Amazing Greys

By Brian Roach

This story was written by Brian Roach and first appeared in GardenDrum in 2016.

I feel confident anyone reading this would agree that gardeners have a better insight than most into changing weather patterns. Whatever the reason, the hot days seem to be getting hotter and the cold days colder but it’s usually the former that presents the greater challenges in selecting the right plant for the hot spot.

Enter stage right our wonderful grey-foliaged native plants.

Maireana oppositifolia

Maireana oppositifolia at Broken Hill. Photo by Brian Roach

Maireana sedifolia at Broken Hill. Photo by Brian Roach

Maireana sedifolia at Broken Hill. Photo by Brian Roach

On a recent trip out through Broken Hill to the Flinders Ranges I could only look in awe at the great swathes of blue-bush, Mariana oppositifolia and M.sedifolia that adorned the hot and often rugged countryside. Obviously these plants are wonderfully adapted to a hostile landscape where water is scarce and sunshine plentiful.

 Eremophila glabra ‘Kalbarri Carpet’ growing at Hay. Photo by Brian Roach

Eremophila glabra ‘Kalbarri Carpet’ growing at Hay. Photo by Brian Roach

On our return trip we stopped off at the new Shearers’ Centre at Hay. It was hellishly hot but what was loving the weather in the garden was Eremophilla glabra ‘Kalbarri Carpet’. I’ve been growing this plant for a few years now and it’s as tough as old boots once established. The ochre coloured flowers contrast beautifully with the shimmering, silver foliage which seems to actually reflect the heat of the sun.

Calocephalus brownii along the Great Ocean Road. Photo by Brian Roach

Leucophyta brownii along the Great Ocean Road. Photo by Brian Roach

A few years earlier we drove out along the Great Ocean Road and there was Cushion Bush, or Leucophyta (formerly Calocephalusbrownii coping so well with the harsh salt-laden air and hot, sandy conditions. I was amazed at just how big these plants could grow. Unfortunately, my experience in Sydney is that these plants do not cope with our humid, summer conditions.

Calocephalus brownii in Sydney. Photo by Brian Roach

Leucophyta brownii in Sydney. Photo by Brian Roach

So nature has been able to work it out…so why can’t we? To coin an old racing adage, it’s all about ‘horses for courses’.

One of the very first native plants I grew around 40 years ago was Olearia phlogopappa. It was worth growing just to rattle off that wonderful name to anyone who would listen. But in recent times another Olearia with wonderful grey foliage has come into my garden.

Olearia languinosa ‘Ghost Town’ is one of those unkillable plants and thrives in a hot spot with very little demand for water. It’s low growing to around half a metre high and if left to itself, will certainly spread a couple of metres over time but it’s very amenable to severe pruning. The foliage has a delightful aroma when cut or crushed. It’s not the small, white flowers that make this plant well worth growing, but rather the silvery, grey foliage that fairly laps up the hot sun. An added bonus with this plant is that cuttings strike with ease.

Olearia languinosa ‘Ghost Town’, an unkillable shrub which thrives in a hot dry spot. Photo by Brian Roach

Olearia languinosa ‘Ghost Town’, an unkillable shrub which thrives in a hot dry spot. Photo by Brian Roach

A wonderful new plant was only discovered in the wild about a dozen or so years ago up around the Copeton Dam near Inverell. Members of the Grevillea Study Group were on the prowl for an elusive grevillea when they spied a stunning, yellow flowering plant. It was keyed out and found to be Homoranthus prolixus and apparently never before brought into cultivation.

It has wonderful blue/grey foliage with red stems on the new growth and stunning bright yellow flowers across the horizontal growth of the plant in late spring and early summer. Growing naturally on granite outcrops in an extreme climatic environment, this is yet another great plant to cope with our topsy-turvy climate.