A stroll Around John and Julie Barrie’s garden, daisy
Patch, feels like a guided bushwalk across the vast Australian
outback. the dramatic landscapes of Kalbarri, Kalgoorlie,
the Gawler ranges and the Hay Plains have been brought to
life in all their arid glory in south Australia’s upper south
East, using more than 1500 species of native plants. Each
has been specially selected for its drought pedigree. “I’m not
really interested in anything from up the eastern coast above
Melbourne or across the top from Cairns to Broome; trying to
grow plants that need summer moisture is not very sustainable
in these parts,” John says.
the Barries’ 2.5-hectare property at Coonalpyn sits on the
edge of an area once known as the ninety Mile desert. Average
rainfall is 425 millimetres, and the summers seem endless; last
year, the hot dry spell lasted almost eight months. “It’s during
that long, dry period when you just cannot justify adding water
to keep plants from more tropical areas alive,” John says.
the former Adelaide couple went bush in the early 1980s with
their four daughters to set up a housing-construction business,
but have since taken different career paths; Julie works in It at
the local area school, while John divides his time between his
environmental consultancy, the garden and the couple’s native-
plant nursery. In the beginning, their property contained a single
tree and some patchy scrub, so they trucked in 195 loads of sand
to try to create a desert habitat echoing the wider landscape,
with its dunes and swales. “drift sand has great infiltration when
it rains, and excellent moisture retention – feel three inches
[7.5 centimetres] down and it’s often still moist,” John says.
While many of the plants in the garden have been found
during the couple’s travels, they source most from the Australian
native Plant society. “to join a society with botanical
connections really opens the door; they have study groups that
collect and share specimens, which gives us a lot of access to rare
material,” John says.
turning one small seed into a thriving plant growing
thousands of kilometres from home takes much trial and error.
“not everything is perfectly happy; no matter how well you plan
a garden, some things grow better than others, or a key element
may die and ruin the effect. We are still learning, but we are
becoming much more discerning about plant selection because
we can now see the patterns.”
the garden is heavily reliant on natural rainfall, with a
complex drainage system collecting and redirecting most of the
run-off. “Annuals need surface moisture in winter, but if you wet
the topsoil in summer, you’re creating a serious weed load that
you then need to deal with,” John says. “Much better to get the
water down deep. My watering sins are with my new plantings
and the veggie garden, but I think everyone would excuse that.”
sturt’s desert pea is another rare exception to the watering rule.
out in the wild, its distinctive blood-red flowers appear during
spring, but in Coonalpyn it’s too cold then. “they challenge so
many people, but we have finally worked out how to succeed,”
Julie says. Potted sturt’s desert pea seedlings are soaked in liquid
fertiliser before being planted in a new sand mound in late
spring. Plastic tubing, such as old downpipe, is inserted about
40 centimetres into the ground close to the roots, and each plant
is given at least a litre of water each day in the height of summer.
“We will also pour double-strength fertiliser into the pipe at
2–3 day intervals; they are very hungry plants,” John says. “It does
go against our ethos and is a lot of work, but we are well rewarded.”
the only other plant to garner such special attention is Julie’s
favourite – the desert-loving emu bush. “It comes from very dry
conditions, and in the middle of winter we will go out at night
and cover the poor baby up as it doesn’t like frost,” Julie says.
“I just think it’s the most fascinating plant – it has big leaves, it’s
very slow growing and has amazing pendulous flowers that look
almost like an orchid.”
John loves the “princess of Australian plants” – the brilliant
pink feather flower found along Western Australia’s Murchison
river – but the swathes of paper daisies that appear in their
thousands in spring are his pick of the bunch. “daisies are such
a smiley sort of a thing, and the fact that they come out in such
a mass is incredible – they bring your whole garden together and
look absolutely spectacular. What’s missing in traditional gardens
is the beauty that the Australian bush can provide, and I think
paper daisies epitomise that.” september is their big month to
shine, and the brevity of the bloom only adds to their appeal. “It’s
nice for things to change and reflect the emotions of the seasons,
and they come back again and again in an absolute blaze of
colour, which is worth waiting for,” John says.
self-seeding of all species is aided by the minimal use of organic
mulch, which can work like a weed mat to prevent new growth,
and there is a real sense of discovery as John and Julie point out
various tiny seedlings that have spontaneously taken root.
“the layout evolved like topsy,” he says. “We have lots of
plants regenerating from seed and often we will realign a garden
bed to incorporate those that pop up on the edges. the garden
has right of way.”
An AwArd-winning gArden cAlled dAisy PAtch flourishes
in An Arid corner of south AustrAliA.
GRETEL SNEATH Photos EMMA STEENDAM
DAisy PAtch GARDEN AND
NAtivE PlANt NuRsERy
1 george terrace, coonalpyn, sA, 5265
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Paper daisies arrive in
their thousands each September; the daisies die off
once the temperatures rise; pink feather flowers;
the rare Verticordia cooloomia, from the Murchison
District of WA; garden owners John and Julie Barrie.