I had the privilege of being chosen to participate in a study abroad program to Australia with Gateway Technical College in partnership with Technical and Further Education in New South Wales. This study tour was a rich and diverse educational experience; there were some similarities to our Wisconsin landscapes that I found interesting.

Native plants are a hardy lot all over the world; they have adapted to their environment in order to survive. They do not necessarily thrive in what we deem “ideal” circumstances, however. If they evolved to flourish in a hot, dry, sunny location in sandy soil, it is unlikely that they’ll do the same in a rich organic soil with plenty of moisture and partial shade. We should keep this in mind as we choose plants for our landscapes.

Some of the plants that we consider “annuals,” New South Wales officials have designated as “invasive.” What was once a gardener’s choice for added color has now caused a great deal of damage in the rural landscape. Lantana is one such example. Just as it has become invasive in California, it has become a menace in New South Wales. We should always consider carefully those things we put in the ground. (Like mint? Just don’t do it — much better to grow it in a container.) See the Wisconsin DNR site for updated invasive plant information: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/invasives/.

In the Wollongong and Yallah areas, there were beautiful diverse forests of trees and woodland fauna much like Wisconsin; different plants for certain, but the same feel. I learned that there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus alone, and some claim as many as 900. Walking among these beautiful trees in “the bush” felt much the same as walking through the woods here — although there was the added possibility of spotting a wallaby or two in New South Wales. Spending time in nature is a wonderful experience wherever I roam.

The drought in Australia was quite evident; the cracked earth and rain forest floor with too little plant life told the dry story. The farmers’ crops were suffering terribly, and everyone was hoping for rain. One farmer said that his oat seedlings needed only an inch of rain to “take off,” but without it they would soon wither and die. Life everywhere is a delicate balance, and water is a precious resource we must appreciate and conserve.

I am so grateful for the opportunities to study horticulture in different parts of the world; it has been so rewarding to discover our “tropical greenhouse plants” growing in their native environments, the unique flora and fauna of each climate, and the different growing methods utilized. It is also gratifying to learn that there are similarities in plants, landscapes, forests — and people — wherever I go. This truth makes the world seem a much smaller and more interconnected place to live.

Studying with the students of Technical and Further Education in New South Wales was an incredible experience; I look forward to their visit to Wisconsin in October.

I wonder if they’ll see the similarities in our landscapes, as well?

Rae Punzel is a Kenosha writer and horticulturalist. She owns Bennu Organics, a horticulture services and consulting business, which includes garden design, installation and exterior staging. She can be reached at BennuOrganics@gmail.com.

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