Maria Hitchcock  Cool Natives
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Frost and Drought Hardy Australian Native Plants                                  
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Top Tips archive for frost and drought hardy Australian Native Plant Nursery Cool Natives
Maria Hitchcock


Top Tips

How to grow
Sturt's Desert Pea

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bush
Hybrid Waratahs
Flannel Flowers
Paper Daisies

Correa alba
Correa glabra
Correa pulchella
Mallee Eucalypts
Native Lilies
Planting out
Raised Vegetable Beds
Weed Barriers

Sturt's Desert pea
Growing Sturt's Desert Pea
This iconic Australian plant grows naturally in desert areas where there is low rainfall. It is a legume and survives bad conditions in the soil as a hard coated seed. After winter rain the seeds swell and germinate, growing quickly into a spreading groundcover with long stems. Flower buds develop on long upright stalks and in clusters. The typical red and black flowers stand out from the foliage allowing birds to pollinate them. They then develop pods filled with hard black seeds and the plants die back and disappear until the next good season.
Growing these plants can be a challenge. First you have to buy a packet of seed.
1. Carefully take a tiny nick out of the side of the seed on a breadboard. Place seeds in a glass of water. Leave them to soak until swollen and a small white shoot appears.
2. Fill tubes with native potting mix. Water. make a small hole in the top and insert swollen seed.
3. Put your tubes in a sheltered spot and sit them in a container of water. Your plants will be ready to pot on when a few pairs of green leaves appear at the top and roots are visible at the base of the pot. I usually plant them in groups of three.
4. Fill a large terracotta pot with native potting mix and place on a stand to allow drainage.
5. Water well. Make a large hole on one side, upend the tube in your hand, remove the pot and carefully place the plant into the hole then push soil back around it. Repeat with two more plants.
6. Mulch the top of the pot with scoria gravel (available at Bunnings).
7. Water regularly but avoid wetting the leaves. Fertilise with Aquasol or something similar when the plants are growing strongly and starting to fill the pot.
8. Cut off spent flowers to allow for more to develop. These plants will continue to flower for many months until the frosts become severe.
9. If you want to collect seed leave some flowers to develop pods towards the end of the season.
10. Collect pods when they start to turn colour and let them dry out in a jar. The pods will open and release seed. Alternatively place a small net bag or stocking over the pods on the plant. The seeds will be captured in the bag.
Blandfordia grandiflora
Blandfordia grandiflora                   
Diamond Head, Crowdy Bay National Park,
S of Port Macquarie,
Image: Flickriver

Blandfordia grandiflora pods
Immature seedpods in the wild                         
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Growing Christmas Bells
There are a few different species of Blandfordia - the well known Christmas Bell
Blandfordia grandiflora is a subtropical species growing naturally from Sydney north to Fraser Island. This is the species that is known as the NSW Christmas Bell. They flower between November and February and are a protected species. Commercial growers must be licenced.
They normally grow in sandy swamps but the roots are above the water table. The general life span is about 10 years.

Blandfordia nobilis grows along the coast south of Sydney.
Blandfordia cunninghamii occurs in the Illawarra and Blue Mountains.
Blandfordia punicea is endemic to Tasmania and easier to grow.

All should be grown the same way. Growing in tubs is preferable to growing in the ground.

1. Buy 5-6 plants. They look like slender grass but are a native lily.
2. Use a large wide-mouthed ceramic tub and place it on a stand so that water drains freely.
3. Put a square of newspaper or flywire over the hole and cover with about 3 cm of scoria gravel.
4. Fill the pot with a premium grade native potting mix.
5. Plant the Christmas bells spaced out evenly in the tub.
6. Water thoroughly.
7. Sprinkle some slow release native plant fertiliser over the top of the soil and cover with a light    layer of scoria gravel.
8. Water regularly. Tubs can be placed in full sun or in light shade.
9. Fertilise occasionally with liquid potash to encourage flowering.
10. After flowering when the pods develop, you can collect the seeds and grow more plants. Seedlings take about three years to flower.
11. Plants can be divided after a few years like other lilies.

