Native plants are generally perceived to be drought tolerant, but depending on their origin, they are not always suited to our hot dry summers. For example, plants from Queensland or Tasmanian rainforests will struggle, as will certain varieties of our WA temperate understory plants, when exposed to harsh conditions in full sun and a soil type they have not adapted to.
Local plants are obviously the best choice as they have adapted to our climate and soil types.
Plants from heavier soils can behave quite differently in sandy soils – sometimes they do not thrive or are short lived, yet some adapt well. Plants from light, free draining soils may struggle in heavier clay soils.
If your knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of individual species is limited, it is best to stick to plants from the locality for the best chance of success.
Native plant resources
There are a number of good resources which will assist with plant selection for various locations:
Growing Locals –Robert Powell The ‘Grow Local Plants’ series of brochures prepared by the North Metro Catchment branch of the Phosphorous Action Group which has detailed lists of species for various locations.
Specialist Native Nurseries and Waterwise Garden Centres are the best source of information on plant suitability and availability.
www.asgap.org.au is a very good resource for information on Australian plants compiled by the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants.
The design potential for Australian plants is only now being realized. Kings Park showcases some of the diverse foliage and habitats of the unique flora of WA and the Australian Garden at Cranbourne in Victoria shows on a grand scale what can be achieved when we look to natural landscapes for inspiration. There are too many species to list here but getting to know our local flora is highly recommended.
From the silvers of our WA mallees and intricate complex design of banksia flowers, to the lime greens of felty understory shrubs and the textural quality of masses of reeds and rushes, the palette of Australian plants is endless.
Common requests from clients include ‘lots of colour’ and this can be achieved in the native garden by selecting a range of varieties which flower at different times to give some interest throughout the year.
Some native nurseries provide catalogues which give codes as to flowering season or species lists for what is flowering when. These and other information packs on varieties and growing conditions are invaluable references which designers should stock up on.
A useful reference is George Lullfitz’s book ‘A New Image for West Australian Plants’ which groups the plants into four seasons according to flowering time.
There are many hybrid varieties available which have been bred to flower for longer periods. Much research has also gone into breeding and selecting varieties with a compact form and habit to suit smaller gardens as blocks reduce in size. As well as these new varieties it is worth checking existing species to see what can be adapted to a particular situation.
For further interest and contrast, particularly in larger planting schemes, foliage colour and texture are important tools. There are many shades of green and silver, and some burgundy, cream and gold in the native plant palette which can create highlights or bands of colour when planted in groups.
Ideally natural topography and native species should be retained where possible. Revegetation with local species can be undertaken, preferably with the first autumn rains.
Best results are achieved via seed from local provenance. Planting can be done via direct seeding for suitable species or plants can be propagated and grown on before being planted out. Seed from the local area is adapted to the site and will perform better than seed from other locations.
For more information visit the website of the Revegetation Industry Association of WA