[Originally published in The Watering Can, Western Water’s sustainable gardens e-newsletter, June 2017]
If you are a gardener who retreats indoors over winter and feels your mood drop with the temperature, listen up! Get some local native plants in your garden and enjoy their winter vigour and be energised by the active birdlife they bring.
Winter gardens don’t have to lie buried, leafless and cut back. Since the English first bought a passion for cottage gardens to Australia, many gardeners in the southern states seem to have accepted winter gardens as cheerless and uninteresting. But this is only the case if you fill your garden with traditional cottage plants with origins far from home.
Winter is the time to take note of gaps and dull zones in your ornamental garden and to observe the native plants flourishing in your local landscape. You will find many evergreen shrubs and herbaceous plants thriving in the cooler and more forgiving conditions. There’s no need to tolerate expanses of dirt and mulch from autumn to spring.
You can green your winter garden by intermingling strappy-leaved plants such as flax lilies and lomandras. A favourite in my Castlemaine garden is the Smooth Flax Lily (Dianella longifolia). It’s upright, deep green leaves provide year-round structure to the garden picture and it rarely needs watering, even during long hot summers.
Other plant forms to fill bare spaces include delicate ground-covers such as the Cut-leaf Daisy (Brachyscome multifida) and Bidgee Widgee (Acaena novae-zelandiae).
Bidgee Widgee (Acaena novae-zelandiae) turns bare spaces into a springy green carpet. Although it prefers shady, moist areas it can bounce back quickly after a dry Summer. But watch that you keep the Bidgee away from paths so your socks don’t catch burrs in summer.
There are plenty of native flowers you can enjoy throughout winter too. Many local plants come into their own when the weather turns cold. These include wattles, correas, hakeas, grevilleas, native heaths and banksias. You may be surprised to find these species will sit beautifully within a traditional cottage garden.
Because local plants are adapted to your local conditions, they require only minimal or even no watering during Summer. And they have the added benefit of providing food and shelter for local birds. Winter visitors such as Eastern Spinebills will sip nectar from your correas and insect eating birds such as Pardalotes and Thornbills will forage amongst your wattles, pollinating the pom-pom blossoms as they pass. This is sure to cheer any gardener’s winter heart.