The more time goes on, the more I love our natives. Sadly, you don’t see them used in gardens as much as you might and so when I come across a model example, I get extremely excited!
Bells of Killcare, a hotel and restaurant, has some of the best usage of Australian natives I have seen to date. If I am being frank, the surrounding bushland did set off the gardens fantastically, and the circumstances for my visit also perhaps meant that a square patch of lawn would have got me going, but two weeks on, I still think they were pretty impressive. See what you think.
I’m going to take you through the gardens examining why they worked so well and use the framework I put up a few weeks ago, to help make the ideas translatable for the small garden. The tricks I believe you need for high impact natives encompass i) colour, ii) contrast and iii) fullness.
In the more formal areas, close to the buildings, bright colours have been chosen which sit comfortably with the lawns and exotic plants. Lilly pillies (Syzygium and Acmena) are wonderful shrubs for blending with exotics, with generous, glossy leaves and tints of pink, red or orange in their leaves and berries at different times of the year.
The gymea lily (Doryanthes) is another very bright green native, which, in its own neat bed, looks just the part alongside this birch grove, adding structure, focal points and a subtropical feel.
In the areas closer to the bush, more subtle colours have been chosen. The soft grey of the Helichrysum and the matt, dark green of the oleander. It all blends perfectly. Enough connections between the plants for cohesion; enough contrast for holistic interest (and it looked even better when the sun came back out!).
2. Contrasting form and texture
A lot of natives have small, fine, matt leaves which can look drab en masse. Mixing the finer textures with bolder textures creates wonderful contrasts, with both types looking the better for it.
This fabulous mix at the entrance to Bells has the linear foliage of Anigozanthos (Kangaroo paws), round foliage of Rhaphiolepis, and divided foliage of Grevillea. Even with the roo paws going over, the foliage mix is really quite striking.
And above, again, our friend the Gymea lily shows just what it can do mixed with natives as well as exotics. Here it brings structure and life to the divided Grevillea and fine Leptospermum foliage.
We also shouldn’t forget that there are plenty of large leaved natives, particularly for shady spots, where moisture loss is not so rapid. Above we have Asplenium (Bird’s Nest Fern), Alocasia (Elephant’s Ears) and Dicksonia (tree fern); wonderfully contrasting textures and forms.
3. Full and healthy
To me, a garden which is full is a happy garden. It’s fine to see soil or mulch when things are newly planted, but after that, I want to see plants jostling and fighting for space. The abundant look, with each square centimetre heaving with life.
Above, you can see how plants are placed to fill every patch of soil and each plant seems to be thriving and healthy. It’s not only a good look, it also keeps weeds down and protects the soil from sun damage. It’s just a no brainer to me.
And again, tightly clipped Westringia provide contrast to the Banksia; all space is filled. I do love Banksia near water – it reminds me of a classic Australian beach scene.
One last photo, which I did show two blogs ago, but I think is so good, so full of just the right colours for the surrounding bushland, so full of contrasting textures and forms, and so, well, just full, and of healthy plants at that, that it deserves one final viewing! Very low maintenance but absolutely perfect for that spot.
I’m going to keep going with my ‘plant natives’ campaign. Generate that Australian sense of place in your garden. If it’s bold and beautiful and it ‘fits’ with your region, you’ve just got your own personality to add and you’ll have the perfect garden!