Plants I love: dwarf banksias
‘Banksia or grevillea’ I’m sometimes asked, in the native-plant lover’s version of ‘Batman or Superman’.
For me, it’s banksia, every time.
Words: Kath Gadd
Let me explain. Banksias begin flowering in autumn and put on a wonderful show all through winter and into early spring, a time that can bit a bit dull in the garden. They appear strong and bold, their flowers stand upright on their varied and unusual foliage. There is something reassuring about their presence, whether as a feature shrub, border, backdrop or screen. And the birds, bees and small marsupials love banksia flowers for their abundant nectar and large seeds.
Honey Pots. Photo - Robin Powell
The heath banksia, Banksia spinulosa, is a versatile NSW species that has been developed into many compact forms that have become a staple in almost every garden I design. They require little maintenance other than removing spent flowers. They like a free-draining soil in full sun or part shade, and will respond well to a little extra water in the drier months. A dense layer of mulch helps keep moisture in the soil, but take care to keep it free of the crown and stems. Banksias dislike soil high in pH, and in phosphorus, so care needs to be taken when choosing a fertiliser.
Bush Candles. Photo - Kath Gadd
Banksia ‘Bush Candles’ is one of my favourites. The contrast been the black styles and deep gold flower is striking. It has a short fine leaf and a low-growing habit of just .5m high and a metre wide, making it perfect for mass planting, or as a foreground border plant. I often group these as an understorey to taller trees. Even when not flowering they contribute colour and texture to the garden.
Banksia spinulosa ‘Honey Pots’ is a larger variety, reaching 1.5 m high. The leaf has a silver underside that creates a textured look to the shrub. ‘Honey Pots’ also has large flowers.
Banksia spinulosa ‘Stumpy Gold’ has a coarse stiff leaf and deep yellow flowers. It grows a metre high and wide and the flowers often grow inside the shrub, making it a great habitat plant for smaller birds.
Stumpy Gold. Photo - Kath Gadd
Where to buy
All of these banksias are available from Sydney Wildflower Nursery in Heathcote, 02 9548 2828, which is a Garden Clinic partner, offering 10 percent discount to Garden Clinic club members.