The List: Our 5 best Australian Plants
Angus Stewart picks his top 5 new releases from the world of Australian plants.
Australian flora is diverse, exciting and brilliantly beautiful. But it doesn’t always translate from the wild to the garden. In the garden we demand plants
with fabulous flowers and handsome foliage, as well as adaptability to a wide range of soils and conditions, compact habits, and good garden manners.
Enter the plant breeders. Thanks to great work by our leading plant breeders the array of new Australian native plant material available to gardeners
continues to expand. There are dozens of hot new releases each year from nurseries all over the country. I have chosen five of the best here. My criteria:
adaptability to a very wide range of Australian garden conditions – and an indisputable wow factor!
1. Corymbia maculata ‘Ribbons of Hope’
This versatile tree, with its pretty, ribbon-like, creamy edged leaves frosted with pink, adds brilliant texture and colour contrast to the back of a garden. Prune to the size that suits, no further work required. Photo - Angus Stewart
Ribbons of cream-edged green, frosted with pink
This spectacular variegated form of the adaptable spotted gum (Corymbia maculata) features green and white leaves overlaid by a gorgeous burst of pink in every flush of new growth. The pink tinge is very appropriate as the name ‘Ribbons of Hope’ references the 50c donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation for every plant sold.
Faceys Nursery in Melbourne has spent a quarter of a century developing and trialling this plant! Spotted gum is one of the most useful gum trees in cultivation as it thrives in both clay and sandy soils. It occurs naturally from Queensland to Victoria along the coastal fringe and is therefore suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions. It can even stand light frosts.
The normal green form of spotted gum grows into a large tree, but as with all variegated plants, the lowered amount of chlorophyll in the leaves means that ‘Ribbons of Hope’ won’t reach anything like that size. If left alone it will get to 12 metres in height by five metres wide, but will thrive on regular pruning, so can be kept to any size. Apart from pruning and removing green branches that may sucker from the rootstock, there is nothing else to do – the tree is drought tolerant and will grow on the sniff of an empty fertiliser bag.
I like ‘Ribbons of Hope’ used in the background to lighten areas of the garden dominated by green. It has fairly insignificant white flowers in spring, but they do attract birds.
2. Flowering Gum, Corymbia - 'Summer Glory'
The popular 'Summer' series of grafted flowering gums adds a new model to the line-up. Expect lipstick-pink fireworks through summer! This one's called 'Summer Glory'. Photo - Linda K. Ross.
Hot pink summer fireworks
When Queensland plant breeder Stan Henry created his ‘Summer’ series of hybrid flowering gums, east coast gardeners rejoiced. Here was the stunning colour and flower size of the red flowering gum of Western Australia (Corymbia ficifolia), combined with the adaptability to hot, humid climates of the swamp bloodwood (C. ptychocarpa). By using different coloured forms of each species Stan has come up with a range of cultivars. The latest is lolly-pink ‘Summer Beauty’.
The tree does best in sunny, well-drained positions and grows to around five metres in height by several metres wide (and a bit bigger in shady spots). It forms flower buds in autumn that swell during winter and spring, making a feature in their own right.
Make sure the tree doesn’t dry out during early summer and the reward is a show-stopping display in December, January and February depending on your latitude. The large urn-shaped gumnuts that form after flowering are also an ornamental feature but I recommend pruning them off in autumn to encourage a new crop of buds. Feed the plant with a low-phosphorus, native plant fertiliser at the same time.
‘Summer Beauty’ is best used as a centrepiece in the garden and looks fantastic surrounded by pink-flowered grevilleas such as ‘Misty Pink’, ‘Flamingo’ or ‘Sylvia’, with an understorey of pink kangaroo paw such as ‘Bush Pearl’.
3. Grevillea ‘Honey Barbara’
Gardeners love the long floering season and the feathered foliage of the large-flowered grevillea family. New to the clan is this orange beauty. Prune to keep shapely. Photo - Angus Stewart
Flame-orange blooms for months
The large-flowered grevilleas, such as ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Misty Pink’, have become favourites of Australian gardeners due to their spectacular, almost year-round blooms, and lovely, grey-green, divided foliage. ‘Honey Barbara’ is a beautiful new addition that arose spontaneously in a garden near Grafton, NSW and has been introduced by Gondwana Nursery.
‘Honey Barbara’ has glowing orange flower heads and relatively compact growth (approximately three metres tall by two metres wide). It thrives in a well-drained position with sun for most of the day. Though it will tolerate shade from an overhead tree canopy, flowers are best in full sun.
To keep the plant shapely prune off old flower stems, taking them back about 60cm to a healthy, dormant vegetative bud. The optimum time to prune is after a heavy flush of flowers, but don’t be frightened to prune at any time of year to remove unwanted stems. At the same time as pruning, give the plant a handful of a low-phosphorus native plant food to stimulate the new stems that will produce the next crop of flowers. ‘Honey Barbara’ will flower for most of the year, with a peak in late-winter-early-spring.
I like to use ‘Honey Barbara’ towards the middle or rear of garden beds to frame plantings of things like orange, red or yellow kangaroo paws.
4. Alyogyne huegelii ‘Misty’
Grown as a feature for the courtyard or balcony, as a neat flowering hedge; or as part of a large border, this pretty West Australian native will charm you. Just don't let it get waterlogged. Photo - Angus Stewart
Cheery lilac sun-lover
This gorgeous form of native hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii) comes from the south-west corner of Western Australia so you’d think it wouldn’t work for east coast gardens. But it is closely related to the exotic hibiscus and shares with that plant the ability to grow well in coastal gardens. ‘Misty’ is a development of that happy tendency.
Its soft lilac blooms are produced right through the warmer months from spring to autumn. It grows to a height of about 1.5-2 metres by a similar width and requires a sunny, well-drained position to reach its full blooming potential. Avoid any position that is waterlogged any time during the year.
‘Misty’ benefits from a couple of light trims each year behind the spent flowers to keep it compact and encourage more flowers. Throw a handful of low-phosphorus native plant fertiliser around it at the same time.
‘Misty’ makes a fabulous feature shrub in a garden bed, or as a courtyard plant in a large container. I like the lilac flowers mixed with the pinks and yellows of croweas, boronias and everlasting daisies.
5. Brachyscome ‘Pacific Reef’
Groundcover daisies are perfect fillers for sunny gaps in gardens and pots and we love their fine soft foliage and generous spirit. Now there's a hot pink to add to the blues and lilacs. Photo - Angus Stewart
Lipstick pink groundcover daisy
The Brachyscome daisies are one of the best ground covering plants in the Australian flora, providing a long flowering display through the warmer months. ‘Pacific Reef’ is a vibrant new colour in the range. It is a hybrid of Brachyscome formosa which first came to gardeners’ attention in the form of the cultivar ‘Pilliga Posy’.
‘Pacific Reef’ grows to a height of about 20cm with a width of around 30cm. It loves a sunny, well-drained spot such as a rockery but will also do just as well in a container on a balcony.
The plant suckers lightly once established so can survive harsh conditions such as drought and frost by regenerating from the rootstock near the original plant.
‘Pacific Reef’ is a superb border or pot plant that can be mixed equally well with exotic or native plants. The strong pink looks particularly effective when contrasted with white or yellow flowers such as everlasting daisies and other brachyscomes, or harmonised with the purple of the fan flowers (Scaevola species).