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Australian Gardens

Designing An Australian Native Garden

Most people want a natural looking bush garden. It is Important that you choose a theme and stick to it otherwise the garden may look quite nice but be a meaningless assortment of plants. Many of the best native gardens are modelled on real bush examples. This gives you a number of choices of types of gardens that can be based on nature:

  • A typical open woodland to denser forest with ground covers, climbers, grasses, shrubs and trees.
  • An indigenous garden, commonly a woodland, using the full complement of available plants that grow naturally in the local area.
  • A heathland, mainly shrubs and groundcovers with showy flowers.Many of these plants are from South Western Australia, and require well drained, infertile soils and low humidity to grow well. This type of garden might include Dryandras, Isopogons, Lambertias, native heaths, Grevilleas etc.
  • A cottage garden, generally interpreted as "a riot of colour",using mainly natives that look like exotics. This could be considered a variation on a heathland garden. It is equally valid to use native plants in cottage gardens. Some suitable natives include Tetratheca, tea tree hybrids, Indigofera australis, Eriostemons, Hypocalymas, Baueras, Brachycomes, etc.
  • A rockery which may consist of alpine plants, or plants from other rocky areas, and may include tussock grasses, grass trees, and small gems like ground orchids and helichrysum species.
  • A rainforest, with ferns, palms, orchids, trees and climbers. This type of garden requires a protected position, effective irrigation and improved soils.

Australian native gardens can also be more formal, with regular tip pruning and shaping of plants for compact form. One of the early problems with native gardens was the idea that they should not be pruned (because this did not happen in nature.)In fact bush plants are constantly tip pruned in nature, by browsing animals, by frost and hail damage and by insects, keeping the plants naturally dense and compact. Unpruned garden plants are often mainly sticks with a little green at the top. The problem is made worse by the plants receiving more water and fertilizer than they would in nature.

When designing a native garden consider:

  • How things fit together in the bush.
  • What makes up a bush garden (animals, plants soil etc.). 
  • Putting it all together and keeping it together over time.


The Design Process

Before getting your hands dirty you need to follow a process of information gathering, planning, and design.

Information gathering

Try to find out as much as you can about the climate and soil. The extreme weather conditions determine how well the plant grows. As a guide, walk around the neighbourhood to see which natives already grow well in the area. Visit a garden supplies yard and check the prices and availability of materials such as timber, soils, mulch, rocks, pre formed ponds etc.


With all your information decide first on a theme. You may choose a theme using plants that grow well in the area, which will give you good results easily and cheaply. This is the wisest course and will usually be low maintenance. Or, you may have your heart set on a rainforest or an alpine rockery (but you live in Alice Springs!). To do this will be more difficult and costly, but fun. It will also require a lot of maintenance time and money. You will want to work out a sequence of jobs, such as ordering in soil, pavers, purchasing pond liner etc, and finally planting and mulching.

This includes the logical and attractive placement of paths, bird baths and other features.Similarly, the right plants need to be selected for the right place, so that they will grow well, perform a function (e.g. attract birds or shade the house), fit in with the theme you have chosen, and last but not least, look good. Ideally there should be at least one reason for the placement of each element in the garden. Most people go out to the nursery and buy on impulse which usually results in many plant deaths, high maintenance and high expense.

You should draw up a scale plan on tracing paper over graph paper. If you get graph paper that has 1cm wide lines, then consider 1cm on the paper to be equal to 1 metre on the ground, which is a 1:100 scale. This may seem to be a waste of time, but the drawings don't have to be fancy, and it will help to clarify your thinking.It is also cheaper and less painful to make mistakes on paper than when you are making the garden.

Show the plan to friends, other householders and your local nursery person. They will all have their own ideas, some will be helpful, others will be difficult to reconcile with your own. They may also spot design errors.

