New industry initiative to help Australians garden responsibly

New industry initiative to help Australians garden responsibly

    By Claire Laws  October 7th, 2022

    The Gardening Responsibly initiative officially launched in NSW last month, with the aim of reducing the number of ornamental plants that “jump the garden fence” and become invasive weeds.


    Gardening Responsibly is the result of five years of hard work and collaboration between the NSW Government, Australian Institute of Horticulture, Nursery and Garden Industry NSW & ACT, Macquarie University, and many others, and is set to be a game-changer. The initiative brings together all stakeholders involved in the ornamental plant trade, including government, industry, growers, suppliers, landscapers and consumers, to ensure ornamental plants with a low likelihood of becoming invasive weeds are promoted and sold by nurseries and suppliers. As a result, the initiative hopes to jump-start a Gardening Responsibly movement, where everyone plays their part, from suppliers to consumers. 

    Gardening Responsibly Program Manager, Aimee Freimanis says “we love to imagine a world where checking that an ornamental plant has a low risk of invasion is common practice for all Australians.” 

    The initiative will first pilot in NSW and then be rolled out nationally in the coming years. In NSW, there are already a number of participating nurseries, suppliers and landscapers promoting Gardening Responsibly and using the Gardening Responsibly eco-label (shown below). 

    Look out for the Gardening Responsibly eco-label at your local nursery. Source: Gardening Responsibly

    Look out for the Gardening Responsibly eco-label at your local nursery. Source: Gardening Responsibly

    Why do we need to garden responsibly? 

    Have you ever had trouble choosing which ornamental plants to use in your garden, whether they be native or exotic? While there are many things to consider, including plant size and shape, longevity, and flower time and colour, perhaps less often considered is a plant’s potential to escape from the garden into reserves and bushland. However, this is a reality that has occurred many times before. In fact, as highlighted by the Gardening Responsibly team, 72 per cent of weeds were accidentally introduced as garden ornamentals and 12 new plant species naturalise in Australian bushland each year. Invasive weeds, many of which originated as garden ornamentals, cost Australia an estimated $13.6 billion per year and directly impact more than 1,200 of Australia’s listed threatened species. Therefore, as purchasers of plants, consumers play an important role in safeguarding Australia’s biodiversity and minimising the emergence of new invasive weeds.  

    “Loss and degradation of native plant and animal habitat by invasion of escaped garden plants is a key threatening process,” explains Distinguished Professor Michelle Leishman from Macquarie University’s School of Natural Sciences. “The tool we have developed allows us to identify the risk of ornamental plants becoming invasive and gives industry and gardeners an opportunity to reduce the risk to the environment.” 

    How does the Gardening Responsibly initiative work and how can you get involved? 

    Based on a rigorous scientific assessment, developed by Distinguished Professor Leishman and her team at Macquarie University, you can search for low-risk ornamental plants (both natives and exotics)on the Gardening Responsibly website. Currently 444 plants, including trees, shrubs and ground covers, have been identified as low-risk and qualify for the eco-label (meaning they are unlikely to escape garden plantings and become invasive weeds). More will be added to this list over time, as the team assesses a greater portion of the more than 30,000 ornamental plants in trade. 

    On top of checking whether your plant of choice is a certified Gardening Responsibly low-risk plant, you might like to take a trip to one of the participating retail nurseries, where plants approved under the initiative will show the Gardening Responsibly eco-label. The eco-label makes choosing low risk plants hassle-free and celebrates those nurseries stocking eco-conscious plants. Additional nurseries will be added to this list over time. If you’d like to join the initiative as a supplier, you can learn more here

    If you’re interested in taking things a step further, you can sign up to the Research Portal and nominate a plant to undergo a Gardening Responsibly assessment or even undertake an assessment yourself.  

    Where to find more information on Gardening Responsibly 

    If this exciting initiative is right up your alley, and you’re ready to learn more, the Gardening Responsibly website is a great place to start. Via the website, you can find a variety of promotional and educational materials to help you spread the word about the Gardening Responsibly movement. According to Program Manager, Aimee Freimanis, the ultimate goal is to “make it easy to garden responsibly so we can all enjoy beautiful gardens and healthy Australian landscapes.” 


    Positive Actions

    Claire Laws

    Claire joined the Planet Ark team in 2021. With a background in Environmental Science and a Masters in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development, Claire is keen to build on her previous work in ecological research and be part of Planet Ark's actions-based approach to environmental protection.

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