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Gardening with native Australian plants

I posted earlier than I’ve been having fun growing Australian native plants from seed. I grew some Kangaroo paws – they are dead easy. I then had a shot at some Blackboys (Xanthorrhoea). I planted 32 seeds and now have 20 seedlings about 8 cm high. These extraordinary plants are incredibly slow growing – they grow a metre every 100 years – but will last 600 years. If I can persuade my kids to get their kids to look after these beasts (and by using cryonics to return me in about 100 years hence) I should see some reasonable garden shrubs. By the way the term ‘blackboy’ is the aboriginal term for a ‘black boy’ – it doesn’t seem racist to me though substitute the word ‘grass tree’ if it does. I never seek to offend indigenous Australians.

I went out to Kuranga Native Nursery today at Mount Evelyn – about 40 km north-east of Melbourne. It is a scenic area not far from the Dandenong Ranges. Kuranga has a superb range of native plants, as well as friendly and helpful staff and a restaurant where you can have a decent glass of pinot. I am not an intelligent native plant shopper – I admit my irrationalities – I go for novel and extreme rather than sensible plants that have a reasonable chance of survival. Kuranga has induced me (the bastards!) into half a dozen attempts to try to grow Banksia coccinea. This in my view is one of the best native cut flowers in Australia – long-lasting and gorgeous coloring – see the photo above. The plants I have bought last for 6-12 months and then, almost overnight, turned up their heels. I welcome advice.

Today I bought some cycads, a compact form of the Flannel flower (a tricky wretch that likes to be kept moist but suffers from fungal problems), one of two native Australian rhododendrons (a vireya species R. lochiae) which tends to become ‘leggy’ (OK dummy, prune it) but which has great flowers – I have never seen an actual specimen of the other Australian vireya, R. notiale. Finally, I got some ferns Kuranga were selling cheap and a Davidson’s (bush-tucker plum) – my previous effort died during the Melbourne winter – I will give it more protection this winter.

I recommend Kuranga if you are in Melbourne and I am not being paid to advertise.

9 comments to Gardening with native Australian plants

  • Lee

    I did a rushed trip to Kuranga Nursery at Mt Evelyn on Christmas Eve (I was heading up that way, anyway) having tracked down there the extremely difficult-to-aquire NSW ‘snotty gobble’ !!!(Persoonia pinifolia – see: ). I have since planted it in coastal conditions and it seems to be thriving. Planted at the same time was an Angophora hispida, a small tree from NSW, closely related to the eucalypt and with an interesting twisted growth habit – also thriving. See These two plants are my favourites in the garden, at present, and like you, I’m keen to see them at maturity.

  • hc

    Lee, The sandy sandy soils you have on the cost give you a great opportunities to grow interesting plants. Why not try some of the dryandras or WA banksias or the Flannel flowers.

    BTW Kurangs were having a big sale – good opportunity to stock up.

  • Lee

    Harry – I have a wonderful WA bull banskia (Banksia grandis: which, unfortunately, for the first time, did not flower its usual enormous yellow candles this summer due to the drought. Also growing the more indigenous Banksia spinulosa, ericifolia, marginata….. I find the banksias generally slow-growing. I’m keen to try some dryandras, as you suggest. My flannel flower, given to me a gift, flowered prolifically for a couple of years, then died – they are, apparently, short-lived. A favourite WA native in my garden is Isopogren cunneatus ( extremely well in spite of its reputation for being temperamental.

  • Lee

    Even more sorry! The link does not publish to your blog for some reason.

  • Tony F

    Re Banksia coccinea (Scarlet Banksia) – I think your ongoing problem is your climate. It sounds like you have the right sandy soils, but I imagine that you have too much summer humidity. Like most WA Banksias, B. coccinea demands a mild wet winter and a completely bone dry summer with no humidity (in other words, a mediterranean climate). You could try for better drainage by growing on a sandy mound but I suspect that even just the humidity in the Victorian summer air will always be a problem for this delightful species. Best to stick to the eastern seaboard types I’m afraid.

  • hc

    Tony F, The soils around here are heavy so I have always tried growing B. coccinea in pots with very free draining sandy loam. But you are right its during the summer months – with high humdity -that the plants turn up their heels.

  • melaleuca

    You should add Yates Anti-Rot to the soil if you want to grow Banksia Coccinea in Melbourne.

  • hc

    OK I’ll try that. The cursed things. A fortune I have wasted trying to grow these things.

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