Christmas Bells plants are not easy to find as few nurseries stock them. Colour forms are very variable ranging from yellow through to deep red.
Ceratopetalum gummiferum
Ceratopetalum gummiferum
Image: Australian National Botanic Gardens

Ceratopetalum Johanna's Christmas
Ceratopetalum gummiferum 'Johanna's Christmas'
Image: GardensOnline

Growing Christmas Bush
Ceratopetalum gummiferum (NSW Christmas Bush)
This very popular species is grown widely in the cut flower trade. Thousands of bunches are sold for Christmas each year and the tradition has a long history in Australia. You can grow your own if you wish.

It is a sub-tropical shrub growing up to 5m in the bush but smaller in gardens. I have it growing in a large tub in my courtyard where it is protected from hard frosts. The shrubs have dark green divided leaves and reddish new growth. Flowers are white and insignificant but they are followed by rusty red calyices which eventually close over the seeds.If you want to grow the seeds, sow them covered with the calyx.

They need a well-drained sandy to loamy soil (pH5-6.5) which is kept moist and an annual application of a slow-release fertiliser. The best way to keep soil moist is to apply a deep mulch of woodchips and water in the evening. Fertiliser granules should go under the mulch.

This species can be susceptible to root diseases especially during wet humid conditions. Plants in the wild probably have a fairly short life span but they self sow ensuring a new crop of seedlings each year.

There are two cultivars - 'Albery's Red' and 'Johanna's Christmas' which only grows to about 1.5m and appears to be hardier than the straight species. It is also readily available in mainstream nurseries.

Telopea Shady Lady red
Telopea 'Shady Lady Red' growing in a Blue Mountains garden.
Growing Hybrid Waratahs
Hybrid Waratahs are crosses of T. specisosissima (Sydney waratah) with T. mongaensis (Braidwood waratah), T. oreades (Gippsland waratah) or T. truncata (Tasmanian Waratah).
They require dappled shade and protection from westerly sun and wind. They also require good drainage but they have shallow roots which need to be kept moist. If you have deep soil, mound it up slightly, surround the plant with large rocks and mulch well around the rocks. If you have a stony site it might be worth taking the bottom out of a large plastic tub and bury it slightly in the ground. Fill the tub with cheap potting mix (no fertiliser added) mixed with some sand. Surround the tub with large rocks and deep mulch. Plant into the soil and cover the top of the soil with scoria gravel. Hybrid waratahs sometimes flower twice a year in Autumn and Spring. They don't like a lot of competition so don't plant them in an established garden among other shrubs.

Fertilise your waratahs in early spring and in autumn with a light sprinkle of Blood and Bone which has been watered in around the plant. When your hybrid waratahs finish flowering, you need to cut off all the old spent flowers. Leave at least two leaf buds on each cut stem. The plants will then sprout multiple shoots from the cut stems ensuring a bushy plant and more flowers in seasons to come.  Add more mulch around the plants as they put on fresh growth.

In the Blue Mountains waratahs grow in deep litter - fallen bark twigs and leaves which gradually rot to provide nutrients for growing plants. The Sydney Waratah (Telopea speciosissima) and the Gibraltar Range waratah put up new stems from a ligno-tuber below the ground. It takes two years for these stems to flower. When they have finished, cut them back almost to ground level. New shoots will take their place. They are a bit touchy in the ground and need lots of leaf mould dug in to an elevated and well-drained garden. The alternative is to grow them in large pots.

Waratahs don't like boggy conditions but they are also not very drought hardy. Deep water in the summer time and during dry spells to encourage roots to go down rather than spread. They will survive dry conditions better. Hybrid waratahs such as the Shady Lady series are much tougher and reliable than the T. speciosissima.

Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens have a Waratah Festival at the end of September each year.  They usually have racks of competition blooms which are truly magnificent. There are pure white forms then pale pinks and a gradation of colours through to the deepest reds. It's possible to purchase some of these new colour forms during the festival.
Actinotus helianthi 'Fairy White'
Growing Flannel Flowers
You need fresh seed if possible no more than 2 months old. Older seed up to 2 years is less viable but you may get some seed to germinate. Store it in the fridge after collection. The best time to germinate is when the daytime temperature is about 20C daytime maximum – Autumn or Spring.
Add 3 drops of Wettasoil to 1 cup of tepid water (or smoke water) in a jar. Add some seeds. Put on the cap of the jar and shake. Leave for one hour. Leave for 1 – 2 hours.
Make up a seed raising mix of perlite:peat:vermiculite (1:1:1 ratio). I use fine perlite and vermiculite. Fill some punnets with this mix. Alternatively use some commercial potting mix.
Put the punnets in trays and water from below by capillary action. Now sprinkle the seeds on top and cover with a very light cover of perlite. It usually takes about 4 weeks until seedlings appear.
Leave the seedlings in the punnets until they have developed a few pairs of leaves. This could take some time as they grow very slowly during winter.
Prick out the seedlings into tubes filled with good quality native potting mix. When the plants start to show roots coming out of the base of the tube it is time to plant out.
You can plant out into the garden if you have a light sandy soil. Alternatively plant three plants together in a large unglazed ceramic pot filled with good quality potting mix.
Sprinkle some slow release fertilizer on top of the pot and water in with Seasol (or substitute). Cover the soil with fine white gravel.
Feed occasionally during the warmer months with liquid potash to encourage flowering. As flowers die off collect fresh seed and store. Plants usually live for about 3 years.

Xerochrysum bracteatum Kimberly Sunset
Xerochrysum bracteatum 'Kimberly Sunset'
Growing Paper Daisies

Paper daisies flower for a long period during the warmer months with a peak in summer. Many of them will self sow before they die back in winter. If you want to collect seed to spread around your garden, wait until the flower head is spent and the seed starts to fall away. Collect this seed in a paper bag or envelope (plastic will sweat and rot the seed). You can then spread the seed elsewhere. It will germinate in spring. Seed can also be propagated into punnets but this is usually done in Autumn so you will need to store your seed in a cool dry place until then.

Sprinkle the seed over the top of a punnet filled with moist seed raising mix and barely cover it with more mix. Sit the punnet in a tray of water and keep the mix moist but not boggy until the seeds germinate. Paper daisies don't mind heavy soil and they are quite drought hardy. Some of the large flowering varieties come from the coast and are not very hardy in a frosty climate. You will need to treat them as annuals. You can grow them from cuttings as well using some of those jiffy pots. During the season, cut dead flower heads off regularly to ensure more flowers during the rest of the season. They are easy care plants which will self sow and naturalise.  The coloured forms tend to gradually become white with succeeding generations. If you want pinks and reds you will need to propagate these from cuttings.

Grevillea Elegance large
Growing Grevilleas
Although Grevilleas are probably the most popular native plant they do not survive in every garden. They prefer a well-drained dryish position and will die if water-logged. Gardeners with heavy soils tend to mound their native gardens to improve drainage. A small ditch at the base of the mound will allow water to seep into the ditch and drain away. Put a small pond at the end of the ditch to capture the water.
Grevilleas come from a wide range of eco-systems in Australia so you need to choose wisely. The small or narrow-leaved forms tend to be hardier than those with large leaves. Those tall varieties with large flowers clustered at the end of long drooping stems tend to be frost tender.
Grevilleas prefer a full sun position and will attract a large number of small birds to the garden.
They are also very sensitive to fertiliser and will die if given an overload. Sheep manure should be avoided. Use a slow release native fertiliser. Dynamic Lifter is also safe.  People with old gardens  may find the soil is too rich for Grevilleas. Experiment with a few cheap plants before splashing out on some expensive species.
Grevilleas benefit from an annual prune. Cut out any dead stems and trim back any untidy branches. Some Grevilleas have sharp tips which can cause skin irritations. Wear long gloves when pruning.


