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    Helen Curkpatrick at the 2018 Horsham Spring Garden Festival at Horsham Botanic Gardens.

Go native, but do your homework


A growing 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.

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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.

The entire October 9, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!