‘To the native born Australian the wattle stands for home, country, kindred, sunshine and love – every instinct that the heart enshrines’
These sentimental lines from a circular printed by the Victorian branch of the Australian Wattle Day League early in the early 20th century, arguably reflect similar feelings for many of us each spring.
The name ‘wattle’ for the native plant family Acacia (an old Anglo-Saxon word for interlaced) became the vernacular when many of their saplings, plus others, were used as stakes that were interwoven to make fences and walls for dwellings that were then daubed with mud.
The early Aboriginal names for species such as mulga, myall, brigalow and cooba remain as the names for the timber. Gidgee is currently used to make fence posts, walking sticks and handles for stock whips, while others, especially the dark and heavy heartwood from arid areas, are valued for finely turned bowls, trays and trinkets.
While there is a species of wattle in bloom every month throughout the year, one of the first to light up the August landscape is Acacia baileyana, the Cootamundra wattle. Unfortunately it is deemed a noxious weed in many areas including the ACT, as seeds of this vigorous grower are food for native birds who scatter them through the bush to the detriment of other native plantings.
Wattles make excellent contributions to the home garden, from the tall-growing Acacia howittii as a screening plant to a dwarf form called ‘Honey Bun’, as well as the prostrate ‘Green Wave’.
Acacia pravissima, the Ovens wattle, is also available in several forms: tall, dwarf ‘Little Nugget’ and the prostrate ‘Bushwalk Baby’. Other popular species include the pretty, feathery foliaged A. fimbriate and A. boormanii.
Acacia cognate ‘Limelight’ is a popular choice for containers and specimen plantings. The normally compact dwarf form is often grafted onto a decorative 1.5m standard where it displays its naturally dome shaped habit.
Like many native plants, acacias appreciate free draining soils and sites in full sun or partial shade (check the nursery label). However because they are notably fast growing they are comparatively short-lived with a life span of between 10 to 25 years.
Left to their own devices all plants will continue to grow, flower and fruit as nature intended. As a result, judicious pruning during dormancy or immediately after flowering will keep things in check to the benefit of both plant and gardener.