John Elton is a passionate plantsman and volunteer at The Illawarra Grevillea Park Botanic Garden, Bulli, NSW. The park is 2.4-ha showcase of the rich and wonderful native species we have in Australia. Here, John shares his love of natives and what you should grow for winter colour.
I find our native flora to be irresistible – the variety of colours, textures, growth habits, and their ever-expanding possibilities is staggering. Banksias are amongst our most intriguing and beautiful plants. Take a close look at the dense banksia flower spikes (inflorescence) and you will see they are actually hundreds of individual flowers.
The easiest and most reliable banksias to grow on the East Coast are the various forms of Banksia spinulosa, B. ericifolia, B. integrifolia and B. serrata. The low-growing forms of B. spinulosa are highly desirable. Colours range from yellow through to orange and red. Banksia s pinulosa ‘Bush Candles’ has golden spikes with contrasting dark-brown stamens and flowers continuously for five months – I consider it to be one of the best. A hardy plant that will grow in sun or semi-shade.
For a starkly different colour, try Banksia plagiocarpa. A medium-to-tall shrub with velvety rusty-red new growth and metallic grey- blue flowers. As with most banksias that grow on the East Coast, they can usually cope with both dry and wet spells. Looking after banksias is as easy as removing dead flower spikes.
Winter is also wattle time. One worth growing is the stunning Acacia torringtonensis. A small-to-medium shrub, its flowers brighten up any spot in the garden. For a different wattle, try the leafless wattle (Acacia aphylla). Its structure of branches provides a great foliage contrast.
If you prefer winter flowering grevilleas, it’s hard to go past these exceptional cultivars: Bush Lemons, Billy Bonkers, Miami Pink, Golden Lyre, Bulli Beauty, Flamingo, and Honey Barbara. A colour palette with shades of pink, yellow, orange, red, and cream ensures everyone can be satisfied. If you prefer a fragrant grevillea, banana custard grevillea ( Grevillea simplex ) is a beauty. It has clusters of delicate white flowers with light yellow stamens. Plant any of these wonderful plants and you will be rewarded by visits from wonderful native birds, both large and small.
John's Top Five
Grevillea ‘Golden Lyre’
Large bright yellow flowers contrast superbly against serrated bright green foliage. The spreading plant will brighten up any sunny spot in the garden but does need room to grow.
One of the most tactile of plants – it is worth growing just to run your hands through the soft velvety grey foliage. Beautiful mauve flowers begin to emerge in late winter and last through to summer.
A small tree with the vibrant red flowers. A plant from Western Australia, so make sure you source a grafted plant to ensure it survives our climate.
A great little plant that comes in a variety of colours. If there is a small gap in the garden this is the perfect plant. Mass plantings also look fantastic.
Grevillea ‘Scarlet Moon’
One of the best new cultivars to come onto the market. Produced by Kings Park, this plant just keeps flowering. Wonderful red toothbrush flowers against soft grey foliage brings months of joy.
Plant a couple of natives that flower in winter and you will no doubt come back for more