We’re familiar with the way flowers tell us the time: the heliconia that opens its hot-pink, canoe-like flowers for a special birthday; the camellias warning of State of Origin hogging the airwaves; or the jacaranda ringing the bell for HSC angst.
For the Eeora people flowers help write the specials on a mental dinner menu. When the sand dunes are spotted pink with the flowers of pig face, Carpobrotus glaucescens, flounder and flathead are dish of the day. It’s the turn of the tailor when the edible blue berries of the dianella are in full flush and when the tall spears of the Doryanthes, Gymea lily, open their big red flowers the female salt-water crabs will be laying eggs so are temporarily off the menu.
I learned all this on a tour of Barangaroo Reserve, the park on the northern tip of Barangaroo, where, one year after opening, the newly built coves are drawing sea life back to the shore, and the plants are flourishing. Banksia are covered with flowers, great mounds of pig face and hardenbergia lounge over the sandstone walls, the tree ferns look stately, and only the Port Jackson figs on Stargazer Lawn at the top of the park, planted into 2m of soil atop polystyrene, look like they haven’t quite decided if they are happy in their new home
To the south all is construction, but here, there is a developing sense of place. The landform was built to mirror the pre-colonial shape of the point, using watercolour sketches from the early days of the colony as a reference. The topography echoes pre-colonial life and so does the planting, which was chosen to replicate the plant species that hugged the harbour foreshore before settlement. These plants were culture, medicine, calendar and pantry for the local people.
Indigenous guides tell the stories of the land and its plants on daily tours. For gardeners there is much to discover, and lots of it is edible. Take the yellow flowers of the native hibiscus, Hibiscus heterophyllus, which are sweet treats. The fruits of the Port Jackson fig are also good, as long as they are coloured completely purple, and have no holes, which would indicate the presence of wasps in the fruit. Banksia flowers, rich in nectar, can be dipped in water to make a sweet drink and the tiny fruit of the pig face is like lychee I’m told, but even better.
I plan to try them all, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never get around to eating lomandra ‘bread’. The spiky-flowered, knife-edged lomandra is the convenience store of the bush. The base of the leaf is as juicy as a lemon grass stem and when stripped of flesh makes a useful paintbrush. The whole leaves can be torn into fibres and woven into mats, baskets and fish traps. And then there is the seed. Inside each seed are two little grains, which, painstakingly gathered, ground and mixed with water made a kind of ‘bread’. You can imagine the women’s astonishment when the white fellas showed up with sacks of white flour.
To the south Barangaroo is all money and power and domination of the landscape, but on the north side, the Reserve and its plants tell an older story of human interaction with the natural world.
Tours of Barangaroo Reserve run Mondays-Saturdays at 10.30am and last for about an hour and a half. $36.50. www.barangaroo.com
It’s time to
Garden designer Stephen Vella’s Little Hartley garden, Wild Meadows, is open next Saturday to show off the wintry skeletons of trees and seedheads of perennials. 243a Coxs River Road, Little Hartley. June 25, 10 – 2pm, Entry $8
Volunteer at Eryldene
Sydney’s great camellia garden Eryldene is looking for garden volunteers. No experience or knowledge is required. Call 9498 2271.
Florilegium’s annual book sale of new and second-hand garden-related books starts today. Plenty of titles are under $10. June 18-26, 65 Derwent St Glebe. Monday- Friday 10-6, Saturday-Sunday 10-5.
The best compost is layered like a lasagne with fresh green material alternated with dead brown material. Collect fallen leaves now to provide the brown matter.