Stepping into Bold Park was quite an assault on the senses. An incredibly pleasant assault, I might add. It’s just seven kilometres from the centre of Perth, but this huge, 437 hectare, A-class protected reserve would have you believing you were in the remote bush.
The scent of Acacia, so strong in late August; Freesia (although from South Africa) popping up to provide equally strong, equally delightful smells. And with vast quantities of flowers in full bloom, the sound of bees was absurdly loud, only surpassed by Australia’s not exactly shy, retiring bird population.
The park, named after William Bold, a town clerk of some 44 years, has some fabulous history, too. Camel Lake was named after it’s role as a quarantine site for these animals during the gold-rush–you can still see tethering marks on some of the trees– and as Perth started to develop, it was an important site for aboriginal camps for many years.
The habitat is mostly tuart-banksia woodlands with some limestone heaths. Those are the technical terms, in any case. To Paul and I, it seemed incredibly diverse; each corner of the five kilometre Zamia trail revealing quite unique mixes of flora. In fact, some 310 local, indigenous plants have been recorded, not to mention the 28 reptiles (fortunately Paul didn’t accidentally step on any large snakes on this occasion; it has been known!), 91 birds and a whopping 479 types of macrofungi.
So does this tell us anything about gardening?
There were a couple of things that struck me. One was the miracle of how very attractive plants can grow in what looks like beach sand, with zero irrigation. My sister lives in Dubai and grows amazing tropical plants in her beach sand, but her irrigation runs something like three times a day. In WA, these plants might go a month without a drop. It’s very encouraging and just goes to show the value of right plant, right place.
The second thing was how much we can learn from nature about planting combinations. My friend, Dorothy, recently sent me an article that talks about ‘heightened naturalism’ as a garden style, referring to New York’s High Line, and this sums up exactly how I like to garden myself. Take the best bits from nature and make them even more intense.
So whilst we might not want some of the more ‘dishevelled’ aspects of the bush in our gardens, there are still many clues we can find, adapt and borrow.
I was struck by how beautiful the Hardenbergia was, growing through all sorts of trees and shrubs. I’m not so keen on that classic English look of purple Clematis scrambling up through hot pink roses. It all looks too false, too brash, too trying too hard, to me. But I love the mix of purple with cream Banksia or this beautiful limey new growth.
It reminds me of my friend Katherine’s garden, where she has white potato vine scrambling up through a large Viburnum. I spent hours studying the flower and the leaf through the dining room window, whilst enjoying a delicious, long lunch, embarrassed and frustrated that I had absolutely no idea what this huge plant was; until I finally realised there were two! Nature is so good at showing us more subtle combinations like these.
I also loved this glimpse of Stirlingia amongst the grasses. A very subtle, soft and beautiful Australian meadow! The combination of greens, yellows and a touch of orange is quite stunning, to my eye.
And whilst perhaps I wouldn’t choose this at home, the effect of these heathland colours were quite something. I would never think to combine pale minty green with burnt yellow, but en masse, with a touch of dark green thrown in, it really was stunning.
Finally, if I ever get caught in the trap of thinking that arid native gardens can only exist with classic, harsh, saltbush-like colourings, Bold Park offered up some fantastic examples to the contrary. We saw lovely soft pinks and creams along one stretch, replaced by brights in the extreme in another. If you put your mind to it, you can have any colour you want.
I hope these pictures inspire you a little about the delights of natives and of ‘heightened naturalism’. If they don’t, please bear with me; just wait until we get to Kings Park!