By Kate Wall
Whilst many of us can proudly say we are fond of the beautiful and iconic Australian native flora, we are still often hesitant to use them in our gardens. Native gardens are perceived to be somewhat untidy, even wild gardens which do not have the universal appeal of the flowers they may contain. Native plants however can shake off this reputation as untidy simply by taking more care with plant selection.
Modern plant breeding has produced a plethora of wonderful native shrubs with improved garden suitability. Many native plants are now available with bigger, bolder flowers, longer flowering times, and with more compact and tidy growth habits. This has created a range of native plants which can suit almost any garden style imaginable – even formal gardens can feature native shrubs with minimal need for pruning.
While lily pillies are the traditional favourites for hedges, westringias probably offer some of the most formal options in terms of clipped and sculptured hedges and garden plants. There are some very tight dense varieties of westringias which need very little pruning to maintain a neat shape. Of all the westringias, Ozbreed Aussie Box® Westringia ‘WES08’ PBR requires the least amount of pruning to maintain a very dense and neat shape. This plant is the perfect native alternative to box hedges, and is ideal for creating formal gardens particularly in areas with limited access to water, as it is very drought tolerant. The smaller Grey Box™ Westringia fruticosa ‘WES04’ PBR also makes a superb hedging plant. The natural compact ball shape of this plant lends itself beautifully to creating clipped balls of grey foliage in gardens, even with irregular clipping.
Other varieties of westringia can also offer dense foliage which can be shaped or even left unshaped and still remain as very tidy shrubs. Blue Gem™ Westringia ‘WES03’ PBR has masses of purple flowers and remains neat even as an unclipped feature plant in cottage gardens.
When looking for native plants to use in gardens where having neat tidy shrubs is the aim, the most important criteria will be to choose compact growth habits and plants which grow to a final mature height which is well suited to the garden. If the plant needs a lot of pruning to maintain the height, it is likely to become untidy if not kept pruned.
Most of the iconic native flowers are available in garden friendly compact forms including grevilleas, bottle brushes, banksias, tea trees and even the good old gum tree has been bred to produce compact garden friendly forms. Lemon Squash™ Corymbia citriodora ‘COR81’ PBR is just one example – the lemon scented gum is now available as a very compact small tree / large shrub perfect for small suburban gardens.
The bottle brush flowers of callistemons are popular, and happily the wealth of varieties available now means these iconic natives can easily and neatly be incorporated into almost any garden. Better John™ Callistemon viminalis ‘LJ1’ PBR can be left to a naturally tidy shape for most gardens, or pruned every 2 years to form a neat hedge. Scarlet Flame™ Callistemon viminalis ‘CC19’ PBR makes a great hedge or feature plant. The new red growth combined with bright red flowers in spring allows this compact plant to make a statement as a flowering shrub in all styles of garden. For a neat hedge it will require pruning twice a year – significantly less than many exotic hedge plants that are commonly used. Slim™ Callistemon viminalis ‘CV01’ PBR has the unique ability to remain narrow, growing up to 3m tall but only 1.3m wide. This makes it ideal for modern gardens where privacy is required in tight spaces. This compact nature means the plant itself is neat and dense and needs no pruning to remain tidy within this size frame. As with all hedging plants, it can be kept smaller with regular pruning.
Lily pillies are a traditional native option for hedges and remain very valuable for this purpose. One of the problems encountered has been plants which grow too large and require regular pruning. By choosing a variety which only grows to the desired height, your lily pillies will also remain much tidier with less work.
Grevilleas now come in so many sizes and colours that there is at least one for every garden. Many of these are still large plants which require careful pruning to maintain a tidy shape, which while not a difficult task is a poorly understood and often badly executed task. Selecting a lower growing plant will to a large extent minimise the need for pruning and the unpruned plant will be not only smaller and more manageable, but also a neater plant.
Crimson Villea™ Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘H16’ PBR is a delightful small grevillea growing to approximately 80cm x 80cm, with a naturally neat and compact shape. In its natural shape this plant is very tidy, and at this size will fit neatly into many small modern gardens. It has masses of bright red grevillea flowers from Autumn to spring, making it a very showy plant.
Even natives that have been much loved but difficult to keep tidy, such as hardenbergia are now available in very tidy forms. Mini Meema™ Hardenbergia violacea ‘HB2’ PBR in a very compact shrub growing to a natural ball shape of 45cm. This is no longer a climber but instead can provide the abundance of pretty purple pea flowers so loved on unruly hardenbergias, in the form of a very neat shrub.
Always look at the details on plant labels when choosing plants for your garden. A plant which has been bred into different forms can be selected in a neat and compact size which will suit your space. This is especially true for many natives which when chosen with care, can be used to great effect as very neat and tidy shrubs in all garden styles.