Decide on areas for unsightly garbage bins, vegetable patch etc. Keep these hidden or screened with climbers from attractive planted areas and outdoor living areas. There are many practical considerations when designing a garden :

  • Do you have a destructive dog?
  • Do you have children who might fall in a pond or eat poisonous plants?
  • Are you allergic to wattle or grass pollen?
  • Do you know where underground services are? Power lines?
  • How much time can you spare for maintenance? Can you get help?
  • How often and how long do you go on holiday?
Creating a Natural Bush Garden

A natural bush garden can be anything which attempts to simulate a natural environment. For low maintenance it must aim to be an area where the created garden will inhibit the growth of unwanted weeds through close planting and mulching.For a wilderness or bush garden the design must be informal. Consider the whole atmosphere including smells and sounds.The garden should be alive with argumentative birds, fluttering butterflies and lizards lounging on warm rocks. Underfoot should be spongy with mulch smelling of earth and eucalyptus. A bush garden is more than just trees and shrubs. Try to include all of the low growing herbs, grasses, lilies, etc of the under storey. Remember, designing a garden is much harder than painting a picture or decorating a house. You can't simply put any plant anywhere because it looks nice. Tree ferns planted next to a sunny west wall will cook. You are dealing with living, three dimensional plants which grow and change through the seasons. Mostly you will say "It will look nice in three weeks time", or "It looked nice three weeks ago".

Choosing Your Plants

You should choose your plants carefully.  Remember, every plant will have it's good points and it's bad points. You have to decide for yourself which characteristics of a plant are most important to you! Consider all of the following points, and balance the priority of one against another according to your own preferences.

Aesthetics (Attractiveness)

Consider; how a plant looks? Does it create the type of effect you want?
Consider the colour, texture and density of foliage, fruit and flowers, changes in appearance throughout the year (ie: period & time of flowering, leaf colour changes, etc.) and the habit or form of the plant (ie: prostrate, weeping, cone shaped, etc.).


What will the plant be used for? (ie: screen, bird attractant, shade, soil binding, etc.). Does it fulfill this function adequately?

Growth Characteristics

How will the plant affect the environment around it? Trees can grow big, shading the area and eventually causing sun loving plants around them to deteriorate. Do you want shade or not? Do you want the garden cooler or warmer? Do you want it more or less moist? Do you want the wind redirected or stopped? The plants you select can affect all of these things, and more.


Will the plant withstand frost, drought, excessive heat, flood, high winds, poor soil conditions, pest or disease attack, etc?

Suitability of the Location

Is the plant ideally suited to the soil and climate it is being planted in, or is it just able to tolerate these conditions?


Fragrance in leaves and foliage is an advantage in many situations.

For people with allergy or sinus problems, this can however, be a big disadvantage. 


Is the plant potentially dangerous? Plants that are likely to have falling branches, spiky or thorny foliage, poisonous plant parts, etc. should be avoided unless they are grown in a position where they are unlikely to be a problem. Plants that are known to burn easily should be avoided in fire prone areas.

Pollen of some species, such as the grasses and Acacias can also create allergy problems.

Life Span

How long is the plant likely to live? Many wattles, boronias and some other natives are relatively short lived (but this can be used by the landscaper to provide a garden which evolves  as some plants reach full size, others die out to make room).

BEWARE!  The biggest trap you can fall into is to choose your plants on 
impulse. Just because it catches your eye in the nursery, doesn't mean that it's the best plant for the spot you want to fill in your garden)

Hardy and Cold Tolerant Plants

- Suited to inland and snow prone areas of Southern Australia:

