AUSTRALIAN plants are mainly thought of as spring flowering, yet there is a wide range that flowers in winter, as a walk through the Botanic Gardens will quickly verify.
Winter-flowering plants also provide food for birds, which means also that it’s a great bird-watching time as they gather nectar from the gardens.
In the early days of Canberra householders could collect the government’s free issue of 10 trees and 40 shrubs. The big surge in Aussie plants came with the development of the Woden Valley at the time Canberra was promoted as the “bush capital”.
In those days, Yarralumla Nursery supplied plants in plastic bags with plain black and white labels listing only the plant name and no information on ultimate size or growing conditions.
Some recipients of the free trees and plants, in search of quick screening, planted only half a metre along the fence lines of their new gardens.
Little did they realise that, for example, Melaleuca linariifolia or “Snow in Summer” would grow to more than six metres, with almost a similar spread. The advice at the time, even from native plant societies, was not to prune, feed or water native plants, after all they were Australian plants and were used to growing with no attention.
Today we have excellent, coloured plant labels listing information on growing conditions, height and spread. Also, we now advise that native plants should be regularly pruned, fed and watered the same as any other plant.
Regular feeding programs were encouraged in spring and autumn, with specialised native plant foods becoming readily available.
However these days, with ever decreasing block sizes, we have to be cautious in selecting plants. The height of most shrubs, native and exotic, if allowed to grow naturally will equal the spread.
HERE are some suggestions for the smaller garden or for containers on balconies (providing they get at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day).
- Correas come into their own at this time of the year and continue flowering through winter. A few examples include Correa “Canberra Bells”, which was especially grown to celebrate the Centenary of Canberra. A compact, small shrub with two-tone red and cream flowers grows to 1m x 1m.
- Correa “Autumn Blaze” with its cheery, bright-orange flowers that appear from now until spring. It’s ideal for container growing 0.3 high x 1m spread.
- Grevillea “Winter Flame” has a mass of bright red flowers, high in nectar for the birds, growing from 0.6 height to 1m wide. It makes a perfect low-growing hedge, much more exciting than plain box hedging.
- Acacia “Winter Flame”, which grows to one metre height and spread has fine, soft foliage tipped orange in winter.
- Finally, don’t overlook the wonderful range of banksias.
- Prune after flowering reducing by no more than a third at any one time. This encourages compactness and more flowers.
- Feed with “Bush Tucker”, specially formulated for native plants.
- Learn more about native plants from the Canberra region Australian Native Plant Society (via phyla.com.au/anps_canberra).
- Get a copy of “Australian Plants for Canberra Region Gardens” (available at the Botanic Gardens bookshop).