Native plants are naturally suited to Australian conditions and if you choose varieties from your immediate area you’ll be providing food and habitat for native bees, butterflies, lizards, mammals and birds.
Unit-dwellers need not miss out – many stunning plants are fusspots best grown in pots: brown or pink scented boronias or vivid orange, red or turquoise lechenaultias, bright yellow and exquisitely detailed verticordias, lapis lazuli derwentias and neon orange-yellow-and- pink chorizemas. There is no end to the colours or combinations.
Slowly does it
For gradual change, replace underperforming plants with native ones.
Consider the position to be filled then ask at your local nursery for plants to suit, rather than falling in love with something impractical.
For a hedge, try correas or westringias, which can be cut to shape and will still flower. Trimming a little and often is best.
Remember plants with grey leaves often prefer drier climates and may suffer from fungal problems in higher humidity.
There are lots of options for replacing lawns, whether you want a grass and flower meadow or a neat line of low-growing plants, such as myoporum parvifolium.
Some native plants are surprise stunners, providing a green backdrop for most of the year, then exploding with colour in Spring: acacias, mint bushes (prostantheras), hibiscus (alyogyne), eriostemon, orchids and daisy bushes (olearia and ozothamnus).
Quiet performers such as grevilleas, banksias, eremophilas and small daisies (chrysocephalums, xerochrysums and brachyscomes) bring colour – and wildlife – for much of the year.
Then there are the superstar plants whose simple role is to be gorgeous. You only need a few of these in a garden and they need room to shine.
The red gymea lily that soars four metres (or more) is a perfect example. Waratahs are almost as spectacular and enjoy the same conditions as azaleas. Grass trees (Xanthorrhoeas) also fit into this category, as do kangaroo paws, which need good air flow.
Tall plants lift a garden and provide structure: consider lomandras, dianellas, tree ferns, grass trees and trees.
While researching the nine-volume Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants and other books, authors Rodger and Gwen Elliot spent years exploring our native flora. Rodger singles out Eucalyptus petiolaris and E. leucoxylon subspecies megalocarpa as favourite small trees.
“You cannot guarantee the flower colour – sometimes young plants with reddish stems may have pink to reddish flowers – but they are some of the best,” he says.
Both are best suited to medium-size gardens but many of the Mallee-type eucalypts only grow up to four metres, offering an Outback look in miniature. There’s the Rose Mallee with enormous pinky red flowers, or Eucalyptus synandra, whose pink-white flowers look like beaded skirts.
For a more humid climate, the Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) with its smooth trunk, dark, shiny leaves and fringed, scented flowers is another of Rodger’s star trees.
TV gardener Angus Stewart, from the ABC’s Gardening Australia, recommends checking roots are not pot bound, gently teasing roots out and soaking the root ball in water before planting. He also suggests adding organic matter to improve soil condition.
To stop shrubs becoming leggy, Angus says, “tip pruning is a must”. And he says, “staking is best avoided, if at all possible,” because movement in the wind helps strengthen plants and their roots.
words Jane Canaway
Images: iStock photo; courtesy Tatters
Need a hand with your gardening? australianunity.com.au/home-services
For more advice and plant lists
Royal Botanical Gardens
The Australian Native Plants Society