Go na­tive, but do your home­work

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Horsham Spring Garden Festival - BY DEAN LAW­SON

Agrow­ing va­ri­ety of na­tive plants adapt­able for back­yard gar­dens gen­er­ally starts to pro­vide in­spi­ra­tion for many en­thu­si­as­tic green thumbs at this time of year.

Plant­ing a few ‘na­tives’ tends to make many of us feel good about our­selves as con­sci­en­tious Aus­tralian gar­den­ers, do­ing our bit to en­hance our back­yard or gar­den en­vi­ron­ments.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties and ben­e­fits of go­ing na­tive abound. Many na­tive plants, apart from pro­vid­ing out­stand­ing flo­ral and veg­e­ta­tion dis­plays, work in with the en­vi­ron­ment well, at­tract­ing ben­e­fi­cial car­niv­o­rous or pol­li­nat­ing in­sects, lizards, birds, bats and some­times a friendly mam­mal.

Some can also en­rich the soil through mulching and-or ni­tro­gen-fix­ing habits.

But be­ware. Na­tive plants usu­ally have spe­cific needs to flour­ish and live up to ex­pec­ta­tions.

Aus­tralia is a large con­ti­nent and home to vastly dif­fer­ent land­scapes and cli­mates.

Like all plants, na­tive species have evolved and adapted to their sur­round­ing con­di­tions and it is only af­ter hu­man in­ter­ven­tion and spe­cial­ist breed­ing pro­grams that some species have be­come truly avail­able for house­hold gar­dens.

Parts of the Wim­mera can be par­tic­u­larly tricky for novice gar­den­ers keen to work our showier na­tive species into their plots.

Some of us have been caught out badly and been dis­ap­pointed with re­sults af­ter ran­domly se­lect­ing big-flow­er­ing na­tives, plant­ing them into un­pre­pared back yards and hop­ing for the best.

For ex­am­ple, in and around Hor­sham we have plenty of lime-rich al­ka­line clay soils, which can be good for grow­ing all sorts of plants and crops, but po­ten­tial dis­as­ter for many of our neu­tral to acid-lov­ing flow­er­ing na­tives.

Un­sus­pect­ing gar­den­ers of­ten only find out that their im­pres­sive banksia or gre­vil­lea is un­suit­able for con­di­tions when their plant starts to turn yel­low with chloro­sis be­cause it can’t ab­sorb iron from the soil.

An­other prob­lem can be un­der­stand­ing drainage and other soil and light re­quire­ments.

A lit­tle bit of home­work – the same as with any gar­den plant­ings, na­tive or ex­otic – goes a long way.

Gar­den­ers can of­ten adapt and mod­ify their back­yards to achieve de­sired re­sults with na­tives, or bet­ter still, se­lect plants to suit nat­u­ral con­di­tions.

With al­ka­line soil, again for ex­am­ple, there are plenty of im­pres­sive flow­er­ing na­tive plants that can work.

Mix­ing na­tives with ex­otics with sim­i­lar en­vi­ron­men­tal re­quire­ments can also of­ten achieve out­stand­ing re­sults.

Years ago a gen­eral ref­er­ence to na­tive plants was that they were some­times good value but lim­ited be­cause they were ‘hardy and drought-re­sis­tant but tended to be woody’.

We’ve moved on from that nar­row per­spec­tive and in­clud­ing at least some na­tive plants, re­gard­less of where we live, is of­ten a great op­tion in cre­at­ing healthy and vi­brant gar­dens. • The Weekly Ad­ver­tiser ed­i­tor Dean Law­son is an am­a­teur gar­den­ing en­thu­si­ast.

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