5 fabulous natives to plant for winter colour and birdlife

Jul 16, 2021
Some Grevillea cultivars, like the ever-popular ‘Robyn Gordon’ (pictured), bloom pretty much continuously in mild climates. Source: Getty

The idea that winter gardens are flower-free is a northern hemisphere thing. In Australia, we’re fortunate to have lots of plants that splash the winter landscape with colour, and some of the loveliest are our own native species. As well as colouring up the scene, native shrubs and climbers attract birds to the garden, feeding them when times are lean. They also make hardy foundation plants, easy to care for and generous with their blooms winter after winter – just when you need them the most.

Banksias

The flower spikes of banksias decorate the bush like upright candles, in glowing shades of orange, gold and lemon yellow. They also last on the plant for months, gradually forming their own dried-flower arrangement as they age. Banskias are some of the most popular of all native garden plants, and the birds agree, flocking to their nectar-rich blooms over winter.

Among the best banksias for garden use are the various compact forms of Banksia spinulosa, including ‘Birthday Candles’, ‘Cherry Candles’, ‘Stumpy Gold’ and ‘Bush Candles’, which range in height from just 50cm through to about two metres. That makes them ideal for gardens of any size, as well as for containers – they look great planted in half-wine barrels.

Banksias
Banksia ‘Birthday Candles’. Source: Getty

Crowea

Small-sized shrubs with masses of pink star-shaped flowers in autumn and winter, these are a great garden inclusion. Growing from about 30cm to one metre high, they’re ideal planted as a loose flowering hedge along a pathway. They also look cute in pots, planted into an extra free-draining potting mix. There’s quite a range of cultivars available, including ‘Rosy Glow’, ‘Poorinda Ecstasy’ and ‘White Star’, the latter bearing white blooms.

Grevillea

There’s a grevillea in flower every month of the year, thanks to the hundreds of garden forms available these days. In fact, some cultivars, such as the ever-popular ‘Robyn Gordon’, bloom pretty much continuously in mild climates. All grevilleas are delightful, with their spidery nectar-rich flowers, and they’re worthy of a spot in every garden. To suss out the perfect winter bloomer for your garden, head to a native plant nursery now to see what’s on offer and choose your favourites. Two winter blooming beauties are ‘Honey Gem’, with its large golden flower spikes, and ‘Misty Pink’, which has soft pastel-pink blooms. Both form tall screening plants.

Wax Flowers

These neat small shrubs offer a pretty combination of rose-pink buds opening to white star-shaped flowers. With dense foliage and a rounded shape, they’re attractive garden plants all year, but really stand out when the flower show begins in winter, continuing well into spring. Wax flowers (Philotheca species) make a nice flowering hedge, if that’s the look you’re after, and are happy in either full sun or dappled shade beneath trees.

Wax flowers
Australian native pink wax flowers. Source: Getty

Hardenbergia

Royal purple blooms in massed profusion are the hallmark of this native climbing plant. The flowers first appear around July or August and the display builds to a fabulous cascade of colour. Often known as ‘happy wanderer’, hardenbergia is a twining climber, which needs the support of a pergola or verandah post to twist around. If you want to grow it against a fence, attach some mesh or a wire frame for it to cling to. There are also some shrubby forms available, along with pink and white flowering cultivars. All are delightful!

FAQs

1. What makes a plant native?
A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. They support wildlife better than exotic plants.
2. What are three other popular native Australian plants?
The cycad (Macrozamia); the bird’s nest fern (Asplenium australasicum) and the fan palm (Licuala ramsayi).
3. What is the best potting mix for Australian natives?
A coarse river sand/coco peat moss mix in the ratio of 3:2 and a mix of coarse river sand/coco peat moss/sandy loam in the ratio of 5:4:3 are usually successful for natives.

Which Australian native is your favourite? Do you have a question for Roger?

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