  • Trees
    Acacia dealbata, elata, pravissima, pycnantha
    Allocasuarina (most species)
    Angophora costata
    Callitris (most species)
    Eucalyptus alpina, botryoides, cinerea, dives, globulus, gunni, leucoxylon, mannifera, melliodora, nicholi, pauciflora, polyanthemos, regnans, saligna, sideroxylon, stoatei, torquata, viminalis
    Melaleuca linariifolia
    Pittosporum undulatum 
  • Shrubs
    Astartea fascicularis
    Bauera (most species)
    Callistemon citrinus, viminalis
    Correa alba, reflexa
    Darwinia citriodora
    Grevillea alpina, juniperina, Poorinda varieties, rosmarinifolia,
    Hakea nodosa, sericea
    Indigofera australia
    Leptospermum flavescens, juniperina, scoparium
    Melaleuca (most temperate species)
    Myoporum floribundum
    Pimelea ferruginea
    Pomaderris (most species)
    Prostanthera (most species)
    Pultenaea flexilis, villosa
    Thryptomene calycina, saxicola
    Westringia (most species)
  • Ground Covers
    Billardiera scandens
    Brachysema celsianum
    Grevillea gaudichaudii, juniperina prostrate form
    Leptospermum rupestre
    Micromyrtus ciliata
    Muehlenbeckia axillaris
    Scleranthus biflorus
    Themeda australis (Kangaroo grass)
  • Frost Hardy Native Plants
    Acacia baileyana, cultriformis, dealbata, floribunda, howittii, pravissima
    Banksia ericifolia, marginata, media, spinulosa
    Bauera rubioides, sessiliflora
    Boronia filifolia, megastigma, muelleri, pinnata
    Brachyscome multifida
    Callistemon citrinus, pallidus, paludosus, rigidus, salignus
    Callitris oblonga
    Cassia artemisioides, sturtii
    Casuarina cunninghamiana, glauca, stricta, torulosa
    Correa alba, decumbens, Manni, reflexa
    Epacris impressa, microphylla, pulchella
    Eremophila glabra, maculata
    Eriostemon myoporoides, verrucosus
    Eucalyptus alpina, cinerea, cladocalyx, crenulata, gunnii, leucoxylon, macrandra, melliodora, nicholii, pauciflora, polyanthemos, sideroxylon, stellulata.
    Grevillea alpina, aquifolium, baueri, capitellata, confertifolia, juniperina, lanigera, lavandulaceae, Poorinda hybrids, rosmarinifolia, sericea, steiglitziana, tridentifera
    Hakea elliptica, nodosa, petiolaris, purpurea, salicifolia, sericea
    Helichrysum apiculatum, baxteri, bracteatum
    Indigofera australis
    Kunzea capitata, parvifolia, pomifera
    Leptospermum flavescens, humifusum, juniperinum, lanigerum, scoparium
    Melaleuca armillaris, decussata, elliptica, incana, pungens, squarrosa, stypheloides, thymifolia, uncinata, wilsonii
    Myoporum debile, parvifolium
    Pandorea pandorana
    Pittosporum phyllyraeoides
    Prostanthera aspalathioides, crenulata, lasianthos, nivea, rotundifolia
    Telopea oreades, speciosissima
    Thryptomene calycina, saxicola
    Westringia fruticosa

Plants for Dry Places

- Grow well in soils which are normally dry:

Acacia aneura (Mulga)
Atriplex (Saltbush)
Banksia (most West Aust. varieties)
Brachychiton populneus, rupestris
Eucalyptus calycogona, eremophila, forrestiana, spathulata, tetraptera, 
torquata, viridis
Myoporum sp.

Drought Tolerant Plants

- Withstand periods of dryness:

  • Trees
    Acacia aneura, pendula, spectabilis, stenophylla
    Allocasuarina inophloia, verticillata
    Brachychyton rupestre
    Callistemon (most tree types)
    Callitris columellaris,preissii
    Eucalyptus caesia, calycogona, camaldulensis, campespe, crucis, diversifolia, forrestiana, globulus, macrocarpa, papuana, radiata spathulata, stricklandii, tetraptera, torquata, viridis
    Ficus (Common fig)
    Melia azederach var. australasicus
    Pittosporum phyllyraeoides
  • Shrubs
    Atriplex (most)
    Banksia ornata
    Callistemon (most shrub types)
    Cassia artemisioides, nemophila
    Chenopodium nitrariaceum   
    Dodonaea (most)
    Doryanthes excelsa
    Eremophila (most)
    Eucalyptus grossa, tetraptera
    Grevillea aspera, lavandulaceae, steiglitziana, wilsonii
    Hakea bucculenta, elliptica, laurina, multilineata, sericea
    Melaleuca decussata, elliptica, huegelii, lanceolata, uncinata, wilsonii
    Prostranthera aspalathoides
    Scholtzia capitata
    Solanum brownii
    Swainsonia (most)
  • Ground Covers
    Allocasuarina nana
    Carpobrotus glaucescens
    Convolvulus erubescens
    Helichrysum apiculatum
    Kunzea pomifera
    Myoporum parvifolium
    Rhagodia deltophylla
  • Windbreak Plants
    Acacia floribunda, longifolia, mearnsii, pravissima, saligna
    Acmena smithii
    Agonis flexuosa           
    Allocasuarina (most varieties)        
    Callistemon citrinus, pallidus, salignus, viminalis                  
    Callitris (most species)
    Correa alba
    Eucalyptus alpina, camaldulensis, forrestiana, globulus compacta, leucoxylon, pauciflora, polyanthemos, viminalis, viridis
    Grevillea rosmarinifolia
    Kunzea ambigua, flavescens
    Leptospermum lavaegatum, lanigerum, scoparium
    Melaleuca armillaris, elliptica, ericifolia, huegelii, hypericifolia, 
    nesophila, squarrosa, stypheloides
    Myoporum insulare
    Pittosporum undulatum
    Westringia fruiticosa
  • Windbreaks in Tropical and Sub-Tropical Climates
    Acmena smithii
    Archontophoenix alexandrae
    Callistemon formosus, viminalis
    Callitris collumellaris
    Castenospermum australe
    Casuarina cunninghamiana, littoralis
    Eucalyptus tereticornis, tessellaris
    Leptospermum flavescens
    Melaleuca leucadendron, linariifolia
    Melia azaderach
    Vitex ovata

