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Backhousia citriodora - Lemon myrtle

Native Plant of the Week : Lemon Myrtle

This week’s feature plant is a versatile Australian native plant that can tick so many boxes in your garden design. Native bush food, screening out the neighbours, hardy pot plant, lush foliage, beautiful flowers, growing in sun to shade in most soil types – it ticks all these boxes and more.

As you probably know by now I am flower obsessed! So let’s talk about flowers first. At a distance you might think the abundance of flowers are pretty but nothing special. Mature specimens are covered in an abundance of white flowers in summer or autumn. Backhousia citriodora flowers prolifically and the flowers persist for many weeks/months. But to really appreciate their beauty you have to get up close! 

The pretty white flowers are displayed in large clusters at the end of each stem. The real charm comes from the intricate design of the blooms, with many long arching filaments fanning out from the starry arrangement of white petals and sepals. Each flower is like a little sparkler, lighting up the cool shaded parts of your garden.

Now I am done with gushing about the flowers, let’s talk about foliage. These beautiful trees or tall shrubs form dense branches of lush glossy green leaves right down to the ground, making them useful for hiding ugly fences or other small structures. Lemon Myrtle, as the name suggests, has citrus scented foliage. It has a delicious and strong citrus scent that is released from the oils in the leaves when you break or crush them. You can use the lemon foliage to make tea – simply add the fresh green tips to hot water.  This also serves to tip prune the plant, encouraging dense growth and keeping the overall height at a manageable size in a small garden or courtyard.

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Backhousia citriodora will tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, from full sun to half shade. It is hardy and not often bothered by pests. It is frost sensitive when young, so will need protection in cooler climates. You can still grow it if you are in a frost prone area. In Canberra it is growing happily at the Australian National Botanic Gardens where temperatures get as low as -8. Planting location is key in frost climates – it is under a canopy of larger trees for protection in Canberra. Planting in a courtyard, by a warm colour bond fence or under some shade cloth will be enough protection. Or do as I am and grow it in a pot! It is a great plant for a pot under a bright pergola or even a bright spot inside.

Make sure you plant or place your Lemon Myrtle somewhere close to the house and kitchen so you can admire the pretty flowers and easily enjoy snips of lemon leaves in your tea! 

Oh and while we are talking about Australia’s wonderful scented Myrtles, I really must mention the Cinnamon Scented Myrtle! There are photos of Backhousia myrtifolia in my White Flower gallery if you’d like to take a look. 

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