Making the Right Timber Choices in the Garden
Australians love entertaining in the great outdoors and have a strong affinity with using natural products such as timber. However, many home gardeners or tradesmen are unaware of the origin of the timber we use and, sadly, too much comes from illegal logging in tropical rainforest areas.
Not only do rainforests create rain, they also burn up carbon dioxide – making them an important balance to manmade pollutants. There are several species of imported rainforest timber readily available and used in gardens in Australia. Timber such as Merbau (Intsia bijuga), sometimes sold as Kwila, as well as Kempas (Koompassia spp.) and Balau (Shorea spp.), are commonly used commercially in home and landscape construction and the manufacturing of outdoor furniture.
Merbau is facing potential extinction, and the orangutans of Malaysia are gradually losing their natural habitat. Although there are a small number of plantations in existence, much of the wood we use comes from unknown sources, and this is a concern for Australian consumers.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an internationally recognised not-for-profit organisation set up to develop standards to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. It accredits independent third-party organisations to certify forest managers and commercial consumers of by-products against a set of international standards.
When purchasing timber, consumers can check the label to see whether it is FSC-certified. Always make sure the timber you choose carries an FSC certification code, which can then be entered into the FSC international database (info.fsc.org), to verify the origin of the product.
Another schemes is the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), which is an international non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management throughout commercial supply chains.
Its eco-label system allows customers and consumers to identify products from sustainably managed forests.
There is much debate about the topic of sustainable timber. Plantations in Australia are well managed, but some groups will argue that timber plantations create monocultures, and lack the biodiversity of a natural forest. The introduction of multi-species plantations is a concept that seems to be the ideal future. The Australian timber industry is active in researching best practice for long-term sustainable timber plantations. For plantation-sourced timber, supply options include Pine (Pinus radiata), Cypress Pine (Callitris sp.), Blackbutt and Eucalyptus globulus (Blue Gum) .
Regrowth Forests in Australia
A regrowth forest has had either all or most of its mature trees cleared or cut and felled for timber or woodchips. In many cases, the area will be burned after logging before regrowth can take place. Regrowth forests provide employment to many small communities in Australia, as well as a well-managed and legal source of supplying timber to consumers.
Some would say selective harvesting of native hardwoods actually helps to increase the light in forests, producing larger diameter trees more suitable for native animal habitat. But there are detractors, who argue that flora and fauna, and our native forests suffer as a result of logging.
Available Australian hardwood timbers from regrowth forests are Spotted Gum (Eucalyptus maculata), Red Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon), Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis & E. patens) and Grey Ironbark (Eucalyptus paniculata).
Reclaimed Farm Timber
Small timber mills that utilise wood from old farm trees exist in parts of Australia. In Victoria, a company called Golden Cypress mills Cupressus macropcarpa trees that were planted by farmers as windbreaks at the turn of the century. The wood is ideal for exterior use and is a safe sustainable timber option for the garden.
Recycled or Reused Timbers
In every state of Australia there is no shortage of merchants selling timber recycled from building sites earmarked for demolition, such as old warehouses, homes, piers and large rural sheds. Recycling is a great way to utilise timber without adding pressure to already depleted rainforests, and it also supports Australian business.
Sealing & Staining
There are many good stains and colour options available, so you can blend your deck with your house interior or exterior. If you want the look of a rainforest species, a stain can provide a similar colour on plantation or regrowth timber, and is a good substitute for using rainforest species.
Tip: a timber stain will work best on softer woods, such as pine and cypress. Test the stain on a timber sample before you start your project.
Greenpeace Good Wood Guide
Greenpeace Australia Pacific has developed an online wood that which helps people make informed choices on timber. The website is easy to use and recommended by the Forest Stewardship Council. Check it our at www.goodwoodguide.org.au
When Selecting Timber for Your Garden Project:
- Check whether it is rainforest or old growth forest timber. If it is a rainforest timber, ask your supplier for a copy of approved certification, such as from the FSC, to ensure it is from a sustainable source (imported species are of greatest concern). Avoid using old growth timber.
- Consider using recycled/ reclaimed timber.
- Always use FSC-certified plantation timber or regrowth forest timber.
- Check that your timber choice is ethical and from sustainable sources at www.goodwoodguide.org.au
- Check the FSC certification on the product and entered the code into the FSC international database at info.fsc.org