It has been said that travel broadens the mind. Knowing your plants brings a completely new dimension to travelling.

Take for example that trip from the Riverland or anywhere in the mallee to Adelaide. It starts with our own local mallee. If you care to take a look you will find quite a wide variety of species from the 10 or so Eucalypts, plenty of understory species like Acacia, Senna, Eremophila and not forgetting grasses and ground cover (including moss). The tree species gradually increase in size until you hit the higher rainfall zone of the Adelaide Hills. Many different plants start to kick in. Drooping sheoak and SA blue gum would be the most obvious.

Longer trips to other states you will notice dramatic changes. Some will just know something is different. Plant enthusiasts will know instinctively what the difference is and reach for the appropriate field guide to look up what they are looking at. Eyes light up remembering a particular place; “did you see the fantastic Nuytsia floribunda WA Christmas tree in flower at such and such a place in Western Australia?” Early explorers even named places for the flora or lack of it. The Nullarbor is a good example; literally no trees. For many leaving the Nullarbor a palpable sense of relief washes over. The point is that the flora defines the place.

For non plant enthusiasts seeing a bus load of people in the middle of nowhere, heads down and bums up can be amusing to say the least. Unless you have been there you won’t know. The delight of seeing unusual plants in their natural habitat, growing well and in full bloom can be quite overwhelming for any one even vaguely interested in the natural world.

As a nurseryman, I often talk to customers who have returned from some epic trip and they want to plant a plant that they have seen in their travels. This has to more than simply looking for yet another plant for the garden. My hypothesis is that as opposed to a photo album or photos that are forever trapped on the hard drive, real living plants that are unique to a particular area will evoke strong memories of the time we have experienced them.

Gnarled and time worn river red gums always take me back to camping in the Flinders Ranges as a child. Maiden hair ferns take me back to walks in the Adelaide hills. Desert Oaks take me straight back to time spent in central Australia. I could go on and on.

The mature garden full of plants that have been collected over decades may look unkempt and unplanned to the uninitiated to the art of collecting memories in a garden but to the devotee time spent in the garden becomes a delightful ‘walk down memory lane’ (Am I getting old or what!) My oldest son barely in his teens is currently collecting these memories / plants now, so it is quite feasible that in decades to come he will be enjoying plants that hold strong memories for him.

Get to know your own garden, get to know our own flora in the Riverland and Mallee and when you travel you will notice similarities in vegetation but also differences that broaden the mind and enhance your travelling memories.

Now, where did I leave my keys?

This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © July 9, 2009.