Montrose Fire Safety Garden

The Montrose Fire Safety Garden is a joint project of Montrose Environmental Group, Montrose Fire Brigade and the Shire of Yarra Ranges. It was established to demonstrate how garden design, maintenance, and plant selection may assist in protecting homes against bushfires. The garden covers roughly half an acre between the historical cottage and the maternal and child health centre at Montrose. The garden is accessed is from the corner of Mt Dandenong Road and Swansea Road, and is open freely to the public 24/7 (map).

The garden is designed to show safe features such as gravel paths near buildings. Plants in the garden have characteristics that make them less flammable, and include local indigenous species that naturally occur around Montrose, other Australian native species and non-Australian exotic species (see the brochure below for a list of planted species). In 2001, the Fire Safety Garden committee won a CFA Fire Awareness Award for their dedicated maintenance efforts and production of educational material.

For more information, read the Montrose Fire Safety Garden brochure and take the self-guided walk around the garden.

Self-guided walk

The Montrose Fire Safety Garden displays some ideas about how to create a garden that is safer in bushfire-prone areas. Follow the numbered posts to see some of the ways you can landscape your garden and some of the plants you can choose.

  1. Build paths or grow lawn close to the house to minimise fuel. Fruit trees or simillar low-flammability plants a little further away can protect against wind and radiation.
  2. Smooth-barked trees are preferable because they are less flammable, but loose-barked trees can be used away from the house and clear of shrubs.
  3. A low-flammability hedge can retard the wind and shield radiation and embers. Long-leaf Wax-flower is a low-flammability shrub that is suitable.
  4. Correa is a suitable native plant which has low flammability because it carries minimal dead material.
  5. Do not plant environmental weeds like Sycamore Maple and Sweet Pittosporum, even though they may be fire retardant.
  6. Musk Daisy-bush is an indigenous shrub that is good at screening radiant heat, and it recovers well after fire. Note the lush, broad leaves. Small indigenous plants that remain lush are no fire hazard, such as violets and trigger-plants.
  7. Tasman Flax-lily is a native ground-layer plant that is fire retardant.
  8. Large quantities of leaves dropped by trees must be cleared away.
  9. Inorganic mulch reduces hazard by retaining soil moisture. Gravel is non-flammable, and large pine bark chips are less flammable that eucalyptus mulches.
  10. Hydrangeas have low flammability because of their large moist leaves, and they recover well after fire.

Landscaping strategies for bushfire

When designing the Fire Safety Garden, a number of factors were considered to retain elements of the existing landscape and to demonstrate a wide range of techniques for bushfire defense. To a large degree, the normal principles of landscape architecture governed the selection and sizes of plants that we used. Height versus distance from the existing historic cottage was also considered for the purpose of minimising fire risk. We chose sizes and spacings of plants, where possible, on the basis of established aerodynamic principles for effective wind breaks and ember barriers.

Always remember the garden is only one component of preparing your property to withstand wildfire. It is crucial that you refer to other publications for information on house design, water supply, personal fire survival plans and seasonal fire protection duties. For other publications see the External links.

Layout

Layout of your garden is an essential part of creating a safer surrounding for your house. Prior to plant selection you should decide on where paths, garden beds and other features are to be located in relation to the house. The aims are to reduce the intensity of a wildfire by minimising fuel, shielding radiant heat, slowing wind and reducing the spread of embers. Your garden can act as a green shield around your house by using the following guidelines.

Choosing plants

The best plants for minimising bushfire risk have the following properties:

It can be hard to tell which plants have these features, but look for ones that have:

These properties are present in various plants used in the display garden. See if you can spot the desirable features on the self-guided walk, or assess the bushfire risk of existing plants on your property.

Garden maintenance

Maintenance of your garden is a key factor in minimising fire risk. There is no substitute for the regular chores involved in keeping the surrounds of your house tidy to reduce fuel that would feed a bushfire.

Leading up to and during the summer fire risk season, you should be doing the following:

Plant list

The following tables list the plants that were present immediately after the garden was established. Some are locally endemic and others are regionally indigenous or of significant conservation value. This list does not exactly reflect the current plants in the garden since it is constantly evolving, however, it may act as a starting point for creating your own bushfire-safe garden.

Shrubs

Botanical Name Common Name Height (metres) Spread (metres) Quantity
Artemesia "Powis Castle" Wormwood 1 1 17
Bankisa spinulosa Hairpin Bankisa 4 3 4
Choisya ternata Mexican Orange Blossum 1.5 2 8
Correa alba White Correa 1 1.5 16
Correa baeuerlenii Chef's Cap Correa 2 2 14
Correa reflexa Common Correa 1.5 1.5 4
Crowea saligna Willow-leaved Crowea 1 1.2 4
Eriostemon myoporoides Long-leafed Flower 1.5 1.5 12
Hebe albicans   0.6 0.6 54
Hydrangea macrophyllacultivar Lacecap Hydrangea 1.5 1.5 18
Hydrangea paniclata "Grandiflora"   3 2.5 3
Hydrangea quercifolia Oak-leaf Hydrangea 1.5 1.5 18
Olearia argophylla Musk Daisy-bush 4 4 7
Pomaderris aspera Hazel Pomaderris 4 3 6
Rhododenrdon species   8 6 1
Solanum aviculare Kangaroo Apple 2.5 2.5 7
Vidurnum davidii   1.5 1.5 14

Ground covers

Not all species have common names, and these common names can vary regionally.

Botanical Name Common Name Height (metres) Spread (metres) Quantity
Arthropodium strictum Chocolate Lily 0.3 0.3  
Asplenium Bulbiferum Mother Spleenwort 1.2 1.2 11
Blechnum cartilagineum Gristle Fern 1.2 1.2 11
Bulbibe bulbosa Bulbine Lily 0.3 0.3  
Dianella tasmanica Tasman Flax-lily 0.7 1 73
Dichondra repens Kidney Weed 0.15 1.5  
Diplarrena moraea Butterfly Flag 0.5 0.6  
Isotoma fluviatilis Swamp Isotome 0.3 0.5  
Liriope muscari “Big Blue” 0.3 0.5 74
Microlaena stipoides Weeping Grass 0.3 0.5  
Myoporum parvifolium Creeping Boobialla 0.5 1.5 32
Orthrosan multiflorus Morning Flag 0.5 0.5 35
Plectranthus argentatus   1 1 33
Rosmarinus officinalis   0.5 1 11
Stachys byzantia Lamb's Ears 0.2 0.6 8
Stylidium graminifolium Grass Trigger-plant 0.3 0.3  
Thelionema caespitosum Tuffed Lily 0.5 0.6  
Viola hederacea Native Violet 0.15 0.5  

Pre-existing plants

These plants were present at the site of the garden before it was established. They are not all indigenous.

Species in red are environmental weeds or are not recommened.

Botanical Name Common Name Quantity
Acacia melanoxylon Blackwood 8
Acer pseudoplantanus Maple 1
Agonis flexuosa Peppermint Tree 1
Cydonia oblonga Common Quince 1
Eucalyptus maculata Spotted Gum 1
Eucalyptuus obliqua   1
Eucalyptus ovata   7
Malus ioensis Apple Tree 4
Prunus ssp.   3
Quercus palustris Pin Oak 1
Quercus robur Common Oak 1
Rhododendron ssp. Rhododendron 1

Trees removed from site

These trees were removed due to over planting and to allow further light into the site. Pittosporum undulatum is an environmetal weed in the Shire of Yarra Ranges.