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Transitioning to a native garden in Canberra

By Maureen Mallard and Digby Gascoine, ACT, text and images

Len Dowling is a committed collector of native plants and is actively transitioning to a native garden in Canberra.

transitioning to a native gardem in Canberra
Len Dowling’s Wanniassa Garden in Canberra, ACT

In February 2023, members of the Canberra Day Activity Group and Garden Design Study Group visited Len Dowling’s Wanniassa Garden.

Orientation of house and garden

The house and garden are oriented south with a spectacular view along the Tuggeranong Valley to Mt. Tennent.  Len has cleverly landscaped the back garden to overcome the difficulties of the very steep slope by having meandering paths gradually leading to the back corner and returning uphill to the side garden.

Meandering paths to deal with a slope
Meandering paths help manage a steep slope

Incorporating natives into an exotic garden

Over the past decade or so Len has progressively introduced native plants to an existing garden of exotics, such that the natives now comprise about half of the intensive planting. Of particular interest were a number of mature Eremophila as well as plants brought from Sydney, including rock orchids, Lord Howe Island dietes, bird nest ferns, Gymea lily and a spectacular flowering begonia.

Len has a very keen interest in a great variety of plants and has created an interesting and diverse landscape. Members enjoyed the late flowering that is a consequence of the south-facing slope, and marvelled at the overall harmony that Len has achieved in positioning plants and in the foliage contrasts.

It would be of great interest to make a return visit in a few years’ time to see the further development of Len’s plans. It will be particularly valuable to watch the process of transitioning from an exotic to a native garden in Canberra.

For more information about native plants in Canberra, see the Australian Native Plants Society Canberra here. This site has profiles of over 2500 native plants that grow well in Canberra.