Inspiration from Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Isopogon anethifolius in Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Isopogon anethifolius at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

I’d been feeling a little jealous of WA’s indigenous flora after our trip to Perth, but by a stroke of good luck, last weekend I experienced some of the best that New South Wales has to offer. Seeing them both within the space of a week reassured me that, whilst it’s very different, NSW’s offering is actually just as good.

Bright pop of Boronia ledifolia

Bright pop of Boronia ledifolia

Muogamarra is the Bold Park of Sydney. A little further out of the city, but with some 900 plant species, aboriginal art and colonial history dating back to the 1830s, it really has it all. What makes it even more special, is that it is open to the public for just 12 days a year, to ensure protection of this very unique ecosystem.

Twisted gums and Philotheca at Muogamarra

Twisted gums and delicate, pink Philotheca at Muogamarra. The pink of the flowers and grey of the bark is an unusual planting colour palette but it looked absolutely stunning

It’s easy to think of Eastern Australian natives as a bit woody and lacking in oomph.  But Muogamarra dispelled this myth very quickly. Yes, our flowers tend to be a little smaller than on ‘the other side’, but there is still plenty of boldness. And clearly, in the garden, we can mix and match plants; take the beauty of indigenous plants and add whichever complementary non-indigenous species set them off to our liking.

Moist, shady path in Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Moist, shady path through bold textures at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

I saw a photo this week of a show garden at the 2015 Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. This particular garden aimed to imitate an English woodland. Imitate exactly. It wasn’t a bad effort at all and yet I found it entirely uninspiring. It occurred to me that imitating nature, rather than taking inspiration from nature, is really no good for a garden.

Philotheca australasius

Stunning buds of Philotheca australasius

Nature is magical precisely because it’s just there. It isn’t man made.

Platycerium superbum (stag horn fern) at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Platycerium superbum (stag horn fern) at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Gardens, on the other hand, are magical largely because of the man madeness; the love, effort, thought, imagination and care that has been put into them is often a huge part of their attractiveness and what fills them with character and makes them so unique.

Acacia at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Yellow Acacia flowers bring spring sunshine to the bush at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

If you try to replicate nature in the garden, you miss the magic of both.

Telopea in Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Too-good-to-look-real Telopea (waratah) in Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Telopea (waratah) at Muogamarra

And a close up (which my phone turned somewhat pinker than reality)

I’ve always had an aversion to fake-anything. I do confess to having fake hydrangeas in a corner of our lounge, too far from a window for anything to grow, but I’ve never been entirely at ease with them. I think that’s partly why I didn’t like the show garden; it was trying to be something that it wasn’t. It seemed to lack authenticity.

Philotheca australasius and Boronia ledifolia make a stunning combination

Philotheca australasius and Boronia ledifolia make a stunning combination

We shouldn’t be too black and white on these things–there are always exceptions– but on the whole, I prefer to have genuine or not at all. If a leather sofa was too expensive, I’d go for the fabric one every time, rather than some plastic imitation. I just feel ill at ease with things pretending to be things they’re not.

View of the Hawkesbury River from Muogamarra

View of the Hawkesbury River from Muogamarra

Artificial lawns are the best example of all. The whole pleasure of grass is in the smell, the feel on bare feet, the life in the bees on the clover or daisies. Why, why, why, why, why would you want to put green plastic carpet in your garden? To me, authenticity equals beauty. If you don’t like the real thing, get a different real thing. If you don’t want to mow, have a beautiful gravel garden instead.

Philotheca australasius in Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Philotheca australasius blossoms in Muogamarra Nature Reserve

So, however much I like ‘naturalistic’ gardens, they do need to be differentiated from nature and made into a garden. We can take aspects from nature to give us a local sense of place, we can look at the arrangements of plants in nature, to help create a natural-looking layout, we can take ideas from colour and planting combinations in nature to find solutions to difficult areas or create a restful ambience in our gardens, but using ideas, rather than copying exactly, makes a lot more sense.

Deep green vegetation and mossy rocks at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Deep green vegetation and mossy rocks; demonstrating the huge range of vegetation at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

I love spending time in space that is almost untouched by man, but my trip to Muogamarra was a great reminder that gardens are different to nature. Nature is best untouched. Gardens are best when they look cared for, have a high concentration of interest and integrate seamlessly with the house.

