Given my overall success in establishing plants in the clearing with next to no effort (see previous post), that area is oddly not where I intend to make my garden. A soon-to-be-built cabin at the forested and more elevated narrow end of the block — set back from a junction with the sealed road — will sit at the exact centre of my garden.

That’ll necessitate the felling of native trees and dense undergrowth to create a fire-break between forest and cabin. It’s an unavoidable part of the local planning code for all new buildings in fire prone areas (the site is rated ‘bushfire attack level’, BAL29). The thought of slicing open part of the forest has played on my conscience whenever I’ve thought about building my home. Friends tried to address my concerns by suggesting that a different owner would probably clear more forest. That is almost certainly true, because my cabin will be small. A larger dwelling accommodating a family, for example, would need more forest removed to comply with bushfire regulations. Even so, I don’t look forward to the inevitable. Removing trees and undergrowth is bad enough, but it’s the displacement of creatures utilising that habitat that also bothers me. My forest bulges at the seams with life. I’m about to trim it down a notch.

The existing clearing on the other side of the creek might seem a better site for a cabin and garden. I have considered it. But a cabin there would be too close to the creek that wends its way to join Brown’s River, the outflow of which is at Kingston Beach. Because the reticulated water network — ‘town water’ — is too far from that clearing, an on-site wastewater system would have to be constructed close to the cabin. An accidental failure so close to the creek would decimate the nearby riparian ecosystem, and pollute downstream. I don’t want to risk that.

To provide emergency fire-truck access to the would-be cabin, a long driveway would need to be cut through the forest (there’s no other access). That’s another unavoidable regulation, but such a road would result in more trees being taken down than removed at the upslope site.

The nearby pond also poses a risk. If its earthen wall collapsed, the cabin would be inundated along with any occupants. The site is also close to a known high-risk landslip zone. And its next to the property boundary. A cabin would visually intrude upon my neighbour’s view, and this region’s visual significance is codified in law. Upslope, the cabin and garden would be ringed by a thick collar of forest. The only way it could be seen unobstructed would be from directly above.

Although some forest will be excised from the upslope site to provide a measure of protection from wildfire, developing the downslope site would pose a greater environmental risk. Should I be so concerned about clearing about three quarters of an acre of forest? Historically, far worse things have befallen the mountain’s forests. As early as 1876, Hobart’s The Mercury warned citizens that “the mountain slopes are being stripped of their timber, disfigured and robbed of their attractiveness”. And major fires swept through in 1806, 1851, 1897, 1914, 1934, 1945, 1967, 1983, 2001, and 2013. There are a couple of large rotting tree stumps on my land with level tops that look suspiciously like the trees they once supported were purposefully felled, and my neighbours assure me that large trees have been extracted. So perhaps I shouldn’t be as worried as I am that a section of forest will yield to the axe — or in this case, the chainsaw— once again. I’ll certainly protect what remains.

With a cabin at its centre, my garden will replace some, but otherwise remain surrounded by forest. And from that, the garden design takes its first cue.

To be continued…

Tasmanian returnee, gardener, and soon-to-be owner-builder