Native gardens had their heyday in the counter-cultural environment of the 1970s, as homeowners rejected the white picket fence of the 1950s lifestyle to embrace a gardening philosophy that they believed was more analogous with their idea of what ‘Australia’ looked like. This didn’t always work out. Without a strong body of knowledge, many threw plant species from various climates together, and topped it off with a Eucalyptus so close to the home that a whole generation of kids in the 1980s grew up in fear of being squashed in their beds by a falling tree branch.
There is a resurgence of native gardens in Australia that is now driven not by a counter-cultural movement but by a sense of environmental responsibility by homeowners, as well as a need to save money.
According to CIC, 39 per cent of water use in a home is for the garden. The cost of this is being felt by homeowners, while a strong awareness of Australia’s harsh climate continues to encourage people to try creating water-conscious native gardens. This movement has been given even more weight following one of the worst droughts in modern Australian history, which occurred between 2003 and 2012.
Your first steps in creating a native garden
There are some misconceptions about native gardens that are worth clarifying here:
- Never prune a native garden. While some plants can grow for years without needing pruning, it is a good idea to prune your native garden once it is established, and do this after flowering. Prune up to a third of growth to keep the plant fresh and to prevent the plant becoming ‘leggy’ (too much greenery on a plant that makes it droop and look dishevelled).
- Never fertilise a native plant. Wrong again. Native plants don’t enjoy the same fertilisers as other varieties, so avoid chemical-based fertilisers, but make sure you use organic fertilisers or native-specific fertilisers, while also mulching the plant with bark or pebbles.
- Never water a native plant. Not always true. You just need to choose the right plants. Below is a description of plant varieties that suit their particular climates, meaning they don’t require as much watering as they are aligned with the rainfall patterns of their location. However, if you invest in native plants that are suited for a different climate, you will need to adjust your watering.
Victorian Native Plants
If you live along the coast, your soil is most likely quite sandy, and receives plenty of salt carried in by the wind, which is why in Victoria some great options are: Melaleuca (Tea Tree), Coastal Pigface (a succulent), Coastal Banksia, Agave Attenuata, Native Fuschia and grasses such as Prickly Spear Grass can be a great start for your first native garden. Remember that this is just the tip of the iceberg, there are thousands of plants to choose from!
While those living in Melbourne or Geelong have the freedom to mix coastal and inland native plants together (despite requiring different attention), those living further inland need to adjust their designs to account for a drier climate. Consider using: Gold Dust Wattle, Dwarf Acacia and Red Swamp Banksia as larger bushes; Eucalypts, Lilly Pilly, Blackwood and Bottle Tree as larger tree varieties; and Pink Lady Grevillea, Pink Velvet Bush and Melaleuca for ground cover.
New South Wales Native Plants
Coastal Native Plants
The NSW coast, especially in its northern half, experiences a much more tropical climate than in Victoria, with hot and wet summers. Grevillea Bronze Rambler, Coral Pea, and Lemon Beauty are great ground cover options, while White Sallow Wattle (and other wattles), Coastal Rosemary, White Correa, and Swamp Foxtail can all be used to bulk up and texture a coastal garden in NSW. Northern areas towards Byron Bay can tolerate thirstier plants, such as the Oyster Plant.
Inland Native Plants
NSW can see significantly cold temperatures inland, especially in areas such as Bathurst and Orange, which sit on a plateau. Billy Buttons are a great way to set your garden apart from others within inland native gardens, as well as Grass tree, Old man Banksia and Wonga Wonga Vine.
Queensland Native Plants
Coastal Native Plants
Queensland has similar coastal plants to down south, such as the acacias and banksias, but also boasts incredible plants that are found no where else in the world, such as the Swamp Stringybark and Buderim holly plant. Coastal pine, Tuckeroo, Beach acronychia, and the idiosyncratic Pandanus will be at home in the humid tropical climate of coastal Queensland.
Inland Native Plants
The hinterland of Queensland can experience quite cold climates, but rainfall is relatively high in by the coast (and the complete opposite further west). Quintessential Queensland native plants include Piccabeen palm, Straw treefern, Brown pine, Riberry, Malletwood and Lemon Myrtle. For a delicate feel, consider the Bolwarra, whose flowers and thin black stems are reminiscent of Japanese cherry blossom in Spring.