When I first started out I didn’t fully intend to create a cottage style garden with Australian natives, but there is no denying that is what my garden has become!
I have always loved the romanticism of a cottage garden. In my 20s my first gardens and pots were filled with poppies and tulips, arum lilies and agapanthus. I have always been flower obsessed and enjoyed growing blooms to admire and paint. I toured many cottage gardens on my first visit to the UK and dreamt of a garden overflowing with flowers.
So what is it that makes a garden design a cottage garden?
First and foremost a cottage garden is informal, packed full with a wide variety of flowering plants, overflowing and abundant. It is the very antithesis of those pared back, formal, low maintenance green gardens that have been popular of late. While I do understand the tranquil appeal of a garden made of overlapping greens, cloud pruned shapes and formal hedges, I wanted a garden that was more generous. A garden to inspire and energise, full of colour and life and wildness.
Admittedly there are aspects of my garden that don’t truly fit the cottage garden aesthetic. The hardscaping that was here when we purchased the house is perhaps more suited to a formal garden design. All square lines in raised beds with a straight path. I haven’t had the money to change those features, so instead I have worked to soften some of the edges, keeping a few formal elements in the planting so that it feels cohesive. I am lucky that we have these raised beds really, as they have meant I can grow a lot of species that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise, as we have a heavy clay layer about 20cm down that stops it from draining quickly during heavy rain.
When it came to creating my native garden it was all about the blooms! And with the limited space of a small suburban block I focussed on selected small flowering varieties so I could fit more in.
It hasn’t been easy to find the small varieties though. I find most commercial nurseries seem to focus on stocking the large native flowering shrubs like large grevillea, Lilly Pilly and wattles. I don’t have a dedicated native nursery nearby, so it has meant seeking out online sellers mostly and buying tube stock from interstate to source the plants and variety I wanted.
Australia has many beautiful flowering perennials and daisy like flowers that fit easily into a cottage design. Native Brachyscome daisies are one of my favourites. Breeders are creating many wonderful new varieties of Brachyscome. The new cultivars have much larger flowers in bright colours with a compact growing habit – Brachyscome Fresco Candy is a stunning example! Brachyscome are hardy too – during the long Sydney drought the Brachyscome augustifolia derived cultivars did very well in particular. Brachyscome Pacific Reef is another of my favourites. I love the bright flower colour, it flowers all year round, doesn’t need pruning and suckers slowly to spread out if it has room. I also have some of the new jumbo flowering varieties and the flowers really are huge!
There are many Australian natives that make good substitutes for the look of annual flowering bulbs too. Plants like the beautiful purple flowers of Patersonia sericea and Patersonia occidentalis, the native iris Orthrosanthus multiflorus, and the stunning yellow flowers and fleshy leaves of Bulbine bulbosa which self seeds freely in my garden. For white flowers there is the pretty Diplarrena moraea, the stunning large flowers of Crinum flaccidum, and dainty white blooms of Libertia paniculata.
For larger flowers and prolific displays throughout the year you can’t go past Australia’s magnificent paper daisies. But I recommend hunting down the perennial varieties, rather than the more common annual WA varieties. Xerochrysum bracteatum Daisy Fields Gold is a wonderful plant with pretty pale lemon flowers that bloom continuously. Just keep cutting the flowers off to keep a nice shape. My current favourite is Xerychrysum Dargan Hill Monarch for it’s bright yellow flowers and lovely form. But make sure you give it space as it is on the larger side! But perhaps it is just me – nearly everything grows twice the size it said on the label in my garden! I also have the vibrant Xerochrysum viscosum Sticky Everlasting, which has much smaller flowers but they are a very vibrant yellow and look pretty on the compact clumping shaped plant.
For smaller paper daisy varieties there are many bi-annual or short lived cultivars that provide a stunning display, like Xerochrysum bracteata Bondrelaipi Jumbo Light Pink which is great for colour through winter, and similar plants in many vibrant colours of red, orange, yellow, white, pink, peach, red and purple. If I had the room I would love to do a massed planting in drifts and patterns of colour to rival Floriade!
Another very cottage friendly native is Ajuga australis. The spires of beautiful purple blooms are very pretty and it is a useful plant for growing under trees and in shady spots. Flora SA have a cultivar with particularly large and bright flowers.
I hope this post has inspired you to add Australian natives to your own garden cottage design. Happy gardening!