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Book Review

Successfully Growing Australian Native Plants and
Colour Your Garden with Australian Natives - Geoff and Bev Rigby

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

Book cover

This unique book is actually two separate but related books in the one cover.

Successfully Growing Australian Native Plants takes a practical approach to the basic steps of planning, establishing and maintaining an Australian plant garden and outlines the main methods of plant propagation. Colour Your Garden with Australian Natives was first published in 1992 and provides more detail on how to go about choosing Australian plants for year round colour, using not only the flowers but also foliage, bark and fruits. Both are profusely illustrated with high quality colour photographs and have good lists of further reading and indexes to botanical and common names. Information is also given about Botanic Gardens, Arboreta and Wildflower Gardens in all states. Readers are encouraged to visit them to see a wide selection of plants in cultivation and to learn more about their special requirements.

It may be tempting to ask do we really need yet another basic book on growing Australian plants. It is a fair question but I like to think that there are always new people coming along wanting to learn about growing "natives" and it is better that there are "new" books available, rather than them having to rely on "old" books from the library. In addition, each book represents another point of view, often with new ideas, a different perspective or an unusual selection of plants for example. In the case of this volume, I think that its great strength for new growers is the outstanding selection of photographs which clearly show the beauty of the Australian flora. The author, Geoff Rigby, has a long association with the Society for Growing Australian Plants and later the Australian Plants Society and has published four books on native plants including the two above. An engineer by training, he brings an essentially practical approach to growing coupled with an obvious delight in using photography to show Australian plants and gardens at their best.

Rigby deals with the establishment of an Australian garden under the headings of planning the garden, establishing and maintaining it, garden development covering additional features such as pools, steps and paths, outdoor living areas, window boxes and patio plants and the like, rounding it off with a brief chapter on propagation. It is straight forward, practical advice, easy to follow for a new grower. Each chapter has numerous relevant quality illustrations, and tables are used throughout the text listing plants suitable for over 30 garden situations. While these are necessarily confined to a limited selection of more common species, those chosen are generally very reliable in the home garden and relatively easy to obtain from nurseries. Two features which I particularly liked are the listings of "do's and don'ts" as a summary of the key points for each section, (these are linked back to specific information in the text), and several topics treated under garden development not commonly found in introductory books such as this - floral arrangement (no doubt with assistance from his wife Bev) and a useful introduction to flower photography including use of digital cameras in the garden.

A discussion on location of plants in relation to the house, pipes and power lines is another example of an unusual though vital topic covered in this book. The second volume briefly covers several hundred plants arranged under six colour groups including an intriguing "colour without flowers" which emphasises bark, fruits, nuts and foliage. Rigby's contention is that the selection of plants, shrubs and trees based on colour features and characteristics is at least as important as some of the other features often considered. Once again, the photographs are excellent and the brief text discusses the main garden features of each species, with an emphasis on the garden situation required for successful cultivation. This compendium is ideal as an introduction to the growing of Australian plants and is a good advertisement for their beauty. I query a few of the plant selections: eg. Banksia goodii and B. prostrata (which is now B. gardneri), for groundcovers, (why not B. blechnifolia and B. petiolaris?). Minor matters like this aside, the book would make a nice gift for someone starting out with a new garden and looking for sound, simple advice on what to do; equally, it would assist someone renovating an old garden and looking for new ideas.


Successfully Growing Australian Native Plants
Colour Your Garden with Australian Natives

Geoff and Bev Rigby, self published, 2005
RRP $39.95
Hardcover, 224 pages, colour illustrations

From Growing Australian, the newsletter of the Victorian Region of the Australian Plants Society, March 2006.

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