Mulch is important because it not only helps conserve moisture but it eventually rots away and returns important nutrients to the soil. No amount of commercial fertilisers can match the complex mix of nutrients in organic mulches. Eucalypt mulch, called leaf mould in the bush, takes a while to break down but in the meantime it provides shelter for many of the tiny fauna that inhabit the bush floor. It also creates a wonderful environment underneath for earthworms to churn up the soil adding to the nutrient load. You can create your own leafmould by chipping small branches. Commercial eucalypt mulches are usually just made up of bark and fine woodchips without the leaves. Avoid using pinebark mulches on your native garden as they leach out tannins which may be harmful to native plants. Lucerne hay is an excellent mulch if you want to build up the soil but it breaks down quickly so you will need to replace it every six months or so. Greenwaste from the tip lasts a bit longer but breaks down within a year or so but is good for building up the soil. A eucalypt canopy in a bush garden will continually drop leaves, twigs and bark to add to the mulch layer. The trees bring up nutrients from deep down and recycle them to the surface, creating a sustainable system over time. Look for the chipped mulch resulting from electricity company trimmers and now available from various suppliers. Another source is the various tree loppers working in your district. Some of them also have chippers and can supply mulch at a reasonable price.

Weed Barriers

I find a layer of about 10 sheets of newspaper covered in woodchips is a great way to inhibit weeds. If using newspaper as a barrier do make sure that the mulch you use on top is very coarse to allow water to penetrate easily. I made the mistake of using plastic mulch mat in the garden years ago. The weeds grew through it and it took a great deal of effort to pull it up again. I would avoid using it. The newspaper eventually breaks down becoming part of the soil.  By this time your new plants should be large enough to shade the ground and inhibit weed growth. By recycling your prunings either as mulch or compost you are gardening sustainably reducing the need to bring in extra material and this saves on fuel and all the extra environmental costs associated with producing mulch. You can also use cardboard, magazines, advertising material etc. as a weed barrier instead of newspaper. I also plant fairly thickly so that the plants grow into one another and shade the ground. My biggest weed problem is grasses which grow up through the foliage and make it hard to pull them out. The ground needs to be quite wet to do this successfully. You can spray with Fusillade which kills grasses only but won't affect your shrubs. I would do this only as a last resort on prickly shrubs where it's impossible to pull them out by hand.

Raised Vegetable Beds

I do most of my structural gardening in winter. In 2012 I bought six raised colourbond vegetable garden beds made by a local man. These are sitting on the ground surrounded by a generous gravel walkway in between. The gravel has been contained with a sleeper edge. That way I can suppress any weed growth and spot spray when necessary. Inside the beds I have a generous layer of newspaper at the bottom to suppress weed growth. On top of that I put ashes from the fire, kitchen scraps that don't go to the chooks, layers of lucerne hay, compost from the chook run and black soil from the council tip. I sprinkle lime on top in the tomato bed to prevent end blossom rot.  My weeds go to the chooks and they turn it into compost - that way I'm not introducing weed seeds into the new beds. I rotate the beds so that my plants stay healthy. In the first bed which is a permanent planting I had asparagus and garlic and chives. The second bed was reserved for tomatoes and cucumbers, the third for potatoes, the fourth for carrots, radishes and beetroot, the fifth for beans and snow peas and lettuce and the sixth for Zucchini and Capsicums and spinach. I had a bumper crop thanks to all the compost. The garden was not fertilised or sprayed at any stage. After the season finished, I pulled out any dead plants and topped the beds with more black compost from the tip. These beds are so easy to maintain I wish I'd done it sooner. You can create your own raised beds from recycled materials. Mine are about 60cm high.

Correa alba

These plants grow naturally on the northern and eastern coasts of Tasmania and there are a couple of forms in Victoria. They are dense bushes growing to about 1.5m high with grey green round leaves and masses of white star flowers in Autumn and Winter which really lift the garden. They are very frost hardy and seem to flower for a long time but May is a peak time. They are really easy care shrubs requiring little attention, are very waterwise and rarely need fertilising. For this reason they are ideal for busy people who don't have much time to garden. Mass them together in a hedge or large group to provide a dense shrubbery, fill in those hard spots in the garden where nothing else grows, plant them on the western side of the house in the full sun or under a shady gum tree. There are even some unusual pale pink forms available, such as Correa alba 'Blythe Headland', 'Swansea' or 'Pink Stars'. Then there are the low growing forms which will spread out along an embankment and even cascade over a wall. Look for the very rare Correa alba 'Denison Rivulet' or 'Binalong Bay'. Correa alba varieties are also wonderful for parks and business or shopping centre carparks as the soft foliage won't damage vehicles and they can be pruned to any shape.

