A Gardener's Notebook

By happenstance, plants from ‘down under’ find a home in my garden

Special to The CambrianFebruary 16, 2013 

You can plan, make a list and purchase plants for your garden. Or you can embrace plants that come your way. I call this method of developing your landscape “gardening through happenstance.”

For those who want a “perfect” garden, this method of design may not work. But for some, using plants that have a “story to tell” is a most delightful way of creating a garden that has personal meaning.

Many plants with stories have found their way to me through friends and neighbors. Some originated from “sale” counters at local nurseries. You know — the area put aside for “ailing” plants, ones that are no longer in bloom, are out of season, or just plain neglected. When I encounter these assortments, the urge to rescue and salvage overtakes me and I end up with an armload of bargain bounty. (I’m sure being Scottish has nothing to do with it.)

A couple of weeks ago husband Don and I went to the Cambria Pines Nursery & Florist “parking lot sale.” Among the bargains we found were some Australian shrubs that I’ve been dying to try my hand at growing.

Because Australian plants struggle in heavy soil like ours, I’ve hesitated to invest a lot of money in plants from “down under.” The sale gave me a chance to purchase plants for the price of a bouquet of roses at the farmers market. If I get them to grow, I’ll enjoy them for years.

You’ll find Australian plants of some kind or another in just about every garden in Cambria. Common ones are acacias (over 100 species), Angozanthos (kangaroo-paws), Banksia (trees and shrubs), Calistemon (bottle-brush), Leptospermum (tea-trees), Eucalyptus, Grevillea, Melaleuca, Westringia, and Telopea (waratahs), colorful artichoke shaped flower that make such a statement you can’t help but stop the car to look at them more closely. (Watch out, “I brake for blooms.”)

After some research I’ve learned a few things about growing Australian plants that I can pass along.

• Once established, Australian natives need little water in the summer.

• They are susceptible to root rot if the soil is too heavy and drainage poor.

• Some Australian plants like acid soil while others prefer alkaline. Soil under pines and soil rich with humus is usual acidic; clay soil is usually alkaline.

• Australian plants need little fertilizer and cannot tolerate phosphorus (middle number on labels). Use a fertilizer suitable for “native” plants.

• Certain Australian plants only perform well for a limited time. Over-watering and over-fertilizing may shorten their lives.

• Australian plants with furry or prickly leaves are deer resistant.

Sunny winter days like this one fuel my compulsion to get outdoors and dig. I’m going out to experiment with a few of my Aussie purchases. Wish me luck!

•  •  •

Tip of the Month

Plants that are allowed to grow without pruning will adjust their growth and number of leaves to the plant’s needs. This makes plants like lavender, rockrose and Australian plants lose leaves and produce a straggly appearance. A general rule of pruning plants is to avoid cutting back into old woody stems. Prune off one-third of the length of the previous year’s growth. Prune after flowering as most plants produce new growth at that time. Except for tip pruning and clipping, avoid heavy pruning during active growth.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambriagardener@charter.net; read her blog at centralcoastgardening.com.

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