Wattle Brightens a Winter Garden

Appearing from the later half of winter, fluffy yellow balls of wattle remind us that spring is on its way.

Australia's national flower, Acacia pycnantha, or Golden Wattle, features on the Coat of Arms, inspired our sporting colours of Green and Gold and even has September 1 dedicated as National Wattle Day.

As well as brightening the landscape with it's bursts of colour, Wattle has had many uses over time including in baking, building and carpentry.

"Traditionally Aborigines used (wattle) for making tools," says Sarah Dempster, horticulturist in charge of the wattle garden at the Mount Annan Botanic Garden in Sydney's southwest.

In early settlement it was utilised for making wattle and daub (wattle wood coated with a mixture of mud and straw) which is used for structural purposes.

Wattle flowers, and more commonly, seeds, are also used in cooking.

"The seed ... is ground up and made into a flour and then that is utilised in baking," Dempster says.

There are over 900 species of wattle and while most of are very adaptable, growers should choose carefully when considering which variety to plant in the backyard.

"You may not be successful in planting something from Darwin in Sydney," she says.

Worse still, you could be planting a variety that is a weed in your area.

"Either contact your local council or your local nursery and find out what grows locally, but also be mindful of what is a weed in your area as well."

Some wattles need a lot of water, but others are drought hardy, Dempster says.

"You have wattles that will grow along creek lines, you have wattles that will grow in gravel or in clay some don't require much water."

Most wattles also benefit from pruning.

"Generally with wattles you tend to get a better life-span out of them if you do prune them after flowering," she says.

They are also good for the soil.

"(They) take nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it into the soil, it actually fertilises not only the ground for itself but for other plants as well."

Wattles are an extremely adaptable plant, growing in some of the most inhospitable parts of Australia and requiring the heat of bushfire to germinate.

Dempster says Wattle Day, held on the first day of September, comes too late for many parts of the country.

"The problem is the 1st of September is down as Wattle Day but unfortunately a lot of the wattles (at the Mount Annan wattle garden) are actually finished by that stage," she says.

"Late July to August is the best time to come and see them."

The history of Wattle Day

According to the official Wattle Day website, in 1908 Victorian birdwatcher and founder of the Wattle Club, Archibald James Campbell, made a speech advocating a National Wattle Day.

His suggestion sparked interest in Sydney from J.H. Maiden, the director of the Botanic Gardens and the leading expert on Acacias at the time.

On August 20, 1909, Maiden called for a public meeting to form a Wattle Day League and coordinate the states into accepting and celebrating the first Wattle Day.

The first Wattle Day was celebrated in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne on September 1, 1910.

In 1916, the date for Wattle Day in NSW was changed to August 1, because of the early blooming of wattle around Sydney and so that the Red Cross could use the flower in fundraising for the war.

The national date of September once again became official in 1992.

Source: http://wattleday.com

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