When not in flower with brilliant red, plumey stamen bristles, a grevillea (G. banksii) can still make an impact by spilling over walls. But it’s not curtains for other plants – tufts of lomandra (L. confertifolia ‘Little Con’) at the bottom of a wall will always rise to the occasion
If you love birds, then a cottage garden is for you and, while you’re at it, go native! Our flora and fauna have developed a deep connection over millennia as they’ve assisted each other with their survival. The plants give shelter and food – nectar for birds and butterflies, foliage and fruit for animals – while animals spread seeds to produce more plants. So plant natives – it’s the best wildlife invite there is!
Nothing is as bright as yellow buttons (Chrysocephalum apiculatum). This pretty groundcover will flower from spring through to autumn and easily fill a bare spot in your garden bed – or use it to replace parts of your lawn!
From moody and dark to a silvery tinge or limey touch, greens add variety to your colour palette. Mix the shades with a lilly pilly hedge, coastal rosemary, lomandra and a water gum (Tristaniopsis ‘Luscious’).
A lush lawn is always inviting, but making its shape irregular is a cottage garden trick that allows you to bring the plants in closer, blurring the boundaries so the whole garden feels as one. Such is love!
It's a local issue
Here’s the problem Australia is a huge and diverse continent, and what thrives in one climate will fail in another. Some of our prettiest plants come from Western Australia where the air is hot and dry, but these plants struggle in the heavy humidity of the east coast. Likewise, plants in southern Australia and the deep north have developed survival characteristics that don’t kick in when they’re out of their comfort zone. Here’s the solution Choose plants that are indigenous – they occur naturally in a broad geographic area, or endemic – they are confined to a smaller, specific geographical area. Here’s the help Visit your local botanic garden to get an idea of what plants are local to your area. Your local nursery can also help – it only stocks plants it knows won’t fail because it doesn’t want disappointed customers. Many local councils also have nurseries for street and park planting and are also invested in the continued survival of endemic plants.
Here's how native plants and design can be used in a suburban setting
The setting is a beautiful cottage in the heart of Sydney’s inner west. The front of the property is subtle, beautiful and inviting. With sandstock bricks as the bones, corrugated iron roof and a small timber deck front patio, rustic charm comes to mind.
The driveway with its soft strip of dichondra in the middle leads you up the side of the house towards the back yard. As you hear the soft trickling of the beautiful quirky water feature you start to see the magical native oasis of the backyard. The subtlety of the front yard is not mirrored in the back yard. Your met with plumes of Kangaroo paw, sprawling groundcovers and asymmetrical clouds of different shrubs species.
The planting is a beautiful accompaniment to the house and the design of the front yard. Native ground covers hug the edges of the path invitingly, as the other plants fold over each other, creating soft moving waves of textures.
The balance of asymmetrical clouds amassed between wild gnarled plants is beautiful, really giving you, this feel of a native oasis. Its always a party with Banksia ‘birthday candles’ lighting the borders of the garden and mingling between the other shrubs, bring native joy into the garden. The canopy of water gums ‘luscious’ with its mottled bark and fresh waxy lime green leaves continues to add depth, texture and colour to this garden.
Once standing on the lawn you really get a sense of being in your own little world surrounded by beautiful planting and a discreet water bowl that continues this feeling of chill and Zen.
Your cottage garden can become a collection of asymmetrical forms – each flowing on to the next. Banksia ‘Stumpy Gold’ and tall kangaroo paws demonstrate how unique native flowers are!
Charlie's native cottage garden plant list
- Tristaniopsis laurina 'Lucious'
- Syzigium australe 'Resilience'
- Doryanthes excelsa
- Anigozanthos 'landscape tangerine'
- Westringia fruticosa Lomandra 'Lime Tuff'
- Banksia 'Stumpy Gold'
- Grevillea rosmarinifolia
- Hibertia scandans
- Chrysocephalum apiculatum
- Dichondra repens
- Carpobrotus rossii
- Camellia pure silk
- Lagerstroemia indica 'Natchez'
- Carissa desert star
- Rhaphiolepis oriental pearl
- Helichrysum petiolare
- Erigeron karvinskianus
- Buxus japonica
- Neomarica gracillis
- Rosmarinus prostratus
- Thymus serpyllum 'pink chintz'
Native food myths busted
Many times you hear or read that you should only feed Australian natives with native-only fertiliser, and this may put you off buying them for your garden. But it’s not true!
- Soil type is crucial to natives. Most natives prefer sandy soil that is nutrient poor and will collapse from the over-sweet richness of clay or loam soil.
- Native-specific fertiliser only needs to apply to the members of the Proteaceae family, which include grevilleas, banksias, proteas and the iconic waratahs. They have evolved over the centuries in soils that are low in phosphorus. If you overload them with the level of phosphorus found in regular fertiliser, they will implode.
- However, garden faves such as gums, wattles, lilly pillies, the stunning kangaroo paws and all other non-Proteaceae Australian natives cope just fine with regular fertiliser.
So many of our native plants are perfect for the cooking pot, and can be used as local substitutes for imported exotic herbs, spices, garnishes, even whole meals. IndigiGrow nursery and bushfood farm, set within La Perouse Public School in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, uses traditional knowledge to help revive and cultivate local endangered native plants and native edibles for everyday use in your kitchen. It’s open from 8am-4pm Monday to Friday, and 8am-3pm Saturdays, or shop online, indigigrow.com.au.
- Cinnamon Myrtle: Use leaves fresh or dried to flavour curries, ribs, sauces and desserts.
- Lilly Pilly: Make jams and relishes from the berries – if the birds don’t get them first!
- Finger lime: Finger lime flesh is citrus disguised as caviar that just explodes in your mouth.
- River mint: Whether in a tea or with roast lamb, river mint gives you a refreshing zing!
- Pigface: The fleshy leaves can be eaten raw or roasted. No need for salt!
- Warrigal greens: Warrigal greens are a tastier spinach substitute – and make great pesto!
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