FIFTEEN years ago Dudley Maier cycled around his neighbourhood noticing the gardens were mostly water-guzzling jungles of old English plants.
Back then Vincent council seemed to be endorsing it — even amid the millennial drought — with it’s top garden awards often going to the thirstiest examples.
“I thought ‘why don’t we try to encourage native plants’,” Mr Maier says.
“I could see what we needed to do was encourage those early adopters to get the message out a bit and reward them, and demonstrate to other people you could have these colourful gardens without having to dump a lot of water on them.”
He convinced the Swan River Trust and Water Corporation to sponsor a prize, native gardens started to sprout around the town and in 2014 came the watershed moment, when Lisa Mazzella and Geoff Weekes took out the top award for their native garden on The Boulevarde.
Before long neighbours were peeking their heads over the fence and asking for advice on how to get their own gardens looking so good.
“People tend to stick at it,” Mr Maier says, “because they realise that in some ways it’s easier, you don’t have to mow lawns, you still have to do some work but it’s less onerous.”
Ross and Janis, also from Mt Hawthorn, won the natives category in the early day of the competition. Ross says he was initially skeptical until he went to a Great Gardens workshop and was blown away by what he learned about traditional gardens damaging the environment.
He was aware of the drying climate, the effect of phosphates on rivers and that too much water went on lawns, and feared the once-pristine Swan River would die, leaving a black mark on the city’s consciousness.
Even with that knowledge, he says “by the time I walked out of that first workshop, my head was turned”.
He got rid of the lawns, saying they were a pain in the bum to mow, added raised garden beds to grow their own veggies and filled the verge with natives. Mulch was chucked around where they could fit it.
He says going native isn’t a magic bullet: Soils aren’t as fertile as originally, so plants need some babying in the early days and a fair bit of hand watering.
Entries for this year’s Greening Vincent garden competition are open until October 7, and there’s a big banner on the council’s front page that’ll take you there.
by DAVID BELL