Feature

Native plants

There's lots of benefits to decking out your garden with native species.

Kangaroo paw

Credit: Louise Docker

Stuart's Desert Pea

Credit: istockphoto

Kangaroo Paw

Credit: istockphoto

Grevillea

Credit: istockphoto

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In the past 10 years, Australian plants have been the focus of huge amounts of research and development. Now, a fabulous selection of new breeds is emerging - and many are truly stunning.

There is now an Australian plant to suit every style of garden. As an example, there are over 70 varieties of kangaroo paws available in myriad colours, ranging in height from 10 cm to 1.2 m.

In response to a growing awareness of sustainability issues, landscapers have begun using natives in major projects.

Native plants are very efficient at quickly sending their roots down to a more permanent water source; they are also proficient at extracting the small amounts of nutrients contained in our ancient soils.

This means native plants use less water than foreign species, and are less reliant on fertilisers. In fact, once established, a native garden requires very little maintenance.

The other great bonus of planting out the garden using Australian flora is that it creates a habitat for many of our native birds, frogs, lizards, insects and marsupials.

You'll find that the greater the diversity of native plants in your garden, the greater the diversity of fauna. It's thrilling to go out into the garden and watch it come alive with different species at different times of the day.

These fabulous creatures will also be your pest controllers, doing the work for you and therefore decreasing your reliance on pesticides.

Over time, you'll discover a natural balance occurring in the garden, with beneficial insects and predators eating up most of the garden pests.

The trick to creating a successful native garden is to understand your soil type.

Plants like grevilleas and banksias will struggle in heavy soils, and tropical rainforest plants will die a slow and agonising death in dry, windy zones.

Your local nursery will have a comprehensive understanding of your area, and nurseries that specialise in indigenous plants will be able to recommend plants that suit your soil type.

You will also need to test the pH of your soil to discover whether it's acidic, alkaline or neutral, since this determines which species are most suitable.

It's a fallacy that Australian plants can be plonked in the ground without any preparation; soil preparation is as vital to natives as it is to European plants.

All native plants should go into a well-prepared hole with soil conditioner or compost, native fertiliser and - depending on the soil type - gypsum (clay soils), wetting agent or loam (sandy soils).