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June 12, 2012, 11:59 am Simon Griffiths for Your Garden, Yahoo!7
Author and naturalist Christine Lister knows a thing or two about native plants, growing more than 160 gum trees in her hideaway in the Melbourne suburb of Montmorency. Take a stroll through her garden for some local inspiration.
Ask her about her feelings for the bush and Christine will tell you that she feels an affinity for gum trees. So much so she grows 29 different species and thinks of them as the true elders of our country. She appreciates their graceful form, the variety of barks, the different sizes and shapes of the gumnuts and the delicate fringed blossom that attract birds and insects.
At her property tall gums ring the perimeter with smaller eucalypts planted close together in groups nearer the home to create a natural effect. Twenty grafted gums, which have a long flowering period and more spectacular flowers than the species, have more prominent positions in the garden. They include the lovely ‘Summer Red’, which has been blooming on and off for nine months and has the added attraction of sculptural gum nuts.
Since the long drought, she has chosen to revert to mostly native plants creating a garden of bright dappled shade. She loves plants with fine foliage, such as the Willow Needlewood (Hakea macraeana), and those with a multi-stemmed or irregular habit, such as the Snowy River wattle (Acacia boormanii) and the Zig zag wattle (Acacia macradenia).How to design and maintain natives
When planting trees, Christine now avoids the larger growers preferring to plant copses of the lower growing, multi-trunked, mallee-style gums. “I also prune the lower branches of the larger shrubs such as the hakeas, banksias and casuarinas,” she says. “This allows your eye to be drawn into the garden so it can wander through the undergrowth.” That undergrowth is made up of a wide variety of grass-like plants and correas which are long flowering and attract nectar-eating birds. There are many sorts but her favourite is the Chef’s Cap Correa (Correa baeuerlenii) which has fuchsia-like flowers. In grass-like plants, she prefers those with fine leaves for the way they move, even in gentle breezes.
Most plants are pruned once a year after flowering to keep them bushy. They are watered at this time and fed with a native plant fertiliser and, like all good gardeners, Christine is prepared to remove plants that are not doing so well rather than nurse them through ill health.Precious metal
“I love the element of surprise and delight these areas bring along with the clivias, daffodils and freesias springing up at the feet of the native plants in spring,” she says. There is also a collection of stag and elk ferns, belonging to her brother-in-law, which are suspended on a reo mesh wall.
“The other elements of surprise in the garden are my quirky metal sculptures – my garden friends. The older ones have names – Percy the Pelican, Onslow the Owl, Champagne and Charlie Crane and others, now too numerous to name, are just there to capture the imagination,” she says with a smile.Bringing birds to her paradise
Water is a key element in the garden for its ability to cool the space and attract wildlife and there are dozens of bird baths providing water for birds and insects. Christine used to put out seed for the birds but found that it attracted big birds that kept smaller varieties away. “So when I built the new house I put in lots of plants that have bird-attracting seeds and planted a dense middle storey for the mid-sized birds like honey eaters and spinebills,” she says. “A friend living nearby bred frogs and he released some into the front pond and they come back each year to breed.”
- Silky oak (Grevillea robusta) is a big tree that teams fern-like foliage with spectacular golden brushes in spring.Strap-leaf plant suggestions
- Lomandra ‘Cracker Jack’Christine’s tips for Correas
- Mountain Correa (C. lawrenceana)