Scented Native Plants

  • Trees
    Actinostrobus pyramidalis    
    Albizzia lebbeck
    Angophora hispida, subvelutina
    Backhousia angustifolia, citriodora
    Buckinghamia celcissima      
    Choricarpia leptopetala
    Doryphora sassafras          
    Eleocarpus reticulatus
    Eucalyptus (most  some more so than others)
    Hymenosporum flavum          
    Flindersia (most species)
    Pittosporum undulatum        
    Stenocarpus salignus
    Toona australis

  • Shrubs
    Acacia cardiophylla, dealbata, floribunda, mearnsii, pendula, suaveolens
    Boronia (most species)
    Bursaria incana, spinosa
    Callistemon (most)
    Calothamnus (most)
    Darwinia citriodora
    Eremophila mitchellii
    Eriostemon (most)
    Grevillea australis, buxifolia, leucopteris, prostrata, tridentifera
    Hakea nodosa, plurinervia, suaveolens, varia
    Homoranthus flavescens
    Kunzea ambigua
    Leptospermum petersonii (syn L. citratum)
    Lomatia arborescens
    Melaleuca (many)
    Murraya paniculata
    Olearia (most  but not always attractive)
    Prostanthera (most varieties)
    Zieria (All)

Some Plants which Flower for Extended Periods

Astartea fascicularis
Boronia denticulata
Brachycome multifida
Correa alba
Crowea exalata
Darwinia citriodora
Helichrysum (many sp.)
Grevillea (many sp.)
Leschenaultia formosa
Viola hederaceae

Popular Native Climbing Plants

  • For Cooler Climates:
    Billardiera bicolor, scandens & cymosa
    Clematis aristata & microphylla (not in W.A.)
    Hardenbergia violacea
    Kennedya rubicunda & nigricans
    Muehlenbeckia adpressa
    Pandorea pandorana
    Sollya heterophylla

  • For dry inland:
    Clematis microphylla (not in W.A.)
    Jasminum linare
    Patersonia eucalyptophylla
    Ipomea mulleri

  • For Northern Australia (moist conditions preferred):
    Abelmoschus moschatus
    Ceropigia cunninghamiana
    Cissus antarctica
    Dioscorea reticulata (Yam)
    Dischidia (Button orchid)
    Hoya australis, macgillvrayii, rubida
    Hibbertia scandens, dentata
    Ipomea digitata
    Jasminum suavissimum
    Kennedya retorsa, procurrens
    Passiflora herbertiana

Plants for Coastal Conditions

  • Small Shrubs That Require Moderate Protection (up to 1.5 metres)
    Agonis flexuosa 'Nana'
    Anigosanthos flavidus KANGAROO PAW
    Brachyscome iberidifolia
    Correa decumbens, reflexa
    Crowea exalata
    Dampiera hederacea
    Dianella revoluta
    Epacris longiflora
    Grevillea banskii (prostrate form), thelemanniana
    Helichrysum bracteatum
    Hibbertia cuneata
    Melaleuca incana nana
    Pimelea ferruginea
    Thryptomene saxicola
    Xanthorrhea minor

