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Growing Australian Native Plants in Containers
We have been growing plants in containers for quite a while, starting with just a few pots at the edge of one of the front gardens. Here, beside a birdbath, we grew Wahlenbergia stricta (tall bluebell), Blandfordia puncea (Tasmanian Christmas bell and Actinotus helianthi (flannel flower) and from seed each year, Swainsona formosa (Sturt's desert pea). With the exception of the Blandfordia punicea, which died after its first flowering, all these plants grew well and we were pleased with them.
|Banksia spinulosa 'Birthday Candles'
A step up in container growing came with the completion of a deck along the front and one side of our house last year. We started slowly buying one large dark olive green glazed pot from our local nursery, and five terracotta pots, in descending sizes, with the same olive green edging around the tops, from a discount store.
We put a Banksia spinulosa 'Birthday Candles' in the glazed pot, two plants of Anigozanthos (kangaroo paw) 'Bush Gold' in the largest terracotta pot and one 'Bush Gold' in the next size down. The remaining three terracotta pots, we planted with Hibbertia vestita (hairy guinea flower), Viola betonicifolia (Purple Violet) and Actinotus helianthi small plant grown from seed from our original plant.
In our pots we used two different brands of commercial potting mix, mixes designed specifically for native plants, but even so we were surprised at just how well these plants grew, the kangaroo paws in particular. In what seemed like just weeks after planting they developed tall stems with flowers starting to appear.
The plants were grouped together near the boardwalk entrance to the deck, on the north-easterly side of the house, with shelter, and some warmth reflecting off the walls of the house in an environment which obviously suited them. The kangaroo paws, when they were in full flower, were moved to outside the dining room windows but still on the deck, so that we could appreciate the flowers from inside the house.
In what seems to us now, on reflection a bout of over-enthusiasm, brought on by the success of this first group of plants and by the availability of such a wide range of beautiful pots, our container growing hit new levels, but with a very large deck, there certainly was plenty of room for a lot more pots.
We chose some lovely blue/grey glazed pots next, starting with three, in varying sizes and ending up with six. Into the largest pot we put a Grevillea petrophiloides ssp magnifica 'Pink Pokers', into four of the next size down Tetratheca thymifolia, Viola hedracea (ivy-leafed violet), Acacia glaucoptera (clay wattle), and Callistemon 'Little John', and in the remaining small pot, Viola betonicifolia. These containers were grouped together in one corner of the deck.
The 'Bush Gold' kangaroo paws continued to grow and flower particularly well, and through the windows we watched Eastern Spinebills visiting the flowers every day. Kangaroo paws in pots outside other windows then seemed like a good idea.
Into terracotta-looking plastic pots we planted the 'Bush Gems' kangaroo paws 'Royal Cheer', 'Bush Nugget' and 'Bush Ochre', two plants to a pot, and one plant to a pot of the 'Joey Paws', 'Joey Fireworks' and 'Joey Lipstick'. Beside the front door, in a lovely oval terracotta container, went two each of the small 'Bush Gems', 'Bush Ember' and 'Bush Illusion'.
Even more containers followed terracotta pots in various sizes, more of the lovely dark olive green glazed pots and even a half wine barrel. Some of the containers went on the deck and some around the deck on the surrounding gravel areas.
Plants that are difficult to grow in the garden are grown in containers, and other plants are grown this way simply because they make wonderful container plants.
Plants in the 'difficult to grow' group are: Banksia baueri (possum banksia), B.media (southern plains banksia) and B.menziesii (Menzies' banksia), dwarf form; Dryandra calophylla; a grafted white Telopea speciosissima 'Shady Lady' - all of these planted in large terracotta pots and all growing very well, and Lechenaultia biloba and Lechenaultia biloba 'Big Blue', with 'Big Blue' the more compact plant of the two - these are in smaller terracotta pots, under the eaves of the house where the amount of moisture that they receive can be controlled.
Plants grown because they make wonderful container plants are Banksia spinulosa 'Stumpy Gold' and B.spinulosa 'Honeypots', two more B.spinulosa 'Birthday Candles'; and Boronia megastigma (brown boronia), two plants in the one pot - these are in the glazed pots and again all are growing very well. B.megastigma grows well in the garden here, but it does so much better in a container.
The half wine barrel was planted with small pretty plants- Tetratheca thymifolia, Dampiera rosmarinifolia (rosemary dampiera), a deep blue-flowered form, Hibbertia stellaris (orange stars), Bauera rubioides (wiry bauera) 'Western White' and Grevillea rosmarinifolia (rosemary grevillea) 'Pink Pixie'. With light pruning after flowering, these five plants have filled the barrel and they create a lovely display in spring and summer.
And where are we at now? The group of pots beside the front garden is no more. The Actinotus helianthi and Wahlenbergia stricta outgrew their pots and became rangy and untidy and our Swainsona formosa plants did not do well this year at all, possibly because we had very little warm weather. This section is now part of the garden planted with two scaevolas, Scaevola albida (white fan flower) and S.aemula 'New Wonder', a Dampiera hederacea (ivy-leaved dampiera) some Epacris impressa (common heath) (a very pale pink flowered form) and a Eucalyptus lansdowneana (crimson mallee), with lots of small Wahlenbergia stricta plants coming up all around, growing from seed from the original plant in the pot.
All the kangaroo paws are now in the garden, not because they were not growing well but because the local King Parrots found them. Six to ten King Parrots landing on a kangaroo paw stem to get at the flowers, can almost destroy a plant in one or two days. With the 'Joey Paws', one plant was completely destroyed in a day by the parrots pulling it to pieces, the other is in a pot still, just surviving.
The Grevillea petrophiloides ssp. magnifica 'Pink Pokers' is now in the garden, in a well-drained section near the garage, as it became too big for its pot. The Tetratheca thymifolia in the same group of plants has been potted on into the bigger pot, and a Tetratheca ciliata (white form) was put into the smaller pot. Two other plants from this same group are now also in the garden, Acacia glaucoptera and Callistemon 'Little John', as they did not make very good pot specimens. The replacement plants, two forms of Eremophila maculata (spotted emu-bush), have been placed under the eaves for protection, but we do not have a great record with eremophilas, if these fail, we won't attempt to grow them again.
When the 'Bush Gold' kangaroo paws went into the garden, we replanted one pot with two fringe lilies (Thysanotus multiflorus) and these have done brilliantly, they were covered in flowers over summer. The Hibbertia vestita was potted on into the second empty pot, replaced in its original pot by a Stylidium graminifolium (grass trigger-plant).
We reduced the number of pots on the deck by ten, choosing not to replant some because of the amount of time needed to look after the large number of containers. During hot weather the containers needed to be watered every day or every other day. We water our pots with a watering can or hose, a watering system with drippers would make the job much easier of course.
Lastly a comment about Hibbertia vestita. This is a pretty plant with its bright yellow flowers, and I love it, but I also admire it for its hardiness. One hot day, when it was still in the smaller pot, and desperately in need of being potted on, I noticed that it was looking very dry and wilted. I quickly put the whole thing in a bucket of water pot and all, thinking though that I had lost the plant. But no, after a good soak it revived and now, in the larger pot, it is looking great. Crimson Rosellas can be a problem however, they seem to be attracted to the bright flowers and at times will land on the deck and pull every flower off the plant.
From Growing Australian, newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria), September 2002.
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Australian Plants online - December 2003
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants