“Help! My (friend/husband/wife/etc) wants to plant an English style garden. But I want to plant Australian natives. What do I do?”
Firstly let me say, I get it. I love an English style cottage garden too. I love their meadow gardens, clipped hedges and cute cottage beds overflowing with flowers. My first garden many years ago was planted with roses and daffodils and other European beauties.
The good news is – you can achieve the same English style with our beautiful Australian plants. And our bees, birds, insects and other critters will love you for it!
Here are just a few of my favourite Australian plants to grow for their beautiful flowers and traditional aesthetic. Australia’s flora is so incredibly diverse! You just might need to work harder to find these plants. But the thrill of the hunt is part of the fun, and the more we all ask our nurseries for greater native plant diversity, the more they will grow.
There are over 100 varieties of Pimelea native to Australia. They have pretty clusters of flowers in whites and pinks. Some can be pruned to maintain neat roadbed shapes and most flower prolifically and for long periods of time. They need sun and good drainage. Although I have had success with Pimelea linifolia in a half shade spot that received only morning sun.
There are so many varieties and cultivars of Hardenbergia available these days, from shrub forms to climbers and ground covering scramblers. You can find one for every situation. Hardenbergia comptoniana will grow and flower with some shade, and beautiful shrub varieties like Mini Ha Ha can be pruned to a compact shape so they look good even when not in flower. Then when they are blooming – oh my, they are beautiful! Generous with flowers and available in shades from the deepest purples through to delicate rose pinks and whites. There should be at least one in every garden in Australia.
If you want to fill your garden with divine floral fragrance in the springtime, then you can’t go past our native Boronias. From sweet to citrus, Boronias smell so good that you will want them planted close to the house or next to a spot where you like to sit in the early evening so you can enjoy the fragrance at its strongest. You’ll need good drainage, sloped or raised garden beds. But if you don’t have an ideal spot then they will do just as well in a pot.
If you’re looking for a daffodil replacement, then I recommend Bulbine bulbosa. From clusters of fleshy grass like leaves spring magnificent towers of bright yellow blooms. A single plant can deliver many flowers that last for a long time so you can enjoy months of colour. They self seed in most situations to form lovely natural colonies and the native bees are guaranteed to visit.
As the common name suggests, vibrant red and gold clusters of grand Christmas Bells emerge just before Christmas or shortly after. Blandfordia grandiflora is the most common and widespread of the species. My mum remembers a time when they grew wild and flowered abundantly on the roadsides. How spectacular that would have been! Perhaps we can ask our councils to bring this native back into their roadside and verge plantings? For most of the year this is a little grass like clump, it is unassuming and easy to miss. But oh is it incredible when flowering! Quite low fuss in my experience too – handling both drought and recent La Niña rains equally well.
Australia’s Brachyscome daisies are so pretty, I think most people don’t even realise they are native. Many breeders are creating larger flowered forms, and one of these I recommend is Fresco Pink. But the natural forms are also divine, offering abundant floral displays for many months or often flowering all year. Plant them as a floral border, in multi-coloured drifts, as pops of colour in pretty pots on the steps or overflowing from hanging baskets. They are so versatile and their pretty softness will help you achieve an English look with a plant that suits our climate.
I am a big fan of Isotoma axillaris. Perfect for an Australian native meadow, they self seed to form drifts of plants that flower on mass for spectacular effect. If you prefer to keep them contained, then there are bred varieties like Fizz n Pop available in various shades of pink and purple that do not readily self seed. You can also grow them in a pot to enjoy their generous flowering period through late spring to summer.
If you’re looking for an iris substitute, then look no further than the Australian native Orthrosanthus. Orthrosanthus multiflorus is a neat grassy clump that displays a mass of light blue pretty flowers in spring. I also recommend Orthrosanthus polystachyus if you can find it, for the tall spears with multiple flowers stacked along each stem. This hardy and useful plant will handle full sun or shade.
Indigofera australis is possibly the prettiest, softest, most graceful Australian shrub you can add to your garden. With soft rounded leaves, it should be pruned when young to develop a more compact shape. Keep tip pruning and trimming at least twice a year. Otherwise it can look a bit open and scraggly. Be patient and you will be rewarded for your pruning work in future years with more flowers! The flowers can be anything from bright pastel pink to lilac or pure white. Draped in large graceful raecemes of cascading blooms in spring and summer, Indigofera australis is a plant to be treasured.
On Instagram I post regular photos of Australian native Pelargoniums. They flower prolifically and their large leaves provide welcome contrast to the many small leaved varieties of Australian plants. In truth I would probably plant them for the foliage contrast alone. But then they bloom, and the sweet honey scent fills the air bringing the insect show to your garden too! With a few varieties available you can enjoy clusters of pretty flowers from deep pink (P. rodneyanum) to white with magenta stripes (P. australis) and various tones in between. They make a lovely low border for your native perennial beds, or will look lovely in a hanging basket too.
You will spot this small beauty hiding in the shade, covered in pink or white bells throughout the East coast. They like a moist shade spot, with some morning sun or indirect light. For your effort in finding the right spot, you will be rewarded with cascading pink to white bells adding welcome colour to dark and damp garden corners. There are a few varieties to look for including the popular pink B. rubioides, but I also particularly love Bauera sessiliflora which is endemic to a small region of the Grampians in Victoria but adaptable and well worth tracking down.
There are a few varieties of Eremophila that stand out for their extreme prettiness to fit easily in an English style garden. The grey foliage colours may not be so common in those designs, but their pretty flowers contrasted with soft silver velvet leaves are just too lovely not to include in this list. Look for Eremophila nivea in Blue Velvet or Beryl’s Blue varieties, or the new cultivar Eremophila Pink Pantha.
For low growing borders Ajuga australis is a useful plant. It will flower happily in shadier spots, bringing upright towers of purple flowers in spring. It might even entice some Blue banded bees to visit!
Perfect for dry partly shaded spots in your garden, there are many varieties of Australian Correa with a kaleidoscope of colourful bell shaped flowers to choose from including pinks, carmine, bright red, green, white and everything in between. Plant them to fill understory spaces in a thicket for spectacular effect.
Australia has many varieties of Scaevola and many cultivars are popular in nurseries. My personal favourite is Scaevola aemula in soft pastel pink. But you will love any variety you can find I promise! Their pretty fan shaped flowers are usually prolific, and you will find plants with ground cover or more upright scrambling habits. You can also grow them in pots or hanging baskets.
I have realised this blog post is getting long! There are so many Australian native plants I want to list here. So instead I will leave you with this video that features the above plants plus a few additions including Chorizema cordatum. Kennedia coccinea, Plectranthus Blue Spires, Crowea, Prostanthera, Veronica perfoliata, Viola hederacea, magnificent b paper daisies, Flannel flowers, native hibiscus Alyogyne huegelii and pretty Patersonia varieties P. occidentalis or P. sericea.
I hope you feel inspired now to plant your own flowering Australian native garden. If you need further ideas, I thoroughly recommend the plant search tool on Angus’ Gardening With Angus website. You’ll even find an option there to search for Australian Native Cottage Garden style plants!