Correa glabra

Most Correas start to flower in late summer to early Autumn along with Banksias. Both these genera really attract honeyeaters to the garden. My favourite Correas are the C. glabra varieties. Many of these form very dense shrubs and take very well to being pruned. Correa Mt Barker Beauty comes from the Adelaide Hills but is very hardy in our frosty climate. It has lovely glossy foliage which has the most wonderful fruity fragrance when crushed. The red and green bells display well and I have this cultivar planted all through the garden. It makes a great hedge as well and is a really reliable plant. A closely related variety is Correa Barossa Gold which is very similar except the leaves turn a bright golden colour if planted in full sun. Correa glabra Ian Fardon is a large shrub with red and green bells but has duller foliage than the other two. This is a bulletproof plant being able to take a lot of neglect. It forms a dense thicket and would be perfect as a large hedge. The green flowered Correas such as Long John and Green Glade are absolute bird magnets. We have two Correa glabra varieties in the North west. Correa glabra var leucoclada is quite rare and not as attractive in the garden as the other forms. It's strictly for the collector. The smaller local Correa glabra grows along stream banks in the Coonabarabaran district. Correa glabra varieties are very adaptable to many different garden situations but are best grown in well-drained soils. There are several hybrids now available such as C. Summer Bells and C. Cappuccino.

Correa pulchella

Windy weather in July reminds me of the month we spent photographing and collecting South Australian Correas in 2009. I remember we experienced gale force winds along the Eyre Peninsula as we went hunting for Correa pulchella varieties. The name 'pulchella' means beautiful and these plants are aptly named with their fantastic coral pink to orange bells. They are quite variable plants ranging from forms with very fine small leaves and an open habit to thick almost triangular leaves with a compact habit. Over the years many forms have been collected and named with no consistency so you'll find that the same form has several names. This is the case for Correa 'Orange Glow' which is the same as 'Wreck of the Ethel'. It has also been marketed under other names. This can be a bit frustrating for the buyer as you think you are getting something new only to find you are growing it already. Correa 'Pink Mist' was sold as C. reflexa 'Salmon' for many years in NSW and C. reflexa 'Pink' and C. reflexa 'Pink Bells' in South Australia. Despite the naming confusion, any of the C. pulchella forms are a must have for the garden and they sell out very quickly. To grow them successfully they must have a well-drained site and prefer dryness. They are easy to kill with over watering. They grow naturally at the base of Mallee Gums which help drain away excess moisture and provide dappled shade. They are stunning in big pots but watch out for parrots which love the nectar and will rip off all your beautiful flowers to get their fill. Some growers even add a bit of dolomite to the planting hole as C. pulchella comes from limestone areas.

Mallee Eucalypts

You can't help noticing the beautiful white trunks of the Ribbon Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis) which are a signature tree of the New England region. In autumn the trees shed last season's bark to reveal the beautiful new bark underneath. Only gum trees shed their bark - stringybarks, boxes, ironbarks and peppermints (all Eucalypts) tend to retain their bark or shed it in little bits. Some people don't like big gum trees because of the mess they produce each season. Large gums can also be dangerous near the house as they are prone to dropping large branches. Every respectable native garden needs a Eucalypt or two but there is no need to plant large gum trees, which are best left to woodlots and paddock plantings. The best solution around the house garden is to plant Mallees. These are small Eucalypts with multiple trunks which grow naturally in the inland of Australia or on mountain peaks. Use them as the upper storey of a bush garden and underplant with medium sized and smaller native shrubs. Add a birdbath in between the smaller shrubs and you will have a perfect habitat for small birds. With many new homes having smaller gardens and older people downsizing, mallee eucalypts are the perfect choice. There are seeveral cold climate varieties which are quite hardy. Eucalyptus stricta comes from the Blue Mountains and is a very attractive small gum. Eucalyptus alpina comes from the Grampians and would do well in the western part of our region. We have a number of mallees on the Northern Tablelands such as E. codonocarpa which grows on the granite tops. Most need a very well-drained position. They can look quite stunning as a specimen plant in a courtyard or in a large tub.


