Banksias you can bank on…

If you were asked to name the top three quintessential Australian plants that define the Australian flora, what would you say? It’s a safe bet that eucalypts, acacias and banksias would top everyone’s list, for sure. They are just so… Australian.

Banksias are everyone’s favourites, and I’ve not met a person yet who doesn’t want a banksia, or three, in their garden. Their beautiful stiff bottlebrush-type flower spikes are so showy. Their gnarled woody banksia-cones are so decorative. Their foliage is so interesting. And their (often twisted) architectural form is a relaxed and welcome change from the almost-too-perfect symmetry of the typical garden plant.

So… what banksias to grow here in FNQ?

Well, be careful what books and magazines you read, or you might end up very disillusioned and disappointed.

Most glossy books and magazines are written for the southern Australian market, based around the capital cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne where the great bulk of Australians live. And they feature all those out-of-this-world banskias from WA which just make your mouth water looking at the photos. The trouble is that the climate of WA and southern Australia is pretty well the opposite of our climate here in FNQ. Where they have hot dry summers, we have hot wet summers. Where they have cold wet winters, we have warm dry winters. So plants adapted to the climate of southern and western Australian simply can’t cope up here, and usually melt away pretty rapidly when they encounter there first tropical wet season.

So, forget about growing the southern banksia species, and look closer to home. Luckily for us, there’s some beautiful tropical banksias perfectly suited to our climate.

Our favourite is the Hairpin Banksia (Banksia spinulosa), because it’s easy to grow and makes a fantastic display. If you have a dampish spot, then the Swamp Banksia (Banksia robur) is just perfect. And its huge (absolutely huge) dark green serrated leaves, olive green flowers (yes, olive green!) and twisted shape make a stunning statement in your garden. The Hinchinbrook Banksia (Banksia plagiocarpa) is popular amongst flower growers for its blue (yes, blue!) flower spikes. The Mountain Banksia (Banksia aquilonia) loves a cooler, shadier garden. And the Cape York Banksia (Banksia dentata) thrives in sandy soil.

The trouble with banksias is that they’re addictive. Just ask local botanical artist Ian Wallace who set out on a mission to paint every one of Australia’s 80-odd banksia species. Mission complete (wow!), he is now exhibiting his wonderful paintings in the gallery at the Cooktown Botanic Gardens throughout the month of May. If you’re a sucker for banksias, or native flora in general, or just love to feast your eyes on exceptional art-work, then what better excuse could you need to head off to Cooktown in the next week or two?

You’ll be delighted to know that Ian has compiled copies of his beautiful paintings into handy Field Guides, complete with descriptive text. If you’re the slightest bit interested in banksias, then “An Illustrated Guide to Eastern Banksias” by Ian Wallace is a must-have.

Google “Ian Wallace Banksias” and have a browse at www.ianwallacebanksias.com.au.

Do you have a banksia in your garden?

Happy gardening (and see you at Yuruga!),

Peter and Ann