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Western Oz Words: Monsters In Suburbia

The little house was neat and compact. Near the river. Not too far from the centre of Perth. But there were huge Japanese Pepper trees in the garden. Margaret Dunn tells how the monsters of suburbia were finally vanquished.

Once upon a time in Western Australia I bought a little house. It was neat and compact, near the river and not far from the city. The garden at the back of the house seemed a bit wild and unkempt, but the native bushes were in flower and the tall leafy trees gave shade from the hot sun.

After working in an office job for so many years and living in the middle of a cold northern city, I was looking forward to an outdoor life in the sunshine and the challenge of improving the garden.

Bottlebrush, golden diosma, climbing jasmine and a variety of cottage garden plants made a fine show. But the effect was spoiled by the continuous rain of leaves from the tall trees, and in autumn thousands of tiny red berries covered everything. They even found their way indoors and made stains on the carpet. A friend who came to visit told me they were Japanese Pepper Trees.

“They’ll give you endless trouble,” he said. Their roots will get into your plumbing and push up through the paving stones.”

Depressing news. I now looked at these monster trees more closely. Some of them had three or four twisted trunks coming from a single base, with branches like evil serpents extending in all directions. I could see they would take over the whole garden. Lopping the branches made no difference. The constant growth filled in the spaces.

Drastic action was needed. The Chainsaw Gang came in and cut down three of them. The others were kept in check for a while by constant pruning.

Then I realised the two by the boundary fence had become malevolent, like alien life forms from some distant planet. Their roots were probably halfway to Kalgoorie. The branches had spread over into the next property, intent on wrecking the shade cloth structure over the swimming pool.

On my side of the fence the roots were hard at work, uplifting a section of paving. It was time to bring back the Chainsaw Gang. Two men came one morning and swarmed up the trees like monkeys, their saws buzzing like large angry bees.

Branches came tumbling down, and I watched with glee as the twisted evil trunks were demolished right down to flat stumps. Holes were drilled and poison poured in. The remains of the monsters were taken away for mulching, and my garden was left tidy.

I didn’t realise the transformation until next morning when I came out and looked at the great open space. Light poured in. I could see the sky and the trees in the gardens beyond. The plants and bushes underneath seemed to be lifting their faces to the sunlight, and I felt the garden was a happier place. Some changes would be needed in the landscaping, a task of pleasure, and the dull grey fence that had come to light could be painted.

I have become accustomed to the new outlook. The fence is now a warm sandy colour with a variety of shrubs and plants completing the picture. But, as the tree men warned me, the monsters don’t die easily. Little green shoots keep appearing from the submerged roots. I let them grow a few inches then happily feed them with strong weed killer.

Other gardeners have told me about these malicious growths, and we wonder why they ever came to be planted in suburban gardens. Perhaps, like the Triffids, the seeds just floated in from outer space.


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