Philotheca australasius and Boronia ledifolia at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

Philotheca australasius and Boronia ledifolia with a backdrop of Banksia and gums at Muogamarra Nature Reserve

We can enjoy nature for what it is and enjoy gardens for what they are. I felt incredibly enthused by how many stunning plants I saw in Muogamarra and by combining these with other species, I can visualise a perfect garden with a perfect balance of nature and love.

Doryanthese excelsa at Muogamarra

Doryanthese excelsa (Gymea lily) growing from the base of sandstone boulders

Observing nature as inspiration for garden design brings us the best of both worlds; a strong connection to the landscape around us and extensive material for endless hours of creative stimulation.

Isopogon, Philotheca and Phyllota at Muogamarra

Isopogon, Philotheca and Phyllota combine at Muogarmarra Nature Reserve

Garden-making is a never ending process, into which we can plough all our creative thoughts and ideas and enthusiasm. It’s a wonderful feeling to be inspired to create and add and change and adapt; it’s invigorating and energising and rewards with a comforting feeling of satisfaction. Nature is one of my key sources of inspiration, not just in the garden but in life. What is it that inspires you most?

View from the top of Muogamarra Nature Reserve, looking out to the Hawkesbury River

View from the top of Muogamarra Nature Reserve, looking out to the Hawkesbury River

15 thoughts on “Inspiration from Muogamarra Nature Reserve

  1. Adriana says:

    Spot on Janna: imitating nature, rather than taking inspiration from nature – great thought for us gardeners to ponder. Trying to copy nature is I think one of the reasons native gardens failed back in the 1970s – it just doesn’t work – it turns messy and nasty (and then people are ‘put off’ using native plants). Gardens need care and attention to look their best, natural areas do not. I laughed at your “why, why, why fake grass” — yep! AND I love that photo of the rocks and creek – how could we ever copy that?! Thanks Janna for constantly opening our eyes and minds.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks Adriana. Yes, it kind of sounds obvious that gardens shouldn’t be exactly like nature, but it really was a light bulb moment for me when I saw the Hampton Court show garden and realised that nature was only special because it was nature! I’m sure you are right about the 1970s gardens in Australia. What a shame that situation happened. One day people will be keen to try again, I am quite sure. I’ve just started a second project (in as many weeks) where natives will dominate, so I’m very much hoping this trend continues.

  2. Suzanne Marsh says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you Janna, and Adriana. I really liked your comment in your last blog on heightened naturalism in our gardens. It’s a nonsense to think we can have an exact replica of nature. As soon as our blocks are cleared we have destroyed that piece of the environment and the existing ecosystem. Those ecosystems are what make Muogamarra so beautiful; the complexity of local fauna pruning the plants as they graze, pollinating and dispursing seeds, fungi and the myrid of other organisms recycling nutrients and so much more. I think the East suffers from the same problem that we in the West suffer… the ‘distant fields’ syndrome plus a paucity of good local area plants in nurseries. We’ve done well with trees and lots of shrubs but not the ground story herbage; the little stuff. Great post Janna

    • jannaschreier says:

      ‘Heightened naturalism’ is a fabulous term, isn’t it? It’s really interesting what you say about the ecosystem on our properties; of course even just putting a fence up disrupts the balance and changes the dynamics, doesn’t it (and so often blocks under construction are devoid of all vegetation for months if not years on end)? It’s also so true what you say about ground covers, and getting this right makes the world of difference to a garden. We did see a few nice ones in Kings Park, didn’t we? Will get to writing that up very soon!

  3. Suzanne Marsh says:

    One small (and simplified) example of a disruption to an ecosystem about which I know is the loss of woylies from large tracts of Australia. This little marsupial is now severly threatened but used to be very common. They foraged in the undergrowth and love to dig for fungi. This digging helped spread the fungi spores, assisted in recycling nutrients and both activities reduced leaf litter. Few areas now have woylies, leaf litter builds up, fire frequency increases causing further ecosystem damage, and so it goes and so it goes. Yes, Kings Park does manage the ground story very well and I think superbly demonstrates the concept of ‘heightened naturalism’. (I’ve just collected six tiny Dodonaea ceratocarpa tube stock to try and cover some of my open ground. Hopefully they’ll survive our month away in Sydney.)

