Yallingup residents rule elements with fire resistant garden

02 August 2016

published by http://www.watoday.com.au


Australia Yallingup residents Bill and Di Mitchell spent years clearing highly flammable native plants from the area surrounding their rural property and replaced it with a fire retardant garden.

The couple live in a high risk bushfire area, and as part of their fire management plan Mr Mitchell began researching plant species which could help protect their home from fire and came across fire absorbing plants.

Plants such as succulents, aloes and cacti store water and in a massive heat scenario the water stored inside the leaves boils and does not ignite.

Mr Mitchell said his garden is something of rare beauty which had taken the garden world by storm.

"I call this garden Fire and Beauty for the reason this garden was initially created out of the need for doing something for our massive fire problem as we are zoned in an area which is an extreme bushfire risk," he said.

"What has surprised everybody is the beauty of the mass planting of these plants as most people have little pockets of succulents in their gardens or have them in pots.

"According to gardening experts who have visited my place over the years they have all told me they had never seen a mass planting like we have."

Mr Mitchell said the mass planting has created a 30 metre buffer around the house along with other hard surfaces that cannot ignite, which are all part of a fire blanket surrounding the house.

Volunteers with the Yallingup Rural Bushfire Brigade, Mr and Ms Mitchell were conscious about having a clever water management system and garden at their property.

Mr Mitchell said it was important for people who build on rural blocks to forward plan the way a block was shaped to catch water run off for reticulation and fire fighting.

"We catch 300,000 to 400,000 liters of water a year off our bitumen area which is dirty water then it is transferred from our catching tank up to our fire tank and our reticulation tank," he said.

"At all times I have 200,000 liters of water connected to my fire pumps which I can start by remote control via text and I have 200,000 liters set aside for reticulation.

"All that water is recovered every year, not from my roof, but from my hard surfaces."

Mr Mitchell said while the plants could survive without water, they thrived with water.

"The plants only need water once a week to thrive and our growth rates here have been phenomenal because we have high alkaline soils and quick draining soils which are critical," he said.

"People can create a fire shield around their house with these types of plants and it gives them capacity to fight fires with their own water supply which we have in abundance here because of our run off catchment."

Mr Mitchell said he was a non gardener forced down the path to look at ways he could protect his home from a fire attack.

"You do not need to be a gardener to do this, I was the opposite of a great thumb," he said.

"A non gardener driven by a totally different agenda has created something now that really avid gardeners come along and admire."

Mr Mitchell said bushfires were the biggest threat to people living on rural blocks in the South West and not enough could be done to educate the public about how they could mitigate their exposure and vulnerability.

City of Busselton community emergency services officer Tim Wall said there were many measures people could take to protect their properties from bushfires similar to Mr Mitchell's approach.

Mr Wall said if people knew which direction a fire would come from they could establish a vegetable garden or plant citrus trees, which carry water, closest to the fire prone area.

"A lot of people and bushfire ready groups are encouraging a lot of this," he said.

Aloe-Aloe Horticulture expert Michael Dent said the Mitchell's garden was perhaps the best garden containing flowering aloe cultivars in Australia and possibly one of the most impressive in the world.

Mr Dent said aloes were widely used in Africa and California for fire prevention purposes as similar risks were experienced in those countries.

"Most garden plants burn yet the aloes do not because of their succulent nature, and beautiful flowers are possible with no reticulated water relying only on what comes from the sky," he said.

Cactus and Succulent Society of WA Inc secretary Bob Hunter said he had heard of these types of gardens being promoted around the world.

"It is like growing a fire break," he said.

Mr Hunter said old fashioned pig face was grown in coastal areas and was better than having a bare ground which could also be used to choke out weeds that became fire hazards when land was cleared.

"Cactus and succulents replace weeds with water they are usually promoted for being water wise plants but they are also good for fire prone areas," he said.

"The pig face formed close knit flowers, they are beautiful flowers which create a carpet of red and pink."

Cowaramup resident and gardening author Julie Kinney said she loved that Mr Mitchell has taken such a responsible approach to protect what he has created and was not making a fire hazard.

"What he has created is something special and he has put in a masses of water to keep it alive and protect it from fire hazards," she said.

Busselton and Districts Horticultural Society secretary Effie Kenworthy said the types of plants in Mr Mitchell's garden contained water and moisture which could be of benefit to people living in farming and rural areas.

"You need to be selective to get the best out of your garden," she said.