As sustainability in garden design grows in popularity, gardeners and designers alike search to expand the palette of plants and visual effects. In Southern California water is likely to become more of an issue due to our large population whether or not we get a year of good rainfall. We really need to make sure we design our landscapes for our dry climate. And there are some fine possibilities offered by Australia’s native plants for Southern California landscaping.
Although conditions in different parts of the world will vary, many Australian native plants will thrive well alongside other drought-tolerant and chaparral plants from the Mediterranean, California, South Africa, Texas, Arizona and other low rainfall climates. With some very showy flowers, leaves and growth forms, many native plants from Australia are becoming available in garden centers for the waterwise garden.
Some Australian native plants will probably be familiar to you like the often-used Bottlebrush or many of the Eucalyptus trees. Some varieties of Australian garden flowers are simply too fragile to do well in the harsher higher elevations or inland areas of Southern California, despite their eye-catching beauty; plants like the flamboyant Proteas or Banksias.
But here’s a little information about some more interesting drought-tolerant Australian plants that will do well in many Southern California landscapes. You might want to incorporate some of these into your garden.
Most Australian plants have evolved on lean soils with a lot of sun and periods of drought. If you are going to be successful growing them, you will need to give them conditions that mimic the ones they developed in. These plants, on the whole, prefer a slightly acid soil and most of them are shy of phosphorus so avoid using it in your plant foods. Some will take frost, but most will not survive hard frosts so if you want to grow them in the higher elevations where winters get snowy and icy, you will have to do it in a sun room, greenhouse or a pot so you can bring them inside in the winter.
Not all the Eucalyptus plants will fare well in all parts of the state, but now that the devastation caused by the invading lerp insect has lessened, you might want to plant the red gum tree or the cider gum tree (Eucalyptus gunnii ‘Silverdrop’) where conditions are more harsh than near the coast. The latter tree offers branches that are often used for flower arrangements. Eucalyptus trees can grow from small-sized specimens to very tall ones. Most have fascinating bark that can come in colors and textures. And most have very showy flowers.
The familiar Bottlebrush is an Australian native tree that has a smaller, shrubbier, more appealing variety you can use in your garden. Callistemon ‘Little John’ grows to only 3 – 5′ tall and will have the same showy flowers without the lanky, overgrown look common to its larger cousins.
The Hardenbergia is a graceful vine. This plant will drape over walls, trellises and fences. It is evergreen with narrow leaves and thin, twining stems so it has a delicate look to it. In late winter it covers itself with panicles of hanging purple (or pink) flowers that dangle like little grape clusters.
Check into the family of Acacias or Cassias for some very showy yellow or white-flowered shrubs and trees. Acacia or ‘wattle’ is a big family of plants that range from ground-cover plants to small trees. Most bloom with bright clusters of fuzzy yellow flowers. Often Acacias have a wonderful perfume. Try the decorative Knife-leaf Acacia (Acacia cultriformis) for a graceful, fanning, large shrub or small tree with an artistic flair. Or cover your hillsides with the low-growing, ground-cover Acacia redolens ‘Low Boy’.
There are spectacular flowers offered by the Grevillea family. This is another large native family that offers low-growing plants, medium shrubs or trees. The blooms have that Australian hook-like brush appearance, mostly in a cone shape, and come in a whole range of exciting colors. Some also have somewhat decorative leaves while others look almost spruce-like.
The Hakea family tends to be made up of shrubs and small trees, too. Blooms can be very showy and come in a lot of different colors. Most Hakeas have brittle or scratchy foliage and some can look a lot like small fir trees when out of bloom.
The Anigozanthus, or Kangaroo Paws, are becoming quite popular in gardens because they are so unusual-looking. They do need good drainage and some varieties will need protection from cold. There are small varieties to 1′ tall and some that grow to 5′ in height. They grow in clumps of strap-like foliage and throw up curious flower spikes with fuzzy paw-like flowers. Varieties come in reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and greens — some in a unique bright blue-green. These, too, make good cut flowers as well as powerful accents in the garden.
These are only some of the many amazing-looking Australian native flowers and plants now available for the garden. There are many more. Use these plants in the Southern California landscape to add texture and beauty. They will illicit curiosity and envy from all your garden visitors!