  • Small Plants For Exposed Coastal Conditions (up to 1.5m)
    Acacia terminalis (prostrate form)
    Banskia marginata (small and large forms available)
    Bauera rubiodes
    Brachysema lanceolatum
    Calocephalus brownii
    Calothamnus quadrifidus (low growing form)
    Carprobrotus rossii
    Grevillea fasiculata, lanigera
    Hardenbergia violacea (bushy form)
    Ipomoea  (Morning Glory)
    Leptospermum juniperinum 'Horizontalis', sericeum
    Myoporum parvifolium
  • Medium To Large Shrubs That Require Moderate Protection (1.5 to 5metres)
    Acacia floribunda, iteaphylla, littorea, myrtifolia, pravissima,
    Banskia ericifolia
    Callistemon 'Harkness', macropunctatus 
    Grevillea 'Clearview David'
    Hakea bucculenta, laurina, victoriae
    Pittosporum tobira
    Prostranthera ovalifolia 
  • Medium To Large Shrubs For Exposed Coastal Gardens (1.5 to 5 metres)
    Acacia cyclops, suaveolens, truncata
    Atriplex cinerea COAST SALTBUSH
    Banskia media, praemorsa, verticilliata
    Callistemon "KINGS PARK SPECIAL", speciosus
    Correa alba
    Grevillea 'Coastal Glow'
    Hakea sericea, suaveolens
    Kunzea baxteri
    Melaleuca armillaris, diosmifolia, hypericifolia, nesophila
    Myoporum acuminatum BOOBIALLA
    Westringia fruiticosa COASTAL ROSEMARY
  • Trees For Coastal Gardens (# requires moderate protection)
    Acacia baileyana #, longifolia var. sophorae
    Agonis flexuosa 
    Angophora costata, floribunda
    Araucaria heterophylla
    Banskia integrifolia (COASTAL BANSKIA), serrata
    Callitris preissii, columellaris
    Casaurina glauca, littoralis
    Cinnamomum camphorum
    Eucalyptus botryoides, calophylla # MARRI, citriodora #, 
    conferruminata (syn lehmannii), diversifolia, ficifolia # RED FLOWERING GUM
    kitsonia #, leucoxylon, robusta SWAMP GUM, rugosa
    Leptospermum laviegatum  COASTAL TEATREE
    Melaleuca stypheloides
    Melia azederach var australasica (deciduous)
    Tristania laurina 
  • Climbers (# requires moderate protection)
    Clematis microphylla (NOT ALLOWED IN W.A.)
    Hardenbergia comptoniana      
    Hibbertia scandens
    Hoya australis
    Ipomea brasiliensis
    Kennedia nigricans #, rubicunda #
    Muehlenbeckia adpressa
    Pandorea jasminoides#
    Sollya heterophylla #

Plants for Lime Soils

  • Shrubs which grow in Lime Soils
    Atriplex nummularia (Saltbush)
    Banksia ashbyi, ornata
    Brachyscome iberidifolia, lanceolatum
    Callistemon 'Harkness Hybrid'
    Calocephalus brownii (Cushion Bush)
    Calothamnus quadrifidus
    Casuarina humilis
    Chamaelaucium uncinatum (Geraldton wax)
    Clianthus formosus (Sturt's Desert Pea)
    Correa alba, decumbens, mannii
    Diplolaena (most)
    Epacris impressa
    Eremophila glabra
    Grevillea ilicifolia (NB: Most Grevilleas are not suited), leucopteris, pauciflora, vestita
    Leptospermum lavaegatum
    Melaleuca hypericifolia, nesophila, wilsonii
    Myoporum insulare (Boobialla)
    Rhagodia sp.

  • Trees Which Grow in Lime Soils
    Araucaria heterophylla
    Banksias (Most W.A. types)
    Brachychiton populneus, rupestris
    Casuarina cristata
    Eucalyptus camaldulensis, cladocalyx nana, lehmannii, forrestiana, gomphocephala, leucoxylon rosea
    Melia azaderach var australasicus
    Pittosporum phillyraeoides

Plants Resistant to Inner-City Pollution

  • Trees
    Acacia floribunda, longifolia, melanoxylon, pycnantha
    Allocasuarina (many varieties)
    Eucalyptus ficifolia, globulus compacta, ovata, torquata
    Ficus macrophylla
    Melaleuca linariifolia, stypheloides
    Pittosporum phyllyraeoides
  • Shrubs
    Acacia iteaphylla, retinoides
    Actinostrobus pyramidalis
    Callistemon citrinus, salignus
    Calothamnus quadrifidus
    Casuarina distyla
    Grevillea rosmarinifolia
    Hakea sericea, salicifolia, suaveolens
    Leptospermum scoparium
    Melaleuca armillaris, decussata, incana, wilsonii
    Myoporum insulare


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