Melaleucas are a staple in any native plant garden. Most flower in late spring and summer and their small brushes attract a myriad of insect life. They are closely related to Callistemons (bottlebrushes) and there is even a move to join both into the same genus. Most of the common Melaleucas are large plants which make a great background or understorey in a bush garden. Melaleuca lanceolata grows all across the southern part of Australia and is a really tough plant. Mine is quite large - about 6m tall and wide. I cut off all the lower branches and have planted small shrubs underneath. Melaleuca decussata is another excellent large shrub with small purple brushes and fine dense foliage. It is ideal for screening or as a background to other shrubs and creates a nice thicket for small bird nests. I have a dwarf form of this species which only grows to 1m. For years we had a huge Melaleuca armillaris tree near the house which I loved for its weeping form. Unfortunately the roots got into the sewer pipe and the fine needle-like leaves blocked the gutters so it had to go. I did plant specimens in the bush gardens where they have room to grow and won't damage anything. Melaleuca quinquefaria is the coastal tea-tree that you see growing in swamps. It has wonderful papery white bark and attractive creamy white brushes. I have seen this planted as a specimen in a park. Despite its origin it is a very hardy plant. There are also quite a number of smaller Melaleucas suitable for planting in frosty areas. They are also drought hardy which is a bonus. Look for the different colour forms of Melaleuca thymifolia such as 'Cotton Candy', 'Pink Lace' and 'White Lace'.


Callistemon (Bottlebrushes) flower in late spring and early summer and sometimes have another flowering in autumn. These showy plants are usually long lived and very tough in cold climates and should form a large part of the structure of your garden. 'Big Red' is a local form from the granite areas north of Glen Innes and is one of the many Callistemon citrinus forms. It has a very large bright red brush and is very hardy. There are a large number of species suited to frosty gardens. Most are also quite drought hardy and need minimal care. Prune your bottlebrush plants after flowering - cut back behind the spent brushes and then throw some Dynamic Lifter around the base of the plant to ensure healthy new growth. The hardier varieties tend to have stiff leaves and I would avoid buying forms with soft hairy leaves. Nurseries are now starting to sell advanced plants in flower so you can make your selection according to the colour. There are also several dwarf varieties now available. Callsistemons make great hedges as well or you can grow them in thickets as a bird habitat.


The weather in New England can be very variable with either weeks of drizzly rain or long dry periods. If it does rain in winter the soil tends to get soggy and stays that way until the warmer weather arrives. What to do with waterlogged soil? Many native plants hate waterlogged soils and this is when you can lose them. Plant roots need air for growth and will start to die back or rot if the soil is overly wet for long periods, leading to yellowing leaves or stem die-back. Let the soil dry out a bit then apply some seaweed extract once a week to get those roots working again.  Mostly the system fixes itself over time but some parts of the garden may need help for future wet events.  There are several techniques. Building up the garden with mounds will raise the level of roots and prevent rootrot. This is essential for gardens built on heavy soils. Digging drainage channels to divert excess water around and through large garden beds can make a big difference. Use a garden fork to penetrate the top 30 cm of the soil and allow some air into the system. Spread Gypsum to help break up clay. Plant shrubs or small trees like Melaleucas and Callistemons that have deep extensive root systems and will soak up a lot of that excess water. Finally, cut back on your watering in winter. If you have an automatic system, switch it off and only use it if the garden starts to look really dry. If you have heavy soil which doesn't drain freely, it's a good idea to build large garden mounds. This can be done by importing topsoil and layering it with sand. I saw an excellent idea in a Tamworth garden. The owner had brought in a machine to dig out pathways. The topsoil was then mounded along the edge of the path and in the pathway itself he had a thick layer of coarse gravel. The pathways led down to a pond on the lowest part of the property. When it rained, the water was directed by the pathways down to the pond filling it and at the same time draining away the excess from his garden beds. It was a very clever solution. Most native plants don't like wet feet so you do need to ensure the drainage is good.


