Many of us are taking the time to connect with what is around us. No matter how small.
Before the pandemic, photographer David Tatnall spent most of his time out of the city, photographing Australia’s wild places. Now locked down at home in urban Melbourne, he describes how the little details in his 23-year-old native garden have kept him connected to what matters.
It’s motivation for all of us on what we can achieve in our cities. As our focus becomes more local than ever, this is the perfect time to plant and create spaces where native wildlife can thrive in our urban environment — nurturing our own wellbeing in the process.
“People make the assumption there is no wildlife in the city, but with proper conditions there is a lot going on,” says David Tatnall over the phone on a sunny Melbourne afternoon, when we are all locked in our houses, apartments and back gardens. There is only a suburb between us but we are in the midst of Covid-19 lockdown so this is how we meet.
David lives just 6km from the GPO of Melbourne, in an inner-city suburb called Northcote. When he moved here 23 years ago, there was nothing native around. “It was a ruin,” he tells me. So he and his partner set to work planting native and indigenous plants in their garden, and on the nature strip.
“Now, looking into my garden is like looking into nature,” he says.
“From our kitchen I can see through the doors to tranquil Yellow Gums and Iron Bark which are now in flower and full of bees. Next to that is a Xanthorrhoea (Grass tree), and under the gum an entire fern garden that is lovely and cool in summer. There is also a Kangaroo Apple, which is an understory plant with edible fruit.
I have a groundcover of Warragul greens (Tetragonia) — an edible native plant. I’ve lost count of the cuttings I’ve given away of this one."
Over the years, as the garden grew, more and more native wildlife moved in. After the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, he noticed more birds suddenly appear, which are still there and much-loved by the children who attend the kindergarten next door.
“Lorikeets, rosellas, corellas, cockatoos, ringtails. Hover flies and a lot of native bees like the unusual Blue Banded bees — they were not here before we came,” says David.
“I also have two ponds with frogs — how they moved in is a mystery. But I’ve been told in very wet times frogs can move a long way. Now, when my frogs start to croak people stop to listen as they walk past the house.
I have plants, like everlasting daisies, that attract butterflies. You can get books that will tell you what you can attract with certain plants. This has really helped me know what to plant.”
David will normally spend weeks or months out in the bush, photographing nature. So this wonderful garden has been a lifeline for someone who loves to be in nature as often as he can. But he hopes that in this time of lockdown, more people will see the benefit of investing in native gardens in the city.
“Transforming this land from nothing to a haven for abundant native birds species is a really positive thing. We can increase our urban biodiversity ... our city air can be clearer. There are so many interesting things to see. I’ve found bright red fungi growing under a tree — quite a magical little find. Right now, talking to you, I can see the yellow gums in flower, and 10 bees hovering. Having a garden changes your state of mind and makes you part of a bigger picture.”
Not everyone is happy about native birds and animals being attracted in the city. Some councils say they don’t belong here. But, as David says, “They do belong here. They just aren’t common because our natural environment has been decimated.”
“In this time of isolation, hopefully people will be thinking about how they can improve their gardens so when this is over they will invest in their urban surroundings. People who don’t have that now, will be thinking about how to create better parks and reserves, places with native vegetation. More than ever, people and wildlife need these spaces.”
So why not use this time at home to bring more nature into your neighbourhood? Many nurseries remain open, and planting natives in your garden and along your nature strip is a great way to connect with nature and attract wildlife.
When the coronavirus pandemic has eased and the need for strict social distancing restrictions has passed, we hope to relaunch our Nature for Neighbourhoods community building initiative. The habitat you restore now will see nature start to thrive by then.
David Tatnall is an award-winning nature photographer. His work is found in collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, State Library of Victoria, Monash Gallery of Art, Australian Embassy Washington USA and many regional galleries in Victoria. www.davidtatnall.com