In the middle of the worst drought in the region’s history we naturally think of farmers with bare paddocks and empty dams. But spare a thought for all the other businesses that are affected either directly or indirectly by the lack of rain. One of these is the nursery and garden industry. Local community and family nurseries are feeling the pinch as people stop buying plants in response to the dry soils and dying plants in their gardens.
Spring is normally the time when the warming days gets us all excited about the prospect of planting out the vegie garden for summer harvest. Some of us get so excited we start planting tomatoes in September only to have a mid October frost take them out. Spring is also the time when wattles, fruit trees and other flowering shrubs put on their best displays. Every time we go near a nursery (speaking from personal experience here) the showy flowers on display lure us into pulling out our wallets and buying more plants, sure in the knowledge that we’ll find somewhere to squeeze them in when we get home. Such is the fun of gardening: the promise of flowers, foliage and fruits for years to come.
This spring though, is different. When we are struggling to keep our existing gardens going and when we see trees dying in the landscape, we are hardly motivated to splash out on more plants. The thought of digging holes in the hard dry soils is also a bit of a turn off. But spare a thought for our local nurseries. They started planning for their spring stock back in autumn; sowing seeds, taking cuttings and ordering bare-rooted stock. Back then they knew it was a gamble, but surely it must rain soon! Winter rainfall has typically been reliable so its not such a risk to presume that we would get something from the sky?
Well we didn’t get anything more than a passing flock of birds could contribute. So now those nurseries are sitting on stock that they can’t sell and facing the prospect of tightening water restrictions. The ones most affected are the family and community nurseries who rely on plant sales so they can keep running and pay their staff. Nurseries such as Armidale Tree Group, Cedar Nursery, Mole Station Nursery and Black Mountain Nursery, all high quality growers.
When the drought is over we’ll need these nurseries to provide the plants to rebuild our gardens and farms. Hopefully people will be inspired to plant more trees and shrubs to provide shelter and shade, repair the land and even attract more rain in the future. So what can we do to ensure these businesses survive? Buy a plant of course!
In the middle of a dry spell a bit of greenery and colour can go a long way towards lifting your spirits. There are places we can put plants without risking losing them in the dry. Pots can be located next to the back door, on a windowsill or somewhere where they can easily be watered with a bucket. At our place we now save all our shower, bath, kitchen sink and washing machine water and we bail it onto the garden. It takes a lot of work, but even catching in a bucket the water that runs while the hot water comes through in the shower can help. This is enough to keep a few pot plants going. Its amazing what you can grow in a pot and this might be a great opportunity to find out. There are many native and exotic plants suited to pots, hanging baskets and tubs. Call into your local nursery and ask their advice.
While its hard to keep a vegie garden going by hand watering, you can grow lots of vegies in pots or even in foam boxes. Put them somewhere that they are easy to water with shower water. You could grow herbs, leafy vegies, even a tomato plant or two. You might even harvest a bit more if it is handy to the door. Just be careful that you water the soil rather than the plant if its something you are going to eat. Things like rocket, lettuce, chillis, eggplants, cucumbers and spinach grow well in tubs. Ask at the nursery for some of the varieties specially-bred for pots.
You can also buy plants as gifts for people who live in areas where the rain falls. Check with the nursery to make sure the plant you select will grow in the area you are sending it to. Plants in pots or hanging baskets make great gifts that bring new pleasure to the recipient every time they flower.
So think about how you can help your local nursery survive the drought. Drop in and have a look, buy some pots, plants and potting mix, get some advice and then get home and get some greenery back in your life. Develop the habit of saving your shower water and create an oasis on your verandah.
If we all buy one plant, we might just save a nursery. We’re going to need them!