Written by Angus Stewart
Australian natives make a fantastic choice for the urban garden, offering a wealth of different plant types that can provide flowers, sculptural good looks, edibles or different bush scents all year round. Natives might not be your first thought when it comes to gardening in the city, but with such a wide range of attractive and hardy species out there, you can find natives to suit almost any situation.
Native plant breeders are continually fine tuning many species to better suit urban gardens and to enhance the better features of the plant. There are beautiful sculptural natives that look striking in an urban setting, and lush miniature landscapes can be created by combining plants with different growing habits. Even if you’re working with a small area, such as a balcony or indoors, you can make use of vertical space by planting native climbers and ground covers in hanging containers so they cascade down over the pot. In this article, we’ll look at how you can grow natives in an urban space and some beautiful and easy to grow species that can be adapted to a range of settings.
Whether you have a patch of earth to garden or not, growing natives in the city actually gives some advantages, such as having more control over what soil you use and the growing conditions. If you have a small garden, you can use raised beds to create the perfect soil and drainage for the plants you want to grow, and you can also use this technique to create a more structural garden by making garden beds at different heights. By using this technique you can give a small space a wonderful sense of depth, which can help to make the garden itself look bigger.
Growing natives in containers has similar benefits: it allows you to grow plants that need excellent drainage, such as dwarf kangaroo paws, flannel flowers and everlasting daisies. Container gardening also gives you the advantage of being able to control how large your plants grow so you can keep them at the right size for the space. You can put containers up at different viewing levels, using natural elements such as logs, stumps and sandstone blocks or more industrial ones such as pipes or cement blocks.
Using a mixture of tall shrubs, climbers and ground covers is a great way to give your garden layers when you’re working in a smaller space. Tall kangaroo paws in containers make a great feature plant, and ground covers like the rock daisy (Brachyscome sp), Scaevola and Dampiera can be grown in hanging baskets or raised beds so they grow out tendrils over the edges and create a hanging garden atmosphere.
Here are some beautiful species to try in a small garden, balcony or indoors:
- Native lilac (Hardenbergia violacea) – a lovely climber with sprays of rich purple, white, pink or bi-colour (depending on the variety) pea flowers and handsome dark green foliage. This plant is perfect for container growing, provided it still gets a decent bit of sun. It can also be grown on a trellis or twined around supports to allow it to climb around a space.
- Kangaroo Vine (Cissus antarctica) – this vine has beautiful lush foliage and is a great plant for any urban setting because of its vigorous dense growth and easy care. It can be grown in containers to great effect and also indoors because it doesn’t mind the shade.
- Native ginger (Alpinia caerula) – native ginger is a very handsome and architectural plant growing to two metres in height that can also be grown in a container and indoors, as it likes quite a shady spot. Its large dark grey-green leaves with deep red undersides will help to create a lush, rainforest atmosphere. Native ginger’s leaves are edible and the plant also produces edible berries, so it’s a great choice for those wishing to further explore bush tucker foods. Some other Australian native edibles which are also small and compact include warrigal greens, sea celery, native mint and finger limes.
These are just some of the plants you can try, and there are many more natives that can be grown in urban gardens – it’s all about experimentation. Pop into your local native plant nursery. They are usually more than happy to give one on one advice and information, which will give you a great head start. Also, looking at a reputable native plant website such as www.gardeningwithangus.com.au might also help give you some ideas and inspiration about what type of plants might work well in your outdoor space.