I’ve always been a big advocate that “Green is Good” referring to the positives of groundcover no matter what it is – weeds, whatever!  Just keep the soil covered.

However, I’ve recently come unstuck.  Lately, I have been privileged to share spaces with a couple of significant leaders and regenerative agriculture advocates.  Firstly, Charlie Arnott came to town to talk to a network of young wine grape growers.  Lucky for me, I then got along to a three-day biodynamic workshop with Charlie and well-known biodynamic educator Hamish MacKay.  Then, just a couple of weeks back the renowned and inspiring Dr Christine Jones was in my neck of the woods.  I attended a workshop with her and devoured her expertise and knowledge on the soil microbiome (the interactive community of soil bacteria, archaea, fungi etc) and all round importance of plant diversity for soil health.

One of the best things about listening to people like this, is that they challenge you.  Push you to question why you think they way you do and therefore, why you act the way you do.

Arnott and MacKay are committed to the “Green is Good” ethos.  Their take is that a plant grows where there is a need for it to grow.  Nature knows what it needs. I certainly concur.  In my experience in land restoration and disturbed soils, it is the coloniser species that arrive first.  Protecting the soil, adding valuable nutrients and in our continent with low fertility soils, the nitrogen fixing legumes are one of the first on the scene.  This process of ecological succession gives way to secondary species and so on, leading to the gradual increase in complexity and robustness of the ecosystem.

Jones is also adamant that “Green is Good” but goes further in advocating the importance of diversity in the “Green” particularly across plant families. Her work points to the interconnection between plant species and stimulation of the soil microbiome, the living soil.  If nothing is growing, then the soil microbiome is not being stimulated.  So why do we need to stimulate soil microbiome? Because this creates positive feedbacks for plant growth and health. We need the soil microbes to help build new soil, fix carbon and improve availability of key nutrients.

Further, diversity of plants begets diversity in soil biota.  Different types of plants stimulate, different microorganisms for their needs. If you have diversity in your plant species, then the soil biota is also diverse.  Diversity builds resilience.  Jones sees diversity in plant families as the most effective way of encouraging the soil to “Function” effectively.  She says, “South Australian soils need a plant-led soil recovery”.  Again, I concur.

Big on her hit list is to look beyond grasses in our farming systems. Looking back at pre-colonial Australian landscapes, grasses were only a small percentage of total grassland species.  In fact, Jones does not event like calling them “grasslands” as they weren’t grasslands.  They were herbaceous meadows with many different plant families.  Lilies, daisies, spreading groundcovers and bulbs such as the murrnong, the yam daisy (Microseris lanceolata) a key food source of Australia’s First People’s.

Makes sense yes. However, upon her trip to South Australia Jones begun putting together a list of species that she had seen growing on the sides of the road which she thought could be planted into pasture mixes as they obviously do well in this environment and importantly were species other than grasses.  On her list were those pretty garden escapees – Gazanias (GASP!)

Here is where we diverge.

I can handle a Star Thistle, a sea of Paterson Curse, even a bit of Horehound but Gazania’s?  Gazania’s are the devil.  They are to be avoided, along with palm oil and plastic cutlery.  They just don’t fit into my perceived model of a sustainable, regenerative world.  I am being challenged.

Gazanias are a declared plant under the Natural Resource Management Act 2004.  As such, it is illegal to propagate or sell them, let alone plant them in your pasture.  Yeah, I get it.  They are incredible hardy and invasive.  Often colonising disturbed soil along roadsides.  So, you could argue, they are just doing their job.  Providing much needed groundcover, holding the soil together and importantly, feeding soil microbes.

Yeah Nah.

If the Gazanias were not there in the first place, another plant would take that space and establish.  Something that perhaps has an ecological niche in the Australian landscape such as a nitrogen fixer, or edible tubes or a plant critical to the life cycle of another species.

I’ve seen gazanias invading protected natural landscapes in conservation areas.  They have to be there to colonise, so keeping them out has merit.

I’m not a purist.  Or am I?