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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
Acacia dealbata, elata, pravissima, pycnantha
Allocasuarina (most species)
Callitris (most species)
Eucalyptus alpina, botryoides, cinerea, dives, globulus, gunni, leucoxylon, mannifera, melliodora, nicholi, pauciflora, polyanthemos, regnans, saligna, sideroxylon, stoatei, torquata, viminalis
Bauera (most species)
Callistemon citrinus, viminalis
Correa alba, reflexa
Grevillea alpina, juniperina, Poorinda varieties, rosmarinifolia,
Hakea nodosa, sericea
Leptospermum flavescens, juniperina, scoparium
Melaleuca (most temperate species)
Pomaderris (most species)
Prostanthera (most species)
Pultenaea flexilis, villosa
Thryptomene calycina, saxicola
Westringia (most species)
Grevillea gaudichaudii, juniperina prostrate form
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
Callistemon citrinus, pallidus, paludosus, rigidus, salignus
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
Kunzea capitata, parvifolia, pomifera
Leptospermum flavescens, humifusum, juniperinum, lanigerum, scoparium
Melaleuca armillaris, decussata, elliptica, incana, pungens, squarrosa, stypheloides, thymifolia, uncinata, wilsonii
Myoporum debile, parvifolium
Prostanthera aspalathioides, crenulata, lasianthos, nivea, rotundifolia
Telopea oreades, speciosissima
Thryptomene calycina, saxicola
Plants for Dry Places
- Grow well in soils which are normally dry:
Acacia aneura (Mulga)
Banksia (most West Aust. varieties)
Brachychiton populneus, rupestris
Eucalyptus calycogona, eremophila, forrestiana, spathulata, tetraptera,
Drought Tolerant Plants
- Withstand periods of dryness:
Acacia aneura, pendula, spectabilis, stenophylla
Allocasuarina inophloia, verticillata
Callistemon (most tree types)
Eucalyptus caesia, calycogona, camaldulensis, campespe, crucis, diversifolia, forrestiana, globulus, macrocarpa, papuana, radiata spathulata, stricklandii, tetraptera, torquata, viridis
Ficus (Common fig)
Melia azederach var. australasicus
Callistemon (most shrub types)
Cassia artemisioides, nemophila
Eucalyptus grossa, tetraptera
Grevillea aspera, lavandulaceae, steiglitziana, wilsonii
Hakea bucculenta, elliptica, laurina, multilineata, sericea
Melaleuca decussata, elliptica, huegelii, lanceolata, uncinata, wilsonii
Acacia floribunda, longifolia, mearnsii, pravissima, saligna
Allocasuarina (most varieties)
Callistemon citrinus, pallidus, salignus, viminalis
Callitris (most species)
Eucalyptus alpina, camaldulensis, forrestiana, globulus compacta, leucoxylon, pauciflora, polyanthemos, viminalis, viridis
Kunzea ambigua, flavescens
Leptospermum lavaegatum, lanigerum, scoparium
Melaleuca armillaris, elliptica, ericifolia, huegelii, hypericifolia,
nesophila, squarrosa, stypheloides
Windbreaks in Tropical and Sub-Tropical Climates
Callistemon formosus, viminalis
Casuarina cunninghamiana, littoralis
Eucalyptus tereticornis, tessellaris
Melaleuca leucadendron, linariifolia
Scented Native Plants
Angophora hispida, subvelutina
Backhousia angustifolia, citriodora
Eucalyptus (most some more so than others)
Flindersia (most species)
Acacia cardiophylla, dealbata, floribunda, mearnsii, pendula, suaveolens
Boronia (most species)
Bursaria incana, spinosa
Grevillea australis, buxifolia, leucopteris, prostrata, tridentifera
Hakea nodosa, plurinervia, suaveolens, varia
Leptospermum petersonii (syn L. citratum)
Olearia (most but not always attractive)
Prostanthera (most varieties)
Some Plants which Flower for Extended Periods
Helichrysum (many sp.)
Grevillea (many sp.)
Popular Native Climbing Plants
For Cooler Climates:
Billardiera bicolor, scandens & cymosa
Clematis aristata & microphylla (not in W.A.)
Kennedya rubicunda & nigricans
For dry inland:
Clematis microphylla (not in W.A.)
For Northern Australia (moist conditions preferred):
Dioscorea reticulata (Yam)
Dischidia (Button orchid)
Hoya australis, macgillvrayii, rubida
Hibbertia scandens, dentata
Kennedya retorsa, procurrens
Plants for Coastal Conditions
Small Shrubs That Require Moderate Protection (up to 1.5 metres)
Agonis flexuosa 'Nana'
Anigosanthos flavidus KANGAROO PAW
Correa decumbens, reflexa
Grevillea banskii (prostrate form), thelemanniana
Melaleuca incana nana
Small Plants For Exposed Coastal Conditions (up to 1.5m)
Acacia terminalis (prostrate form)
Banskia marginata (small and large forms available)
Calothamnus quadrifidus (low growing form)
Grevillea fasiculata, lanigera
Hardenbergia violacea (bushy form)
Ipomoea (Morning Glory)
Leptospermum juniperinum 'Horizontalis', sericeum
Medium To Large Shrubs That Require Moderate Protection (1.5 to 5metres)
Acacia floribunda, iteaphylla, littorea, myrtifolia, pravissima,
Callistemon 'Harkness', macropunctatus
Grevillea 'Clearview David'
Hakea bucculenta, laurina, victoriae
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
Grevillea 'Coastal Glow'
Hakea sericea, suaveolens
Melaleuca armillaris, diosmifolia, hypericifolia, nesophila
Myoporum acuminatum BOOBIALLA
Westringia fruiticosa COASTAL ROSEMARY
Trees For Coastal Gardens (# requires moderate protection)
Acacia baileyana #, longifolia var. sophorae
Angophora costata, floribunda
Banskia integrifolia (COASTAL BANSKIA), serrata
Callitris preissii, columellaris
Casaurina glauca, littoralis
Eucalyptus botryoides, calophylla # MARRI, citriodora #,
conferruminata (syn lehmannii), diversifolia, ficifolia # RED FLOWERING GUM
kitsonia #, leucoxylon, robusta SWAMP GUM, rugosa
Leptospermum laviegatum COASTAL TEATREE
Melia azederach var australasica (deciduous)
Climbers (# requires moderate protection)
Clematis microphylla (NOT ALLOWED IN W.A.)
Kennedia nigricans #, rubicunda #
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)
Chamaelaucium uncinatum (Geraldton wax)
Clianthus formosus (Sturt's Desert Pea)
Correa alba, decumbens, mannii
Grevillea ilicifolia (NB: Most Grevilleas are not suited), leucopteris, pauciflora, vestita
Melaleuca hypericifolia, nesophila, wilsonii
Myoporum insulare (Boobialla)
Trees Which Grow in Lime Soils
Banksias (Most W.A. types)
Brachychiton populneus, rupestris
Eucalyptus camaldulensis, cladocalyx nana, lehmannii, forrestiana, gomphocephala, leucoxylon rosea
Melia azaderach var australasicus
Plants Resistant to Inner-City Pollution
Acacia floribunda, longifolia, melanoxylon, pycnantha
Allocasuarina (many varieties)
Eucalyptus ficifolia, globulus compacta, ovata, torquata
Melaleuca linariifolia, stypheloides
Acacia iteaphylla, retinoides
Callistemon citrinus, salignus
Hakea sericea, salicifolia, suaveolens
Melaleuca armillaris, decussata, incana, wilsonii
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