Plant Life Balance

How to create a climate-friendly garden

Aiming for hardy native splendour with relatively low maintenance, Fiona Bruyn shares some tips on how to keep it simple.

Fiona’s garden at her Kookawood property (which you can stay in!) was the setting for our Backyard Bather look. A stunning mix of natives and hardy exotics from around the world, Fiona has created what might be Australia’s most desirable bath experience. We asked her for the finer details.

What plants to use

“We have a mix of natives and exotics chosen mainly for hardiness, form, colour and ability to attract birds. Correa alba for screening, Phormium for its bold foliage, Banksia ‘Giant Candles’ and Anigozanthos (Kangaroo Paws) for their unusual flowers, which also provides nectar for birds. In pots, I use succulents – because they are so easy to maintain and don’t require a lot of watering. Also herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage which I use a lot when cooking.

“Away from the bath, Euphorbia gives me amazing lime green flowers and the native climber Pandorea pandorana, Pandorea ‘Lady Di’ and Clematis montana cover the front and rear porches of the house – they’re all absolutely stunning when in flower, but not too vigorous so don’t require much trimming. I have clipped Japanese Box plants which frame the entrance to the house and create a nice contrast from the loose form of the other plants in the garden. I wouldn’t dream of using this as a hedging plant in my garden (too much work!), but a few individual plants clipped into tight round perfect balls are a real feature.

How climate affects choice

“Because we are on tank water, all the plants need to be drought tolerant and hardy. We get snow and heavy frost in winter too. I chose a variety of natives and exotics from other dry hot countries similar to ours, and I love using leaf colour and texture contrasts. The flowering plants like Salvia and Banksia also attract a lot of native birds and the dense shrubs Correa and Westringia provide great nesting spots for the Blue Wrens and Honeyeaters. I made sure to select plants that will give colour or interesting texture throughout the year, so there’s always something to look at in the garden. Flowers come and go so you can’t rely on that all of the time… they are an added bonus!

Maintenance
“A common mistake people make is to create a huge area of garden which they then need to maintain. We have only planted out areas close to the house, and left the surrounds to native woodland which looks after itself. We have chosen only low maintenance plants like the Correa alba as a hedge to divide the garden areas. It only grows to a height of two metres maximum, so it rarely needs trimming and I don’t need a ladder to do it. Perennials like Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ and Salvia do need cutting down after they die back, but give great colour in autumn and attract a lot of beneficial insects like bees and beautiful butterflies. We love gardening, but don’t want to be tied to it every day or on weekends.

Making ‘em thrive

Choosing the right plants for the soil type and climate is very important – they are happy because they are used to the conditions we have, and don’t need to be pampered.

“Choosing anything else just makes those plants hard work as they require regular watering and fertilising to keep them healthy. So it’s important to do your research before buying plants!

Averting disaster

“I have been very lucky not to experience any great disaster, as I always research the plants I choose before buying them to make sure they will thrive. Plants come with a care label which is great for city gardeners, but it never mentions if the plant is animal proof – so it’s a matter of trial and error on a rural property with the kangaroos and wombats we have here. For example, during the drought last year the wombats developed a taste for my Phormium tenax, which was quite unexpected as they had never touched these plants in the 17 years we have had the plants in our garden!

[ED: not only do plants suffer in droughts, our native fauna start searching for food and water in unusual places in these tough times. As gardeners, we can do our part to help them out by planting fauna-friendly plant varieties.]

Recommendations

Choosing plants always depends on the situation – taking into consideration sun, shade, soil type and climate. But succulents are my go-to plants for the first-time gardener – great for pots and hot, dry, sunny spots needing very little water. For those with shady gardens in frost-free areas, Clivia is incredibly tough and can survive under trees and in shade, and also great for pots. Phormium is brilliant if you want a dramatic foliage plant (the purple leaf form is my favourite) and a great contrast plant for fine foliage plants like Lomandra… except for those who live with wombats!

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