Australian native plants for pots, courtyards and small gardens

By Brian Roach

Over the past 20 years, I’ve been richly rewarded speaking with over 100 gardening groups and clubs about our wonderful and unique Australian flora. Lest there be any misunderstanding, my being ‘richly rewarded’ has come from the enthusiasm from my audience when hearing about Aussie plants and seeing some pretty mediocre photographs I’ve taken of them! 

Ceratopetalum ‘Johannas Christmas’, photo Ramm Botanicals. A dwarf form of the NSW Christmas bush with dark red flowers that are the sepals. The plant grows to 1m.
 

In recent years, my audiences have become increasingly fascinated by the topic:

‘How do I grow natives in pots, courtyards and small gardens. As well as hanging baskets!’

Leschenaultia biloba, image Brian Roach. a stunning blue flower on an open shrub, generally about half a metre high.
Leschenaultia formosa, image Brian Roach. Lechenaultia grow well in hanging baskets as well.

 

So why grow a plant in a pot?

Of course, nature has been growing plants in pots (of sorts) for millennia.

But in our more cultivated environments, the first question I pose when speaking with people is, ‘Why grow a plant in a pot?’

Three simple answers: display, mobility and nurture!

 

Tetratheca granulosa, image Brian Roach. With its showy flowers, it is naturally a small shrub
 
 

These are self-explanatory and there may be other reasons, but considering these three reasons:

Display

What better way to focus attention on a particular plant in a pot than to stick it in a prominent spot to really show it off. And when it’s not looking at its best, just get it out of the way until the time is right. For example, boronias put on a brilliant display in pots – here’s three that work well!

Boronia pinnata, image Brian Roach
Boronia crenulata, image Brian Roach

 

Mobility

It means of course that we can move the pot around to take advantage of the prevailing weather and aspect.

Nurture

There can be no doubt that plants grown in pots, especially over any extended period demand TLC in the way of water and fertilizer that established plants in the garden do not. It can be easy to overlook the needs of the many plants in the garden but those special plants in pots stay under notice, especially if they’re placed to trip over to get your attention. So on our back steps, care has to be taken not to fall over a variety of pots, very strategically placed to grab my attention.

Keep pots close by for easy care (RBG Cranbourne), image Heather Miles

In some respects, a more pertinent question is why NOT grow a plant in a pot. Of course, any plant can be grown in a pot for a limited time until it starts to walk off with the roots coming out the bottom. To state the obvious, some plants simply cannot be successfully grown in a pot for any length of time. But even for those plants that lend themselves to pot culture, vigilance is essential.

What do I watch for? Water, weeds and weevils.

There’s a delicate balance in watering potted plants. This is particularly so in times of extended heat but even then, discretion is called for. A good drink occasionally is far better than a regular tipple. Something I try to emulate.

Weeds in pots seem to spring up overnight and if potted plants are to be kept in fine tilth, vigilance is needed. This seems to be particularly so if hanging baskets are involved.

Okay, so I don’t know that weevils are a problem in potted plants but I like the alliteration. What I particularly address under this heading are curl grubs and earth worms. Both are a menace in pots. On one occasion, I spotted the tell-tale fluffy surface of the potting mix in a 140mm pot and when I knocked the plant out of the pot, I dispatched 22 curl grubs. Can anyone beat that?

There are commercial products around to control curl grubs. And while earth worms are simply wonderful in the garden, in a pot they devour the potting mix and the resulting poop will quickly become the predominant composition of the pot. Best to keep pots off the ground to keep the earth worms at bay.

Which plants are suited to pots?

Crowea ‘Summer Star’, a compact shrub with masses of bright pink flowers from October to Jun, image Brian Roach

There’s an almost bottomless pit of Aussie plants eminently suited for pots. As well as the ones shown above, here are some others which work really well.

 

Blanfordia grandiflora, Dainty plants with orange and yellow bell flowers which flower at Christmas time!, image Brian Roach
 

Eremophila maculata yellow, a fantastic plant which grows over much of inland Australia in a multitude of flower colours – red, pink, orange, yellow and white! image Brian Walters
Hardenbergia violacea, image Brian Roach. A vigorous vine from the pea family, but when grown in a pot, it forms a beautiful mound.

 

Without fail, I always finish my presentation with these words:

“Australian flora has developed in isolation from the rest of the world over millions of years – LET’S SHOW IT OFF!”

 

Haloragodendron monospermum, at RBG Cranbourne (Photo by Heather Miles)
 

 

Back steps & pots, image Brian Roach