I spent my childhood  on the NSW Central Coast, and always celebrated the end of the year with big bunches of NSW Christmas bush, Ceratopetalum gummiferum, with its delicate burst of red bracts to brighten the occasion. Since moving to Tasmania I have been keenly exploring the plants of my adopted state and so it is that I want to introduce those of you who aren’t aware of it , to the Tasmanian Christmas Bush, Bursaria spinosa.

Bursaria spinosa - sweet bursaria flowers round Christmas time

Many of you will recognise this as a species that also grows widely on the mainland, in fact from tropical far north Queensland, right down the east coast including the mountainous regions and across to South Australia. It flowers in spring throughout much of its mainland range which explains why it is not called ‘Christmas Bush’ through most of its mainland range. This beauty has much to recommend it. Instead of red bracts, it is loaded with starry white blooms in December (in Tasmania) . As the name spinosa indicates, it also comes with spiny foliage, making it a great habitat plant giving shelter to small birds and other fauna such as the Eltham Copper Butterfly in Victoria, whose larvae feed exclusively on the leaves of B. spinosa. As a bonus, bees which forage on it produce a honey that reputedly has butterscotch and marzipan flavours and one I look forward to tasting when I can track some down!

Even if it doesn’t flower at Christmas time where you live, this is one of those quiet achiever plants that is not only adaptable, but will also help to sustain biodiversity in your garden and region.

Onwards to 2021

What a year it has been. The whole world has been engulfed by so many challenges, such as Covid 19, economic stress, climate extremes, political upheaval and polarising division. As well as all those, we have also been dealing in Australia with  floods, drought, unprecedented bushfires and foreign relations problems that have and are causing great distress and anguish to so many . As a nation, we have not always dealt with these problems flawlessly, and there have definitely been bumps in the road, but overall I think we have shown that a spirit of togetherness instead of division will go a long way towards being more resilient and creating solutions rather than fighting amongst ourselves.

Like Bursaria honey, something no other country can produce (unless they plant their own bloody big plantation), I hope it is time for us to really make the most of our strengths and uniquely Australian things, and take them to the world, rather than letting the world come take them and leave us with the cleaning up bill. We need to protect our environment and assets and use them wisely and well. The USA has shown us how a handful of loud people can throw a wrecking ball, but thankfully the rule of law and respect for democracy, a concerted effort can be a counter balance. Let’s help to protect our institutions, our health services, our robust independent media such as the ABC, to give voice to more than just the wealthy and the well connected and their handsomely paid lobbyists. Whatever your political beliefs, the acceptance of people’s democratic choices is vital and I would like to commend our politicians from both sides of the fence for the generally bipartisan way they have given the reins over to the scientists and health professionals that have done the most amazing job of managing the pandemic here in Australia. Having said all that our hearts go out to all those who have lost loved ones and been adversely impacted in all sorts of ways by the pandemic, bushfires and floods.

Even though gardening is seen by many as a hobby, horticulturists and our industry have become flavour of the year, as so many people appear to have realised that without food security we are neglecting one of the key elements of a sustainable civilisation. And that gardens and balconies can be made into havens in times of stress and lockdowns and can be a contribution to looking after the environment that we all share with life on earth.

Wishing all my readers much Christmas cheer, as I leave you with this image from my burgeoning arboretum as the sun was setting on the longest day of the year, the summer equinox. The fresh shoots of new growth I hope can be symbolic of a greater Australian awareness of, and dedication to a sustainable future. My personal resolution for the following year is to plant quite a few hundred if not thousands of trees, as well as keeping up my vegetable gardening, so I hope you will continue to join us on the journey!

Stay safe, particularly all you Sydneysiders!

Very best wishes from Angus and the team