The mintbushes (Prostanthera) usually flower in October making a vivid purple splash everywhere in the garden. The species seem to bloom in a succession with P. stenophylla being the first, then P. ovalifolia Brundah and so on. When they finish flowering it's important to prune back the bushes to tidy them up and to stimulate fresh growth. Prostantheras come in all sizes from small trees (P. lasianthos) to small shrubs (P. stenophylla). They ahve aromatic foliage and some are even used as bush spices (P. rotundifolia and P. incisa). Work is being done on their chemical properties to see what potential they have commercially. Many are both frost and drought hardy and make great fillers for between other shrubs. They need a reasonable amount of sunshine to flower well. They are often sold in springtime when they are in flower. In the wild mintbushes are usually found in granite country growing in the shelter of large rocks. They must have good drainage and will start to wilt if water stressed. After watering the leaves fill out again giving the species the reputation of being indicator plants. The nursery is aiming to have a large collection of mintbushes on sale each year.


Boronias can be a bit tricky in the garden as they have the reputation for being fairly short lived. The Brown Boronia (B. megastigma) is a very popular plant because of its  heavenly scent. it is usually sold in full flower and customers just can't resist it. It does best in semi-shade with regular watering and needs to be lightly trimmed after flowering to promote bushiness and more flowers next year. This species has a life span of about 4 years but this can be extended by pruning. There are several other Boronias which are hardier and longer lived. Boronia denticulata is one of the hardiest and will withstand quite dry conditions. Boronia heterophylla is just stunning in flower and does best in a semi-shaded position with regular watering. There are several cultivars of this - Ice Charlotte, Blue Wave, Lipstick, Moonglow and Carousel. They are often sold in flower in major hardware chainstores. Boronia crenulata 'Pink Passion' is a small hardy plant which never seems to be without a flower. Boronias should be planted close to garden edges where you can observe them regularly.


July is the month for big frosts in inland Australia - there's nothing like waking up to the lawn and paddocks silvery white and a gradual waft of steam coming off the grass as the sun hits and the lawn thaws. Frost hardiness is a strange beast. Some native plants never seem to be touched even in the hardest frosts while others succumb as soon as the temperature drops below zero. One would think that they would need hard tough leaves to survive but that's not the rule. Croweas have fine soft foliage that remains unaffected. What they do have is a chemical called anthocyanin which turns the leaves a reddish colour and protects against frost damage. Look around your garden and see if any other plants use anthocyanin as a protective measure. Plants which are affected by frost suffer cellular damage. The water in the cells freezes and when it thaws quickly it destroys the cell walls sometimes leading to blackening of leaves and stems. To prevent this it is a good idea to plant a protective canopy of tall shrubs and trees. You can reduce the surface temperature by as much as 10C under a canopy. Young native plants have very thin protective bark and the bark may split as a result of frost damage. The two areas of concern are leaves and lower stems. Mature plants have developed thick bark and leaf adaptations to protect against icy conditions. Young plants are most at risk and need some protection. A preventative technique is to put a milk or juice carton around the bottom of young plants to protect those lower stems from splitting. I cut off the base and squeeze the carton over the top of my plants till it reaches the ground. Put in a couple of thin bamboo stakes to hold the carton in place and then spread some mulch around the base of the carton. Any foliage above the carton may get burnt but this can be cut away when you lift the carton in mid spring after the last frost. Green plastic sleeves are useful for wind protection but are not as effective against frost as the cardboard cartons. Pringles tins are a good substitute.  If your plants do suffer some frost damage, don't cut them back until all danger of frost has passed - around the beginning of October in our district. They will soon bounce back and make up for lost growth. Despite the frosts I always do a lot of planting in winter - mostly larger trees and shrubs which are destined for the paddocks. The reduced evaporation rate means you don't have to water so often.

