Know your Natives

Spring in Australia is a magical time to explore our native flora and a good time to consider adding some local colour to your garden.

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.






High drama

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.

Height matters

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?


For more advice and plant lists

See also:
Royal Botanical Gardens

The Australian Native Plants Society

Orchid excellence






Orchids love the Australian climate so much that more than 800 orchid species, most of them unique to our shores, grow in all kinds of locations all over Australia.

Queensland’s floral emblem, the delightfully named Dendrobium bigibbum, or Cooktown orchid, is well known for its striking shades of purple. The supertough Sydney rock orchid, endrobium speciosum, produces creamy yellow flower spikes in Spring and is loved by gardeners.

More familiar to gardeners in the southern states of Australia are the showy, intricately patterned Cymbidiums, the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) with its broad-winged petals that vary from white to deep purple and the wildly coloured Singapore orchid, once a buttonhole favourite.

Despite our climate and our huge variety of native plants, the bulk of commercially grown plants sold in Australia originate from southern China, South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Most cultivated orchids are epiphytes, which grow on trees in the tropics or sub-tropics. They prefer dappled light, high humidity, good airflow and limited nutrients. Rock orchids like similar conditions.

Terrestrial orchids (those growing in the ground) outnumber their tree-loving cousins by three to one but are difficult to cultivate. The exceptions are varieties of greenhood (Pterostylis) and onion (Microtis unifolia) orchids, which grow readily in pots or under a tree. Look for them in specialist nurseries.

Kerrie’s Blooms Bring Smiles at Willandra

Australian Unity’s Kerrie Smiles is leading her own orchid revolution.

Kerrie, the Assistant Manager at Willandra Retirement Community in Cromer in New South Wales, is getting many of the residents involved in her hobby.

“I remember being a kid and having a lady’s slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum) and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” Kerrie says.

“They are such good value; better than cut flowers. And I love the people I have met through collecting and growing them.”

Kerrie has encouraged so many residents to grow the plants she has been able to host orchid shows at Willandra. She has also created a special garden where former residents’ orchids continue to bloom in their memory.

After a busy Spring, repotting bigger Cymbidiums and removing old rhizomes, Kerrie says Summer is about maintenance.

“I make up a diluted molasses mix and spray every two weeks. It keeps the bugs off and gives the leaves a sheen. I mix two tablespoons of molasses in one litre of water, using warm water to make sure it dissolves.”

Checking Summer light is also important; the sun is higher and shade will fall differently.

Top tips for healthy plants

  • Good drainage is essential; use orchid mix, which comprises large chunks of bark
  • Orchids like warm and humid environments, not hot and dry, or cold and wet
  • Direct Summer sun can cause sunburn
  • Know your orchid: Moth orchids prefer hot weather and low light; Cymbidiums don’t like temperatures over 25 degrees C but need more light; Dendrobiums like warm days and cool nights.

words Jane Canaway

photography Kerrie Smiles