I can’t really remember when it happened. That moment I decided to dedicate my little patch of suburbia to our glorious Australian native cottage garden plants. I didn’t set-out with a concrete plan from the start. It wasn’t even a decision driven by an ideology, like those who set out to create a garden that blends in with the surrounding bush or to support local wildlife. This is peak suburbia after all – my surrounding landscape is fences and tiled roofs on all sides, and any chance of local wildlife visiting seemed a distant hope pushed away by acres of surrounding asphalt and barren blocks of lawn.
The ‘nativeness’ of my garden was more of an evolution than a clear intent. Driven by fascination and perhaps a slightly obsessive desire to collect plant curiosities at the start.
When I try to remember the beginning there is one turning point, but it’s more of a slight course correction than a moment of resolution. It set me on a path of discovery and more than anything opened my eyes!
It was a visit to the Australian Botanic Garden in Mount Annan. Thanks to the magic of iPhones I can tell you that was 15 March 2015 – the photos below are from that original visit. We had moved into the area in July 2014 and finally got around to visiting the garden, not knowing what to expect. On that visit I took photos of perennial Xerochrysum paper daisies, the stunning grey leaves of Eremophila Kalbarri Carpet, pretty Brachyscome ‘Pacific Reef’, Chrysocephalum apiculatum ‘Desert Flame’, kangaroo paws and Leucophytta brownii (cushion bush). To fully understand the impact of that visit – all but one of those plants are in my garden to this day!
I remember being quite fascinated by the cushion bush. The unusual silver grey foliage, the beautiful sculptural shapes they formed in the garden, the soft texture when touched. I had never seen anything like them before!
I was inspired! In the springtime of 2015 I planted the first natives among the African daisies and conifers that were already growing in our raised beds when we purchased the house. I planted my first paper daisies, including the wonderful perennial variety Xerochrysum bracteantha ‘Daisy Fields Gold’ – I still have one of these in my garden 6 years later! I planted other paper daisy varieties that didn’t live long, plus some mauve Brachyscome multifida and an Alyogyne in completely the wrong spot. It is funny the mistakes you make when you first start out!
A few months later I began to expand the garden, beginning with some Lilly Pilly ‘Cherry Surprise’ hedging along the back fence. My parents had gifted me a Magnolia Little Gem at Christmas, so that was added to the new planted bed. In the autumn and spring of 2016 I planted some more natives including Tetratheca Thymifolia Fairy Bells Pink which I love to this day.
At this stage I was more interested in making my garden drought hardy, so I also planted a few varieties of South African leucadendron. I remember finding it hard to source many natives at this stage. I don’t think I had discovered the nursery at the Australian Botanic Garden yet! Away from the garden I had been busy painting dahlias and roses in watercolour for friends. While I still do love poppies, tulips and iris and all the classic beauty of their blooms, I was staying firm on my path towards native without ever really explicitly stating that is what I intended to do. By spring time I had added 2 Kangaroo Paws and I was gradually removing the South African Gazania to make room for more Australian natives.
In December 2016 I visited the Australian Botanic Garden again. There was a stunning grafted Corymbia ficifolia ‘Orange Splendour’ in flower, buzzing with bees. We spent a long time admiring it and taking photos. The garden beds near the visitor centre were planted with yellow flowering paper daisies as far as the eyes could see. And the understory ferns in the Connections garden were alive with new growth in luminous tones of pink and lime green.
I was newly inspired! AND now I knew they had a nursery at the gardens! I picked up some new treasures to plant including the stunning grey cushion bush I had admired on my first visit.
Then in October 2017 I did something that really set fire to my passion for plants. I joined the Australian Native Plants Enthusiasts Forum group on Facebook. Oh my did that open my eyes!
The variety of wonderful flowering natives shared to that group is truly incredible. If you’re not a member yet then you really must head there today to join. There is not a nicer group of people on the whole of the internet. Plant people are the best kind of people!
For me, the steady stream of flower photos shared by group members ended up as a list of saved favourites and a garden wish list as long as my arm. I started expanding my garden in earnest to make room! Then began the long process of removing the conifers which were now big with large root systems (immediately regretting that I didn’t remove them long ago!).
It was this Facebook group that really turned me into a collector. I was on a mission to find and grow the plants on my saved wishlist. I sourced many of them online from wonderful tubestock sellers who sent them by post. I was also driven by an interest in painting all the wonderful species I was learning about, and having them in my garden was the best way to study them in detail and develop detailed watercolours.
From here my passion for natives took over. As more insects and birds visited I gradually became more interested in the ecology. I added a few more indigenous plants and starting some planting for habitat. I am still expanding the garden and pot collection to make room for the plants on that wishlist. I am still searching for many species that have been impossibly hard to find. And I am still revising the garden as I learn more about what it needs through drought, heatwave and flood. After all, a garden is never finished.