A manicured green lawn, bushes or planter boxes along the fence and a Hills Hoist in the middle might come to mind when picturing a traditional Australian garden.

But in many backyards, native plants and ground covers are settling in for the long haul in a shift hailed as beneficial for the ecosystem and the home owner.

Carmel Marks never considered herself to have a green thumb, but the 72-year-old has been converted.

Natives have grown on a large section of the almost one-hectare property she lives on with her sisters in Barmera, in South Australia’s Riverland region.

Carmel Marks has planted natives on her land.(ABC Riverland: Elyse Armanini)

“It wasn’t a garden, it was a block, and it was just red dirt which then grew its own weeds,” she said.

“The suggestion of native plants was like an answer to prayer.

“If I can put native plants that will eventually look after themselves, how wonderful is that?”

The planting of various Australian and local plants was led by Berri Barmera Landcare with assistance from students at the nearby Barmera Primary School.

A young native round leaf mallee tree will grow to about 8 metres.(ABC Riverland: Elyse Armanini)

Reap what you sow

Weed control, fast growth and an increase in bird, insect and lizard life were among some of the advantages Ms Marks noticed in just 10 months since introducing natives to the property.

She said it was not just her garden experiencing the benefits.

“I cannot describe the change in me,” she said.

“People have said to me, ‘you are so young now, you’re so alive now’, and it’s absolutely true.

“It’s just this amazing, life-giving experience that I’m having.”

Andrew Walladge says native gardens are becoming more popular.(ABC Riverland: Elyse Armanini)

Berri Barmera Landcare project officer Andrew Walladge said he had seen the shift to native gardens happening slowly in the region and wider South Australia.

“Over literally decades I’ve seen many people move away from traditional styles of gardening because it involves a fair bit of work,” he said.

“From an environmental point of view, instead of having a very small number of species, you open it up to a wide range [and] it improves the soil microflora.

“Physically you might have a bit of a prune once a year for a smaller garden, that’s it, and very little watering or it can be designed [to not] require any ongoing watering so the utility bills just take a dive.”

Barmera Primary School students helped plant natives at Carmel Marks’s property.(ABC Riverland: Elyse Armanini)

‘It’s a mindset’

Mr Walladge said people transitioning to native gardens needed to ask themselves what they ultimately wanted out of it.

“Do you want native food plants? Do you want simply shade and shelter? Do you want to bring pollinators into for your veggie garden or combination of the whole lot?” he said.

“Also what do you want to give back? How am I going to improve the environment?

“It’s really a mindset.

“It can be a lot of work initially, but the long goal is to get it to a point where there’s very little work or just getting out there and just observing what’s going on.”

Ms Marks says the self sufficiency of natives is an incentive for growing them.(ABC Riverland: Elyse Armanini)

Onto the next patch

Ms Marks has credited her local Landcare for the native gardens sessions where she met “lovely people from the Riverland community”.

“They have workshops where volunteers collect seeds and prepare them for planting to produce their next back of seedling tubes,” she said.

“[It was] a great activity and way of meeting others interested in promoting the benefits of growing Australian natives.”

A round leaf mallee tree blooms at Carmel Marks’s property.(ABC Riverland: Elyse Armanini)

She said it meant a lot to know her growing native garden would continue to thrive and help the ecosystem once her work was done.

“The more I see it, the more sense it makes and the more benefit there is,” she said.

“Once I’ve gotten the big area controlled I can concentrate on bringing these things into the backyard as well.

“I’m totally looking forward to doing that.”

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