Australia is a vast continent with many natural environments, from the dense rain forests of the north, to the alpine meadows of the south and the hot, dry deserts of the centre. In each of these environments, many plants have evolved to cope with their surroundings.
The large lush leaves of rainforest plants, for example, contrast with the fine prickly foliage of desert plants. Their need for water and nutrients, and their preference for sunlight, also differs greatly. And, because of this diversity in growing preference and habitat, there are native plants to suit almost any garden situation, in any climatic region.
Plants in these gardens often have attractive foliage or flowers which may also be scented. They are not too domineering. Many may be trimmed into hedges surrounding the garden.
Large decorative specimen trees often grace the large formal garden. Shrubs are often trimmed into hedges and garden beds are regimented and full of attractive ornamental flowers. There are natives to suit all these features.
Plants suitable to trim as hedges for screen and privacy should have a dencent foliage and take to regular pruning. Natives in this category include many of the Bottle Brushes (Callistemon), Paper Barks (Melaleuca), Tea Trees (Leptospermum) and Grevilleas.
Native plants are equally at home in the flower garden and can be used in the same way as other plants. Many can be used as cut flowers for indoor arrangements in the home, grown in special display beds, or simply included in the general garden for their beauty.
Bush style garden
There is a great deal of satisfaction in reproducing a small part of the natural bush in your own garden, complete with the wonderful range of wildlife it attracts. Native plants produce large quantities of the nectar that many of our native birds, insects and animals love, creating a balanced mini-bush eco-system just outside your door. Banksias, Grevilleas, Kangaroo Paws, Eucalypts and Melaleucas are some of the more common natives used for this purpose.
Others worth planting to provide nesting sites are very bushy and prickly including Hakeas, Grevilleas, Bursaria and some species of Acacia (Wattles). The green, unripe seed of many pea flowering plants, such as Pultenaea, Davesia and Platylobium are good for attracting finches and parrots. These pea plants are often called “bush peas” or “egg and bacon” plants because of their yellow and red flowers.
Many native grasses are a must also to provide finch seed. If possible, include some water in your bush setting for the birds with ponds, small bird baths or simply rocks with deep depressions which you keep filled.
Native garden maintenance
Caring for native plants isn’t much different to caring for most other garden plants. The term “low maintenance”, often used to describe native gardens, does not mean total neglect. Like many other plants, natives also need an occasional prune to help them flower better and to keep them in shape. This is usually done after flowering. A good feed is also necessary to keep the natives looking healthy and at their best.
Mulch and manures are preferable to chemical fertilisers as many natives do not like high nutrient levels of Phosphorus. However, if your natives are mixed in with other plants, just treat them all the same. Avoid overuse of any packaged fertilizers, you just need to follow the instructions on the pack.
Pests and diseases also affect natives like other garden plants and are controlled in the same way.
- Like all gardens, soil preparation is most important. Before planting, dig the ground over well. Where there is clay, add a little gypsum.
- Avoid staking native plants too tightly. Give them room to move to develop a strong root system and not become dependent on the stake.
- Many of the more difficult to grow natives can be planted successfully in small tubs where it is easier to control conditions.
- Protect soil in garden beds from the hot sun using the many low ground cover plants available as a natural mulch and by planting close together.
- If you wish to trim older plants into hedges, particularly Grevilleas, prune back a little at a time over several seasons to the required size-pruning too hard may kill them.