Here Be Dragons

Imagine living in a garden full of dragons. Imagine have breakfast while chatting to one, or walking down the main street and seeing one casually draping itself over a sign in front of the police station.

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This little one was draped over a sign outside the police station in the main street.

I’m speaking of course of the Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).

Growing up to a metre in length they are the largest dragons in Australia but are sometimes mixed up with their cousins, the Gippsland Water Dragon. You can tell them apart if you look at their faces: the Gippsland ones don’t have a black stripe going from their nose to their ear.

Water dragons are, as their name suggests, very well adapted to water. Their tails constitute 2/3 of their body length and are used for swimming while their nostrils are on the top of their heads making it possible to breathe while their heads are submerged, a trait they share with crocodiles. Like other lizards such as lace monitors and goannas they can use their strong claws to climb quickly and easily.

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This little girl is taking a dip in one of the ponds out front.

They are good indicators of biodiversity as they mainly prey on insects and frogs as juveniles, meaning that if there is a healthy population of dragons there is also a healthy population of insects and frogs. When they’re older they become omnivores. It’s always nice to see predators like dragons and kookaburras in the garden as it means that the garden ecosystem is diverse and healthy enough to support them.

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Aw, yiss.

It is possible to identify males and females as males have crimson, vermilion or orange chests to attract mates. After mating a female will lay a clutch of eggs in soft soil or sand by the water and when the baby dragons hatch they are completely self sufficient. However, studies have shown that the temperature of the eggs during incubation can determine the sex of the dragons. This is worrying as males are only produced in middling temperatures, with females produced in cooler and warmer temperatures, so over time the species may becomes less viable as there are fewer males produced due to the temperature of the ground being affected by increasing temperatures.

Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
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The red on the chest identifies this one as male. He’s just chilling on the front deck.

Although it’s legal to keep water dragons as pets in NSW you need a license for it and it is ideal that you only purchase reptiles from other license holders to try and source reptiles that are healthy and well looked after. It is illegal in Australia to keep animals that have been collected from the wild.¬†Keeping these beautiful lizards as pets seems strange to me, why not just make your garden suitable for them?

Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They're not like dogs; they don't like you, you don't have a relationship with them. You just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.
Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They’re not like dogs; they don’t like you, you don’t have a relationship with them. You’re just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.

Do that and they’ll come of their own accord. Build a pond or a small waterway, have lots of native shrubs to hid in. Make sure that your garden has plenty of flowers to attract insects and have a pile of old logs and tiles for reptiles to hide in and sunbake on. Also, keep your cat indoors. Or just don’t have a cat. (We were talking about this last night at dinner and I said “At least with dogs you can fence them in; there isn’t much you can do with cats.” Without missing a beat Dad said “You can do two things with cats: drown them or shoot them.”) Dragons aren’t meant to be kept in small glass boxes; they’re wild animals, not puppies to be played with.

Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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These tiles are onduline, a cladding and roofing material that is soaked in bitumen. Stack them with rocks between them and reptiles will love the heat and safety. Photo: NZ Department of Conservation.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is the perfect hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is a good hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.

If you have lizards in your yard resist the urge to feed them – it’s not healthy for them and teaches them to rely on you. Instead, just sit quietly and watch them. We should encourage and appreciate urban biodiversity, not seek to control it or interfere with it.

If you're going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This raptor is a cheap as chips $2500 from some silly homewares place.
If you’re going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This fibreglass raptor is a cheap as chips at $2500 from some silly homewares place.

Here are some links for those interested in all things dragon:

A fact sheet from the Australian Museum on Water Dragons

http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-Dragon

A guide to creating a reptile friendy backyard:

Lizards

Making your backyard wildlife friendly:

Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard

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Hello! I’m a dragon!

 

Book Review: On Guerrilla Gardening

For interesting and inspiring read, full of humorous anecdotes and useful information, I recommend Richard Reynolds’ On Guerrilla Gardening.

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This is the edition I have. I initially picked it up because of it’s colorful hardcover; I love hardcovers! A positive case of judging a book by its cover?

the book

For a while I couldn’t shake the slightly weird feeling of reading a manual on an activity as whimisical and adventurous as guerrilla gardening, but the book is a useful guide. It has two parts, The Movement and The Manual which neatly divide up the high minded idealism and cold blooded pragmatism, which Reynolds is at pains to stress throughout:

You can dream of a grand transformation, but don’t rush to create it. … In their hearts most guerrilla gardeners are idealists, but we need the measured pulse of a pragmatist too if our gardens are to flourish. (pgs 159-160)

There are lots of quotes from Mao that need only a bit of tweaking to make them appropriate, and it’s strange to think what could be achieved if people used their passion and talents and time and resources to create beautiful things rather than to destroy and dominate.

It’s very inspiring and after finishing it I wanted to go out into the world, seeds in hand, and plant sunflowers absolutely everywhere.

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The author himself and some sunflowers. Photo from theguardian.uk

He’s a good, funny writer and there are lots of amusing and relevant anecdotes, but I feel as if the book is slightly too long. It’s a bit like the third Lord of the Rings film; it’s beautiful and entertaining and a great, well told story but you can’t help checking your watch as yet another ‘ending’ plays out. Just chuck the ring in the volcano and be done with it already!

Another problem I have with the book is that the pages are glossy. This makes them hard to read under direct light, such as from a lamp and means that they lack that nice papery feel and smell. It also means that they’ve been treated with bucketloads of chemicals, which is kind of ironic.I dunno, maybe I just got a fail copy.

Lastly, all of the photos in the book are of beautiful, well tended gardens. I wanted some before and after photos to really get inspired, or some photos of a wilting plant to reassure me that not every plant is amazing, or some schematics of possible garden layouts because I freaking love diagrams.

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Isn’t that just the most satisfying thing? Image from seedandbean.com

the book and geography

He talks about the kind of problems guerrilla gardening battle – for example neglected land, vacant land, land scarcity – and about the things that it creates: beauty; community; food; shade.

Neglected, rubbish strewn, weedy or just plain ugly land (especially in cities) is such a shame.

Land is bloody scarce (especially in cities) and this utter waste is unfriendly to look at and makes people sad as they see their community and urban environment in disrepair. I don’t know about you, but things such as planter boxes that are filled with cigarette butts or bare dirt alongside foot paths make me sad.

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Planter boxes: you’re doing it wrong. Clearly, this society has failed to correctly utilise this resource and therefore geography is broken and people are sad.

This all displays a bad relationship between society and it’s immediate space; the built environment. It’s the kind of thing that makes we geographers sad, especially when people are crying out for healthy food and a place to build communities, as experienced by Ron Finley.

This book offers a lovely, fun idea to combat these problems and create better relationships, both between society and the urban environment* and between groups and individuals within society. (Any statisticians out there will be hearing ‘ANOVA’ at this stage.)

On Guerrilla Gardening offers many exciting and uplifting stories about little impulsive actions becoming community gardens, award winning spaces and beautiful environs.

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The Clinton Community Gardens in New York tend to come up a fair bit. Photo: Anne Bremer

So read the book! It’s great.

metadata

Title: On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook For Gardening Without Boundaries

Author: Richard Reynolds

Date Published: 2008

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rating: I give it seven out of ten sunflowers.

*Oh man, I love that phrase. It’s totally the nexus of all the interesting things.