Recently when I judged The 68th Chronicle Garden Competition, preceding Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers, I chose ‘Terrara’, a garden growing mainly Australian native plants as Grand Champion.
Traditionally the Carnival has been linked to gardens filled with annuals, but many local gardeners are now including natives and perennials to celebrate spring.
Gordon and Maria Reynolds are passionate about Australia’s native plants. However they’re not purists, so their extraordinary garden also includes some lovely exotics. Set on a 660m² in a newer subdivision, it’s not a large garden – but it’s very cleverly planted.
From the street you see a tapestry of plants with varying heights, shapes, textures and colours. While every available nook is occupied, the couple has been careful to leave enough space to wander through leisurely.
Pathways lead from either side of their home to the back section where they traverse beds filled with plants. One passes a quintessential Queensland fernery at the side of the house, while on the other side you pass a small pond featuring native aquatic and marginal plants, and a collection of succulents displayed in an old timber dray wheel.
Some people mistakenly think native gardens are easy-care ‘plant and leave’ places, but that’s a tragic misconception. Native plants thrive with care.
“We water, fertilise and prune regularly, and once a year we prune really hard,” Gordon says.
Just because plants are ‘native’ to Australia – it doesn’t mean they’re going to do well everywhere in this vast country. Just like exotics, there are perfect plants for perfect places. Some plants growing in the Reynolds’ garden may not do well further north, with more humidity, for instance. It’s best to source plants from similar growing conditions. Luckily there are so many hybrid and grafted native plants now we have a plethora from which to choose.
Hero plants in ‘Terrara’ include Eremophila nivea with the most appealing silvery tones, adding a lovely luminance. Other stars are Royal Mantle standards, developed by grafting ground cover grevilleas onto silky oak (Grevillea robusta) trunks. They make striking features through the garden.
There are about 150 varieties and species of grevilleas in the garden. Perhaps one of the best collections in Australia.
“Foliage is just as important to us as flowers.”
Fragrant plants are grown along the pathways, so visitors get to enjoy them when they pass by. But it’s not only people that are attracted to this place, hundreds of birds live here, or visit, and many choose to raise their families in the abundant, safe haven.
Gordon explains a method he uses to successfully grow plants needing excellent drainage. Grow them in a pot with the bottom removed, then sit it on a garden bed. Some of the roots find their way into the soil but they’ll be well drained.
The garden is filled with sunshine, and there’s plenty of airflow around plants – ideal conditions for happy plants. And one of the best things about having so many birds in the garden is that they control the bugs – including spiders, around the home.
“We don’t need to use insecticides as the birds do the work for us, Maria says.
Thousands of visitors found their way to the Reynolds’ beautiful garden during Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers and loved it. I imagine there’ll be lots of gardeners inspired to include natives in their own gardens, wherever they may be.