Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fat Bottles, Thin Bottles

Brachychiton rupestris
Perhaps we planters of trees can learn a lesson from the bottle trees in Dwyers Scrub.
The familiar trees with grossly swollen trunks are usually seen where they have obviously been planted and grown in the open. The trunk shape appears to be the result of the trees’ situation since infancy - though the amount of water the trees are given may also contribute to an eventual fat-trunked silhouette. There may also be some genetic variation. Who knows, now what has caused the difference between “Darby” and “Joan”, the well-known trees on the highway at Hampton.

When I planted bottle trees in my own garden twenty years ago, I set out to try to produce tall, slender “bottles”, by surrounding them closely with shrubs. I appear to have succeeded. Contrast my tree (right) with a nearby footpath specimen of about the same age (below), which has already developed a figure distinguished by portliness. Busting out of its britches, isn’t it? It’s a pretty tree, but not my preferred figure-type.
Bottle trees grow well on all our local soils, tolerating a great range of drainage and pH types. They are drought, bushfire, and frost resistant.
They sometimes drop some of their leaves in late winter, having a rather thin canopy for a month or two until the new leaves grow in spring. They rarely drop them all, but as you see, my young tree, which has never done it before, has made a thorough job of its first leaf drop!
Gardening fashions of the last century and more seem to have aimed at obliterating all signs of local character in our built landscapes. So many suburbs, all over the western world, look much like any other suburbs. How disappointing to go overseas and find ourselves walking down streets that could have been in our own home towns!
So I love to see it - wherever I am, and whatever the local plants - when gardeners and local councils have put in plantings that say firmly “this is OUR place, and it’s unique and special”.
Bottle trees say this, most emphatically.

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