Yesterday afternoon I ventured down to Stirling North, just outside of Port Augusta and around 30km from where I live, to visit a 90-year-old gentleman who propagates and sells native Australian plants.
It was a true adventure of new-found knowledge and discovery. In the past I have been reluctant to grow many Australian native plants for fear they would make the garden look untidy and dull. Yesterday's adventure made me realise just how fantastic a native Australian garden can look with a bit of planning and attention. I discovered that the key to having a fabulous native garden is in the pruning: Leave them to grow wild and they will split, look shabby, produce few blooms and won't live as long. And as it turns out, they are not hard to manicure at all: From about their second year (when they reach about 1.5m in height) they should be pruned back by a third once they have finished flowering in spring. This will ensure the bush stays "tight" and bursts with flowers every year.
And it's the flowers that I am most keen to see plenty of in my garden. Whilst manicured looks splendid, a garden isn't all that fun without splashes of colour and the regular visits from the native bees and honey-eaters (birds). We lost a number of shurbs preferred by the honey-eaters last summer and I am keen to ensure their return.
Last spring I planted two "test" eremophilas - a groundcover and a silver shrub - to see whether they would survive the summer heat and how well they would grow in our hard, clay soil (which manages to annihilate even the hardiest lavender, a popular garden plant in Australia). As it turns out, they are thriving. Eremophilas only need to be watered until they are established, after which they should be left to their own devices (unless, of course, they are looking a little "thirsty"). They make the perfect water-wise garden for arid and desert conditions. Seeing my test plants grow so well over winter (which has seen them treble in size), I made the decision that a native garden might be just what we need to achieve the manicured, evergreen and colourful garden we want.
So, after learning how to grow and prune native plants perfect for our climate from the expert (the gentleman in question pioneered the world-renowned and one-of-a-kind Arid Lands Botanic Garden in Port Augusta), I came home with a selection of eremophilas (trees, shrubs and groundcovers) and a purple lantana, which will go in-ground next weekend. With prices ranging from $2 - $4.50 per tube, a mere $30 spent and I came home with 11 plants. Now I just need to decide where to put them!