    • jannaschreier says:

      I just looked up a woylie. How cute is that? It is amazing how ecosystems operate. When we first moved into this house our Acer had terrible aphids the first spring. The second spring they returned, but we also had ladybirds (I think you call them ladybugs) munching them nicely. The third spring and the ladybirds and aphids seem to be pretty much balanced. I recently read that it takes four years after ceasing to use chemicals for a garden to find some kind of balance where there is little reason to even think of chemicals. I so enjoy seeing more wildlife with each year we spend in each garden. And fingers crossed for your Dodonaea; it was just an amazingly vibrant cover in Kings Park.

  4. Catherine says:

    Glad you loved Muogamarra. It’s such a special place and still not known by so many Sydneysiders. I think we also forgive and even enjoy things in nature that we don’t in a garden. Clashing colours seem fine and odd juxtapositions are accepted that we’d never plant or tolerate in our own gardens. I think we let go of ‘perfect’ when we immerse ourselves in a natural experience, and love it that way (thank goodness), but perversely demand ‘perfect’ in anything created by people, from spell-checked prose to a planned and planted garden.

    • jannaschreier says:

      We are hard on each other aren’t we? I do confess to liking well spelt and grammared (!!) prose; I guess that is all part of appreciating someone who has taken a bit of care, just like it is in the garden. (I dread to think how many errors you have seen in my writing by now, though!) But we should be more open to appreciating the quirks of home gardens; perfect gardens really aren’t as good, but we can’t help but find fault sometimes. A good reminder for us all.

  5. rusty duck says:

    It’s an interesting point for me Janna, with a wild and untouched woodland as part of the ‘garden’. I’m aware of the need for a transition zone. The woodland needs to stay as nature intended, although many of the trees seem in danger of falling either on the house or on my head so they will need attending to. Perhaps that’s why I am coming to like prairie planting so much. If I do it right it will get wilder, with more grasses and native plants, as it gets closer to the wood and, I hope, blend rather than jar.
    Plastic grass, urgh!

    • jannaschreier says:

      How lucky you are to have both types to play in! Although admittedly not so exciting to have big arborist bills, too. But, from what I have seen, I think you’ve got it exactly right. Nice neat terraces close to the house, softer curves nearer the trees and many types of plant that could pass for garden or nature. I love seeing your garden evolve, particularly as we have such a similar idea of what a great garden is!

  6. mattb325 says:

    I love the Isopogons, and they are surprisingly cold-tolerant. A young shrub survived the winter really well, when so much else got damaged here on the tablelands.
    It’s nice to see the Telopeas out so early. They are stunning. Still a month away for us, but when you see them in the bush they are more like an exotic plant or a garden escapee. Its flamboyance reminds me of another east coast native, Brachychiton acerifolius.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Isopogons are great, aren’t they? I’ve seen them looking fabulous in pots too; some of the cultivars are really compact and full. I’m about to start a garden design in the Blue Mountains–although the other side to you– so perhaps they should be near the top of the list! I agree on Telopea. A friend was also saying how they thought gymea lilies looked equally out of place. But then you think of Asplenium and you realise that there are quite a few natives that have this bolder look, even our East coast natives! I’m hoping to get to Mount Tomah at the weekend; fingers crossed the Telopea will have started there.

  7. David Marsden says:

    Someone asked me recently why I didn’t strim all the margins of the gardens throughout the year. And I had to patiently explain that they softened the transition from garden to the surrounding countryside. Plus, of course, they are an important wildlife refuge. So yes, I have brambles and thistle down aplenty but that’s OK. It may not look manicured but that’s OK too.
    Some beautiful photos, Janna. You work for the Australian Tourist Board right? Dave

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oo, I’m super excited you like my photos. I was hoping I might get a few more tips from you over that cup of tea. In fact I might need photography, garden design and countryside transitioning tips from you. I am a bit of an Australian ambassador, but with good reason, I think. The natural beauty here is outstanding, plentiful and unique. It’s easy to develop a strong affinity to it as it’s just so Australian, quite different to anything I’ve seen elsewhere in the world. There I go again. When you are coming?

      • David Marsden says:

        We might have to run to a pot of tea, I’m thinking. Or two. To my shame I’ve never been to Australia – I’ll start saving up my loose change. Having a spare month or two would help. Keep up the ambassador work – sterling effort. D

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