Photos: Toni Salter
I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. ~ Dorothea Mackeller 1885 – 1968
These immortal words, excerpted from “My Country” by an English immigrant poet to Australia in 1904 that are often quoted to reflect the vastness and unpredictability of the Australian countryside.
Like Dorothea Mackellar, I love the broad range of landscape in my country. The dramatic variety of flora and fauna amidst vastly divergent countryside attracts almost 6 million visitors to a country with a population of less than 23 million.
I reside in Sydney, which is in New South Wales. Our state floral emblem is the Waratah (Telopea), which is spectacular when in flower.
A visit to the Australian botanic gardens is a regular event for me because of its close proximity. Natural settings have been shown to help restore the mind from the mental fatigue, improving productivity and creativity.
I often make time to just stroll around the gardens, taking in the amazing complexity of the flora and it’s adaptations for survival. Plants have to survive this parched and sunburned land and we all need to adapt to situations that may be harsh, painful or even threatening in order for us to survive.
I take life principles from the analogies of these plant modifications.
Foliage in harsh exposed conditions tend to develop a thickened or tough epidermis. We too, need to grow a thick skin on occasion, just like some of our Australian iconic plants, the Banksia or gum tree (Eucalyptus). A harsh exterior may seem unfriendly, but it is important to understand that this can often be a mechanism for protection.
Wattles (Acacia spp.) are also typically Australian. Most wattles serve a special purpose in the forest as pioneers. They are quick growing, short lived and have adapted to take on harsh environmental conditions, providing shelter and protection for more sensitive, slower growing plants.
Plants grow in community; they help each other. On their own, they would not survive, but together they grow and develop into a force to withstand nature and all her elements. We cannot expect to thrive in an isolated life. We need community to protect, nurture, love and care for us all so we, too, can grow into all that we are meant to be.
Other species develop tiny leaves to reduce their propensity for drying out, like the Western Australian Thriptomene. If we avoid putting ourselves “out there” by reducing our own dominance in certain situations, we are more likely to avoid confrontation.
A common problem with native plant is damage by a small insect called psyllid, attacking the vulnerable soft new growth. Like people, plants wear the scars of invasion or attack.
During the initial stages of development, whether a new relationship, new job or new home, we may feel vulnerable because we haven’t yet established our support mechanisms and defenses.
Just as certain as insect attack can be on plants, is the threat of bush fire.
Australian native plants have adapted to handle this onslaught with special lignotubers, from which they can regenerate after extreme trauma.
Sometimes, when we feel that all has been burnt from our lives, we can draw from deep within to regenerate, to begin slowly but carefully reconstructing ourselves.
Some Australian seeds are so remarkable that they actually won’t germinate until after a fire. They lay dormant in the ground until such time that full regeneration is needed, the intensity of heat from the bush fire and smoke will trigger its call to action.
Like everyone when we return home, the familiarity brings warmth and a sense of security. I embrace the picture of the Blue Mountains from the plane as I fly back into Sydney and as harsh and confronting as the Aussie outback can be, it is my home, my country.
Toni Salter, ‘The Veggie Lady’, is an Australian registered horticulturist living in Sydney who runs therapeutic gardening programs. Follow Toni on Twitter and ‘Like’ her on Facebook
 Kaplan, S. 1995. The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward An Integrative Framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology 15, 3: 169-182.
 Shibata, S., and N. Suzuki. 2002. Effects of the Foliage Plant on Task Performance and Mood. Journal of Environmental Psychology 22, 3: 265-272.