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 that 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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I hear ya, Lou

This is my dog Lou. I don't know what's eating him but I do know how he feels. It's how I feel if I look at tree plantings around my city when I go out.

So I don't look. I deliberately keep my eyes up. Wrong trees, wrong spacings, wrong planting techniques, wrong maintenance. Perth councils are throwing money away and nobody is holding them to account.

I know I've written a lot about this and vowed I wouldn't any more, but sometimes it just comes out.

I've given Parks managers a hard time about it too and they haven't appreciated it. I don't blame them. Who wants to hear it? But you have to hear it folks. You're not doing your job properly.

But you know what? I'm changing my thoughts on that. Yes, those guys have definitely dropped the ball - BUT, who's really responsible? The councils themselves. The elected members. I've emailed pretty much all of them in Perth and do you think any are prepared to take it on? I suspect a couple have tried but got snowed. I know what happens - I used to "snow" myself sometimes. Not about this issue but other ones. We all do it to some extent to protect our asses, right?

The big question for me is whether to go in to bat again and try and force change. I know how to do it: (a) obtain the planting data from each council, (b) keep tabs on their failure rates, (c) create a league ladder of performance and (d) publish it. A bit like the schools league ladder. It would make me about as popular as bacon at a bar-mitzvah but part of me thinks "well, I'm already on the nose, what's to lose?". But then another part of me says "meh, ride your bike, play your music, enjoy your life". And I must admit that part's winning at present. I keep my eyes up and ignore what's there.
Kinda sad really.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"Save water elsewhere"

This is one of the best pieces of advice I got from an old boss.

He was referring to CBD gardens.

"Save water on your parks, not in the CBD. We need gardens in the city and gardens need water." 

Like this one.

It's a tiny public garden right in the heart of Manhattan. The busy traffic was literally 10m away to the left but what a sanctuary for city workers to come in their lunch breaks and chill out.

Cities are man-made things that need inputs to keep going.

So are/do gardens.

Water them.

Save your water elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Where are they now?

I'm talking about the opponents of the hugely popular Hilarys Boat Harbour development (scroll halfway down the article).

Coastal POS can be so much more than this

Or the now booming City Beach surf club / cafe development.

There should be a new rule in Perth:

If you're going to oppose/harass/obstruct a development, you're not allowed to use it once it's built. 

It's about to happen again in Scarborough.

When are we going to learn?

Everyone wants to go to heaven but no-one wants to die.