By Todd Layt
Cottage Gardens have been defined as a garden that has a distinct style that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants.
English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Unfortunately Australia’s hot summer really take its toll on the traditional garden plants from England. Fortunately there are a number of tough Australian Native Plants that can replace the English plants and still give you the cottage garden feel as well as a number of tough exotics that survive Australia and look at home in a cottage garden.
Flowering plants were and still are an important part of the Cottage Garden. Some Australian native plants give you flowers in spades, and for much of the year as well. Most Kangaroo paws sold in Australia are annuals or bi-annuals, and will not self-replenish from seed, so they are not a good choice for a cottage garden. Anigozanthos flavidus types last many years, but generally only flower in Spring. The 3 best Velvet Kangaroo paws give you flowers for 9 months of the year, year after year as they are long lived perennials.
Gold Velvet Anigozanthos has mid-sized opulant gold flowers, Amber Velvet Anigozanthos has vivid orange flowers, and Ruby Velvet ™ Anigozanthos is the compact red flowering form. Spread amongst other plants these Landscape Kangaroo Paws will provide the back bone of any long lived cottage garden in Australia and best of all, the Velvet Range is Black Spot resistant.
Native Scaevola looks at home in any cottage Garden. Purple Fusion™ is a Scaevola humilis type, which is the hardiest and longest lived form. It also flowers for about 9 months of the year, spreading rich purple flowers through the Garden.
Aussie Rambler ™ Carpobrotus flowers for 4 months from spring to early summer, and then again for a few months in autumn. The flowers on Aussie Rambler ™ Carpobrotus are double the size of the common Carpobrotus, and the vivid pink flowers are one of the highlights of any garden. You need to use this one sparingly in a cottage garden, as it does tend to spread and outcompete other plants, but a few in every garden will really make a statement.
The plants listed so far will give you flowers for most of the year except in winter. Certain types of Grevillea add a lot of colour to gardens in winter. Gold Cluster™ Grevillea, Cherry Cluster™ Grevillea and Crimson Villea™ Grevillea will provide flowers from early winter to early spring, just perfect to extend the flowering period of the garden to all year.
To get nice shapes and forms in the garden, Westringia has a lot to offer. Not only do you get spring and autumn flowers, you get clean foliage with minimal maintenance in an Aussie Cottage Garden. Mundi™ Westringia and Low Horizon™ Westringia are ground cover plants, while Grey Box™ Westringia without pruning, and forms a natural looking ball plant that fits very well into a cottage garden. If it is pruned yearly it works well in formal gardens. Blue Gem™ Westringia has the most vivid flowers of any Westringia.
Small Callistemon lend themselves to the Aussie Cottage Garden, Green John™ Callistemon is the Smallest Callistemon available, and the deep red flowers in Spring and Autumn contrast beautifully with the dark green foliage. Better John™ Callistemon simply grows better than Green John™ Callistemon, yet has the same blue toned foliage with red flowers.
Grasses have become very popular in the English Cottage Garden, but many of those used overseas are either weeds here, or do not cope with our heat. Luckily we have some magnificent native grasses and strappy leaf plants that can be used in place of these. Nafray® Pennisetum and Purple Lea® Pennisetum grow really well in our climate, and provide stunning flowers in autumn. Kingsdale™ Poa is the go to tussock grass with clean blue foliage.
Grasses do need trimming each year after they turn brown, and some people do not like that extra work. Some Australian strappy leaf plants look like ornamental grasses, but only need trimming every few years. The most famous is Tanika® Lomandra known for its fine dark green leaves, and its tidy appearance, it is the go to grass like plant for the Australian cottage garden. Shara™ Lomandra is a new fine leaf form of Lomandra, which works well in humid climates like Queensland, but also works well in wet feet situations. The weeping foliage Tropic Cascade™ Lomandra (Qld NSW) and Southern Cascade™ Lomandra (Southern States) feels right at home in this type of garden. Variegated Tanika™ Lomandra provides contrasting white and green foliage that for your native cottage garden.
Some exotic plants fit right into cottage gardens, but in Australia you need to choose ones that are long lived and ones that survive our extremes. Red foliage has become popular in cottage gardens overseas, and three new Nandina make red foliage easy to come by. Flirt™ Nandina is a ground cover plant and Obsession™ Nandina and Blush™ Nandina are small shrub forms that have red foliage for up to 9 months of the year. These do not rely on cold to turn them red, as all their new growth is red, so they are just as red in summer as winter.
Alternanthera is generally not thought of as a tough plant in Australia, but Little ruby™ Alternanthera is not only tougher in the cold than the standard form, it is actually a ground cover type, providing cottage gardens with low growing deep purple foliage. Gazania has copped a lot of bad press lately, and all bar Double Gold™ Gazania has been banned in South Australia. Double Gold™ Gazania is 100% sterile, cannot become weedy and it will provide big bold gold flowers and blue toned foliage. O So Fine™ Gardenia is a fine leaf short internode form of Gardenia radicans. This ground cover stays denser than the common form and does not open up and become sparse in our Australian conditions.
Having a great looking Australian native cottage garden has become a reality in Australia thanks to innovative plant breeding. If you want exotics in the garden, the choice has now grown and best of all, some of these new hardy exotics survive without too much effort in Australia.