My love of gardening started at the ages of 2-6 when I was in care with my elderly grandparents. My Nanna tasked me with dead heading marigolds and I learnt to count by being told how many runner beans to go snip off for tea. My grandad had a glass greenhouse and I watched seeds grow and we tinkered about together. My room had a view of a castle ruins first built in the 11th Century. I spent a childhood growing rhubarb near the muck heap, rubbing dock leaves on nettle stings, imaginative play with snap dragons, and the first tricky word I learnt was Digitalis purpurea, the Purple Foxglove.
Fast track over 40 years on and I have called Australia my home for many of those years. We are a family with two boys living on 5 acres in West Brisbane. Life was busy bringing up boys and so most of the ‘gardening’ was tackling weeds and trying to plant a house garden, and often failing at both.
Three years ago, we had two Koalas visit, they were rescued but sadly didn’t make it. It was quite confrontational to realise the cute Australian icons in our backyard were actually very sick, in pain and one had even lost a kidney. We visited the healthier one in the Koala hospital for many months, it was very sad. I had to explain to my boys why these Koalas had become sick (loss of habitat causing disease) that it was we humans who had done this.
For me it struck a chord, and I felt a responsibility to be a good custodian for our patch of Earth we called our home. I felt it important to do this as the land was there before me and will be there after me and I wished my impact to be only positive. I started out raising Koala awareness and collected towels to take to the hospital for the Koala baths. Many people visited and someone mentioned the Land for Wildlife program. I wasn’t sure I was up to the task, but I gave them a call.
They came out to visit and I casually said I’d like to look after our 5 acres of bushland a bit better and needed some guidance. I was actually terrified of any creepy crawlies and snakes and had not ventured much past the house yard. Also having had a knee and couple of shoulder joint surgeries, the forest terrain was tricky to manage. My Land for Wildlife Officer patiently showed me how to find wallaby trails and flag trees to follow access paths so I could walk around the property with more confidence.
I enthusiastically called them back at every opportunity to show them what I had done and get the next step of advice. They gave me books, resources, links and free plants. Mainly they were there to support me. It was like having a teacher and guide on hand always. I learnt so much, I started to see the land change, the weeds diminished, new things grew, I was starting to confidently identify some things without carrying the book about. I shared what I learnt with others and encouraged them to join the awesome program.
My youngest son has also taken to the garden and has made a few recycled nest boxes and habitat hotels, some garden stairs and turned our lawn into a native bush garden.
Once our native garden is finished, (we have already been rewarded with a Tawny Frogmouth nesting just next to it) the next big project is clearing two gullies of lantana and regenerating a small gully of dry rainforest back to its former pre-logging / grazing glory. I keep telling my family I might find a fossil treasure when we clear the gully! As the gully is weathered down to bedrock, this might sound silly, but the reality is the land was here a long time before us and will be here a long time after.
If only the gullies and trees could speak and tell us all they have seen. I hope what the land experiences during our custodianship is that of positive regeneration so it can be here and healthy for all life to enjoy as the years continue to pass by.
I can highly recommend Land for Wildlife for the knowledge it brings, the free resources (great for families on tight budgets), the friendship, the support, even the fitness! It’s also great for your mental health and stress level to go clear some weeds, watch plants grow, see animals visit them and feel the warm fuzzies that you have done something good.
I am also a big fan of the monthly Land for Wildlife catch-ups at Upper Brookfield (see page 9 for more information). I have learnt so much through the group who have such an array of knowledge to pass onto newbies like myself. I have gained a heap of knowledge on the plants and wildlife but also felt very supported by a like-minded bunch of people. It’s a great confidence boost if you feel lost in how to manage your land.
How my life has changed since joining Land for Wildlife – many nights I fall asleep with a book of plants and twigs in my hair, very happy of the achievements on my property.
Article and photos by Vicky Mills
Land for Wildlife member Karana Downs, Brisbane