With their stunning blooms and textured leaves, Australian natives are a knockout in both the garden and in a vase. The most commonly loved cut native flowers include waratahs, banksias and gum blossoms, kangaroo paws and Christmas bush.
Whatever your soil or climate, it’s possible to find the right selection for your place. Many natives don’t like being fed phosphorous, so use a native specific fertiliser each spring. Natives also like being pruned regularly, so cut them back after flowering.
Here, horticulturalist Meredith Kirton shares some plant-specific tips to help you grow your own Australian natives at home.
Waratahs are the floral emblem of NSW and possibly one of the most striking flowers in the world. Their blooms are the colour of blood, though some have been bred in pink, orange, bicolour and white shades. The flowers last for many weeks both in a vase and blooming in the garden. Grow waratahs in a raised mound or pot as they really need great drainage to thrive. They can be in a semi shaded or full sun position.
Hakea are closely related to grevilleas and, similarly, are a diverse group of plants. Many make great screens and can even be hedged. One stunning flowered Hakea to look out for is Hakea laurina, or the Pin-cushion Hakea. Native to Western Australia, it does need good drainage but, once established, is very hardy. And it’s a wonder to look at in the garden when in flower each spring.
The Western Australian Red Flowering Gum (Corymbia ficifolia) is now grafted onto a range of hardy rootstocks, making it perfect for growing right across Australia. There are white, pink, orange and red hybrids, and they are all breathtaking. They’re also brilliant for small gardens as they only grow to around 5m tall, though this varies from cultivar to cultivar. The flowers are followed by large gumnuts too, making them perfect for cutting something of interest for about six months of the year.
NSW Christmas Bush
This is a small shrub or small tree depending on the variety, which can make great screening plants. The “flowers” are the showy bracts that appear throughout summer after the small white flowers in spring. They grow best in moist or regularly watered, organically enriched soil, in full sun or semi shade. Pick lots of flowers, as more pruning makes them thicker and bushier, which means more flowers next year!
Also known as spider flowers, this group has extraordinary diversity, with Grevillea plants ranging from small ground covers to tall trees. If you’re in a frost-free position, tropical hybrids are probably best, especially for cut flowers. They include great shrubs like Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ and taller screens like ‘Misty Pink’, ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Honey Gem’ – and they seem to flower year round. In colder areas, stick to the hardy, small-flowered types like Grevillea ‘Gold Fever’ and ‘New Blood’.
These grassy reed-like clumps range in size from around 30cm up to 1m, and their blooms sit up off stems that vary in length and colour depending on the variety… some red, others yellow, orange and pink. There are even black and near-white types around. They all like good drainage so either mound the soil or grow in large pots or bowls. Remove old flowers once they have faded.
Silver Princess Gum
The Silver Princess Gum (Eucalyptus caesia) is only suitable for very well drained positions without humid summers, but if you have the right spot this is perhaps one of the most stunning flowers to grow. Its pinkish red blooms, up to 4cm each, show up beautifully against the soft grey leaves. It has a gently weeping habit too, that can actually be manipulated to grow on an arbour so that the blossoms hang down like garlands.
These candle-like blooms – named after Sir Joseph Banks – have species that are native to both the east coast and the west coast of Australia. Their stunning flowers range from red and orange shades through to blue and green, depending on the species. Some are trees and others ground covers.
The top pick for areas in the west, South Australia and Melbourne, where summers aren’t humid, is probably Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea). This variety has incredible flowers and will also make a great screen up to around fence height.
If you are from Sydney or further north up the east coast, the Hairpin Banksia (Banksia ericifolia) is beautiful and hardy. There is also a ground-covering cultivar called ‘Birthday Candles’, which only grows about 30cm tall but does spread to about a metre across, creating a stunning mound.