Native Lilies

Our property was formerly grazed for many years so has a number of mature eucalypts but no understorey. If you go out into the natural eucalypt woodlands, you will see a diversity of understorey shrubs like wattles, hop bushes, banksias, bottlebrushes, tea-trees, etc. These usually provide a diversity of seeds, fruits and insects for small birds to feast on. It's important to provide multiple layers including grasses, Lomandras and native lilies at ground level. One of the best lily-like plants for cold climates is Bulbine. Bulbine bulbosa is a small tufty plant which sends up spikes of yellow flowers for many months. It is a great plant for naturalising as it will self seed, creating large drifts of yellow in the warmer months. In the garden it tends to fill little empty spaces but may need to be controlled. The seedlings are easy to pull out so it's not a problem. Bulbine is a very easy care plant requiring no maintenance. It may die back after a severe frost but will reappear in spring. Although originally grouped with native lilies it  has now been reclassified as belonging to the same family as grass trees or Xanthorroea. Two other species to try are Bulbine vagans which forms clumps and Bulbine semibarbata which has finer foliage and smaller flowers. Dianella is another group of native lilies which is becoming popular. They are strappy plants with blue flowers and edible purplish fruits. There are many forms now on the market but Dianella tasmanica is an excellent choice for cold climate gardens. Cut them back in early Spring to allow the new foliage to grow.


We occasionally have bleak wet wintry days in June - a time to rug up, put lots of wood on the fire and get out those favourite CDs. Many people in cold climatic zones have wood heaters and are dependent on buying loads of wood each winter. Have you ever thought of growing your own? Acacias and Casuarinas are excellent firewood extenders. They help the fire to burn hot. Many Acacias are very fast growing and can be coppiced to provide small rounds to add to the fire. People on large blocks should be planting small woodlots of fast growing Eucalypts, Acacias and Casuarinas. Acacias also add beneficial nitrogen to the soil making it more fertile for other species. We have lived in this area for 37 years and have never bought firewood for our wood heater. Each year we have a pile of woody prunings which keep us going. Planting a woodlot tree warms you three times - at planting time, when you cut it up and then when it is added to the fire. Growing your own is also more sustainable.


One of the joys of the winter garden is the Banksias and in particular Banksia ericifolia (Heath leaved Banksia). There are two forms - Banksia ericifolia subsp. ericifolia and Banksia ericifolia subsp. macrantha. Both are frost and drought hardy and have narrow crowded green leaves with large bright orange brushes standing out in the foliage. Banksia ericifolia subsp. ericifolia comes from the Sydney sandstone areas while Banksia ericifolia subsp. macrantha comes from the far north coast of NSW and has larger flowers than its Sydney cousin. I have grown both forms in my garden and have found subsp. macranthato be more robust. Both forms attract small birds as they have copious amounts of nectar. In fact the nectar was used by indigenous people before white settlement to make a vitamin rich sweet drink. Both require good drainage and need a fair bit of space in the garden but they can also be used as stunning specimen trees. Banksia integrifolia with its yellow brushes grows all along the coastline but the Tablelands form (B. integrifolia var compar) is hardier. There is also a dwarf form available for the smaller garden. Banksia spinulosa has fine foliage and large orange flowers with almost black styles. These small shrubs would fit into the garden as a background shrub. There are also a large number of dwarf forms now on the market and these look great clumped together in a group. Banksia serrata (Old Man Banksia) is a small gnarled tree with greyish yellow brushes and serrated leaves. I have introduced a form which I called Superman as it has huge brushes and longer shiny green leaves. It needs a well drained spot with regular watering. Banksia marginata is a medium sized Banksia which is very hardy. It has small orange brushes and a compact shape. I have another very attractive form which I called Honeybrush because of the lovely colour of the flowers. Banksias attract Honeyeaters, specifically Spinebills and if you have enough Banksias int he garden they will nest there and call your garden home. 

Planting out

One tip that can make all the difference between losing a plant and survival is the correct planting out technique. I tell all my customers to put a couple of caps of Seasol (or similar) in a bucket of water, then dunk the whole plant, pot and all into the liquid mix. Wait till the water stops bubbling then pull out the pot, remove the plastic container and plant the shrub or tree in the ground. I usually put a scoop of Seamungus in the bottom of the planting hole to help it along. Many Australian plants continue growing slowly through winter and they need a little fertiliser to nourish them. Seaweed extract encourages strong root growth so that plants are well established before the big spring flush. Some people like to hang onto their plants until spring but I think it's better to plant out straight away. Plants in pots can be forgotten and dry out. As long as you put a protector like a milk carton around the plant it should be fine. Backfill with some cheap potting mix and the soil from the hole. Water in well. Keep the plant watered regularly in the warmer months.