Armed with a machete, popular Australian landscape designer Jamie Durie tackles alligators and snakes along with overgrown flora in the new backyard makeover series "Outback Nation."
"It's the toughest show I've ever worked on," Durie said. "I'm climbing trees. Falling off buildings. I broke two fingers and fractured a rib. It's dangerous because we are taking out a lot of invasive weeds and replacing them with plants that we can cohabitate with."
But snakes and alligators are nothing compared with "nature deficit disorder," Durie said. In anticipation of summer, we asked Durie for advice on luring families away from technology and reconnecting to the outdoors – and to each-other.
You have a reputation for creating captivating outdoor rooms. Why is it so important to you to get people outside?
Most families, and particularly kids, are glued to their electronic devices. It is taking them away from where we all grew up: in the backyard where we spent time catching butterflies, playing and growing vegetables. Outdoor living is not just about fine entertaining. It's about creating activities in the garden where people can combat what I call nature deficit disorder. I created a flying fortress for a boy and a gazebo for a 16-year-old so she can hang out in her backyard. The show is geared toward anyone who wants to spend time outdoors.
You split your time between Los Angeles and Sydney – two cities with drought concerns. Any tips on water-wise gardening?
It's my philosophy that every home in the United States should have a rainwater tank. And we should urge our local cities to make gray water systems more available. We should also be recycling all of our water. Our tap, bath and laundry water should be used in the garden. What I find shocking both here and in Australia is that we are still using drinking water to water our gardens. And in California, many of the irrigation systems are watering more than is necessary and a lot of it is running off into the street. But the greater issue is intelligent plant selection. A lot of us are trying to grow an English garden with roses. We want the beauty we find in other parts of the world. Los Angeles is built on a desert. We have to learn to embrace drought-tolerant plants.
Care to share any drought-tolerant plant suggestions?
Working with nature is really the key message. You've got to make sure that you are encouraging the right kinds of plants. Be intelligent about plant selection. Look at what grows in your area. Get a list of native plants and grow those in your own backyard. Sedums, sansevieria, Mother in Law's Tongue, agave, Australian grevillea "Poorinda Royal Mantle" all work well in drought-tolerant conditions. Callistemon varieties are beautiful water-wise choices – Little John is a great hedge. Strangely enough, geraniums can be drought resistant. There is even a variety of petunias – Supertunia petunia that are fabulous water-wise plants with 6-foot-long trailing flowers.
What about grass alternatives?
There are many, many different turf alternatives. Dymondia margaretae is drought tolerant and you don't have to mow it. Pink flowering aptenia cordifolia is a fantastic ground cover. Aussie rambler 'Pig Face' is another great one that scrambles across the ground and keeps the soil in good condition.
You say families can become prisoners in their neglected backyards. Any advice for homeowners too overwhelmed with work and family to rally the strength to overhaul their backyard?
It's about analyzing all of the functions that you truly enjoy and customizing those functions that are important to your family. You have to look at all of the things you like to do. Maybe your child loves to read. Or your 4-year old desperately wants to grow carrots. Perhaps your spouse loves to entertain. I want to create the most comfortable outdoor spaces that I possibly can. I create wonderful outdoor rooms so people can reconnect with nature.