I think every Australian should visit Kings Park at least once in their life. It’s hard to think that you could possibly pay a visit and not fall in love with our native plants. From (almost) virgin bush to curated collections and home garden-style plantings, all looking out over the beautiful Swan River and city skyline, it’s a truly wonderful place.
But you’ll note that I do say ‘Australians’. Because I’ve learnt something recently. Whilst I pretty much love all plants, I’ve realised that the love of plants is really quite complex.
You see, after my visit, I casually uploaded the photo above, of Kings Park pink everlasting daisies, to Twitter. Being a newbie to Twitter, I was pretty amazed to see 28 retweets and ‘favouriting’ of it. ‘Gosh, people liked that’, I thought.
The next day, uploading an even more stunning Kings Park photo (see above), I was ready for hundreds of clicks. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Not a bite. Not even one. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.
Being full of the joys of Kings Park, this actually left me feeling pretty down. Yes, the bright pink daisies have a lot of impact, but really? I just couldn’t see that they were a patch on the second scene. Why could people not see this? What is it about natives that draws a blank? It really did make me despair. All these people missing out on so much.
The following week, I decided that my scientific Twitter experiment wasn’t actually all that scientific. Perhaps it was just co-incidence. Maybe I just got lucky/unlucky with timings. So I decided to do a proper trial.
I uploaded both the photos to my Janna Schreier Garden Design Facebook page. Both at the same time, on the same post, and invited people to state their preference. ‘Which photo appeals to you most?, I asked.
Within the hour, responses started coming in. Everyone liked the mixed native scene, photo number 2. The exact opposite of Twitter. Language such as ‘definitely photo 2’, ‘I love photo 2’, ‘photo 2 is just so Aussie’. 100% liked photo 2. No mention at all of number 1.
My conclusion? Don’t, under any circumstances, try to do scientific experiments on social media.
Later, one brave soul told me he liked the pink one. Followed by all the pinkies coming out. Three of them in a row. This was then followed by a whole succession of non-pinkies.
My conclusion? That some vague recollection of something called ‘group think’, which we studied at university a hundred years ago, may actually have some truth to it!
But when I’d stopped being confused, I noticed a pattern. The pinkies were broadly the English amongst the group. My cousin, Stephen, who, from the photos I see of his garden, is a pretty avid gardener himself, seems to be the exception.
And then the light bulb came on. The gardening community on Twitter seems to be far more UK-focussed than Australian. And the English see gardens as places full of pretty, colourful flowers. That’s what gardens are to them. Gardeners, or not, they all appreciate a garden full of colour.
On the other hand, the smaller group of Australians engaging with social media garden posts, seem to be true garden lovers. Over time, they have come to love all types of plants and see the beauty in our indigenous, more muted plants. Not necessarily preferring them per se, but being very open to many plant types. In the Facebook survey, 100% of Australians preferred photo 2.
Australian plants are very unique. But probably a bit of an acquired taste. Many are not that lush, not that colourful and have a fairly steady state throughout the year, rather than a big-bang, showy display and then months of dormancy. If you’ve never been to Australia, it’s not surprising that you look at our natives and think you’d prefer ‘exotics’ in your garden. Many would look out of place in foreign climes.
But as it turns out, the Aussies on Facebook really do enjoy their natives. What a happy revelation! They don’t necessarily all have gardens full of natives (me, included), but they do see their beauty. Hoorah for the Aussies!
Choice of plants in the garden, to me, comes down to taking cues from around you. In my neighbourhood–and also in the trees in my garden, established by previous owners–bright greens dominate. I’ve added some softer tones of Adenanthos, to provide contrast, I’ve added rich green Banksia and Grevillea and I’ve added brightly coloured kangaroo paws. I’ve also snuck in some South African plants, many of which have an Australian feel, but with brighter colours.
And whilst I have a lot more to do in my garden, I think the overall colour scheme broadly works. Some say bright light is best tackled head on with brightly coloured plants (think the tropics). Others say bright light suits softer colour schemes, to bring balance (think lavender greys of the Mediterranean).
To me, the perfect garden usually blends with its surroundings. Broad brush formulae are only helpful to an extent. I like to take inspiration from local foliage colours, whether these are the indigenous colours of surrounding bushland or exotic colours in a suburban street. Foliage is visually dominant for most of the year and seasonal colour can be built up once the optimal base is set.
As always, one size does not fit all. But it does make me happy to know that people see beauty across a range of plants, and in particular, that Australians do appreciate their natural flora. I’d hate to think, as Twitter led me to believe, that this country’s inhabitants were missing out on the incredible pleasures of these wonderful plants.