Being told you should plant natives sounds a lot like you’re being told to give up junk food and switch to brussels sprouts and bran. It makes you feel like you’ll be going on a garden diet. Lush green foliage and the pretty flowers will be a thing of the past. There will be no more planting of self indulgent cordylines, hibiscus, gardenias or gingers. You’re now restricted to a gardening diet of gumtrees, paperbarks, grasstrees, and if you’re good, a grevillea or two. And you’ll have to tear up your lush green lawn so you can replace it with a nice deep layer of bush mulch with a couple of clumps of prickly Spinifex and a mandatory frog pond.
Fortunately that’s all a load of bull. Sure, you can plant a native bush garden like I’ve described, and there is nothing wrong with that, but by no means are you restricted to such a dull selection of plants, nor will you have to give up the lush green foliage or the colourful flowers. And surprise, all those plants I said were now off limits are also available as natives.
There are at least five species of native cordylines in our rainforests, over 20 species of hibiscus and hibiscus-like shrubs and half a dozen North Queensland gardenias including Gardenia macgillivraei with its fragrant white flowers. There are also many native gingers including the spectacular red leafed Alpinia caerulea and Alpinia arctiflora with its showy snow white flowers. So you see, native gardens aren’t about dieting, they’re actually about choosing “Australian made” rather than imported. You can plant your lush foliage, bright flowers and tropical plants until your garden’s bursting at the fence line and spilling into your neighbours yard.
In my opinion, growing natives shouldn’t be penance for past misdeeds, and you shouldn’t be doing it because you feel you have to, like eating bran. Give it a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wonderful range of tropical plants ‘local’ to our region. Your garden will be the envy of those on a diet of foreign foliage, and native birds and butterflies will have a feast.
(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, December 2007)