also while I'm at it, remember to REGULARLY TIGHTEN YOUR TIES. The tie material is stretchy (it has to be to allow the tree to move a little) and always slackens off over time. You should be re-tightening them weekly in my experience. I know that's what I'll be doing with mine.

Someone might look at the picture and say "he preaches large grass-free circles around new trees but doesn't do it himself".

Two things:

(a) the circle is actually bigger that it looks in this photo…the longish grass is hiding it a bit

b) I will gradually ENLARGE the circle as the tree grows….not really practical to do this on a mass scale hence why I advise setting them up with large circles in the first place.

What else?

Notice the "caliper" of the trees….that's the thickness of the trunk at ground level. Very small in this case. Not really the specimens you would be choosing for public tree planting but again, two reasons*:

a) Poincianas are like hens teeth at the moment….I took what I could get

b) I will mollycoddle these trees through their very vulnerable early stages… again, not really practical for large-scale plantings

Anything else?

Yeah, I could talk for a LONG time yet: how much to tease out the roots when planting, how wide and deep to dig the hole relative to the root ball, how to backfill correctly, how to water in correctly…

Suffice to say, the lesson I was taught by my mentor 35 years ago remains true:


From what we're seeing around the place, this lesson has been lost somewhere along the line.

* A good example of why very small caliper trees are risky: Lou (see a picture of him a couple of posts down) wrapped his choppers around one of them the day after planting. Ringbarked it (and actually split the trunk I realised later). The tree VERY quickly gave up the ghost - no resilience you see. Lou very nearly gave up the ghost too. I wanted to turn him into sausages but my wife came to his rescue.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pack 'em in

What does a bloke do when he's jaded from looking at poor tree plantings around town?

He buys a shiny new motorcycle.

And forms a blues band.

True story.

But he also concentrates on where he CAN make a difference: his own backyard.


I just planted five beautiful Poinciana trees* into my back lawn.

That's five trees at 4m spacings.

Yes, four metres.

Why not? They will grow into a living pergola which will shade my lawn in summer (it's Kikuyu, it will still grow under there) and, being semi-deciduous, will still allow the grass to grow in winter. Everyone's a winner!

Including David's Garden Centre in High Wycombe where I bought them. If you're a Perth local, check him out. Best nursery in town in my opinion. Always got the stuff I want. Always great quality (he's been doing it for 35 years), always good prices.

Just don't start talking to him about restoring old GT Falcons and GTS Monaros. Unless you're interested of course like me ;)

* When I was ringing around to source the trees, I rang a major supplier (who shall remain nameless other than to say their name starts with "B" and ends with "A" and has "enar" in the middle) and was told very confidently by the person on the other end that "they're not really suitable for Perth". WRONG! They are perfectly suitable for Perth. The Hills too, although admittedly frosts will knock 'em around a bit up there when they're young. There are so many experts when it comes to trees. Sadly, "experts" who have often listened to a lot of hearsay but haven't actually served time in the trenches where the real lessons are learned.