Australia has one of the most diverse groups of native plants in the world. We have some incredible plants that grow only in this country.
While native plants have been collected and grown for hundreds of years too many have failed to translate their beauty from the bush to the garden. This is in part due to the fact that the forces that shaped their uniqueness – soil, predators and weather – all combine to produce a huge range of species that are adapted for very particular conditions. Without those same conditions in the average home garden some native species really struggle.
A new wave of plant breeding is hoping to fix that problem. A small but enthusiastic group of people have been doing some serious breeding work on Australian plants to produce cultivars that are more tolerant of a wide range of conditions.
Kangaroo paws are a great example. Kangaroo paws originate from the sand belts of Western Australia. The natural species struggle in soils that contain even a moderate amount of clay. Their roots are simply not adapted to being moist for too long. Noted Australian plant breeder Angus Stewart instigated a program in the 1980s to produce kangaroo paws that can tolerate a wider range of soils, had a great range of flower colours and were repeat flowering. The program has resulted in the ‘Bush Gem’ series of kangaroo paws now being sold all around the world. Great varieties for our area include Big Red – tall and deep red flowers, Bush Dance – red and green flowers on a medium sized plant, Bush Ranger – medium red flowering variety with green contrasting bracts, Bush Pizzazz – medium growing vibrant deep magenta, and Bush Pearl – dwarf soft pink flowers.
Closer to home, the newly released Dorothy Gordon Grevillea story is typical of the work of Australian plant breeders. Grevillea ‘Dorothy Gordon’ is a new chance hybrid that was bred at Myall Park near Glenmorgan in southern Queensland. Myall Park is a wonderful bush botanical garden founded and created by selftaught botanist, plant breeder and farmer David Gordon in the 1940s. Many gardeners are already familiar with the grevilleas produced by David Gordon over the years with Robyn Gordon being the most famous. The latest in the series was produced by a group dedicated to the preservation of the park, The Friends of Myall Park. A species of grevillea from Western Australia spontaneously crossed with a species from Queensland. A particularly observant garden volunteer noticed that one particular seedling from this cross resulted in a stunning plant that was different from both of its parents in foliage and flower colour. Years of testing followed to make sure that the plant was stable, able to withstand a range of soil types and climatic conditions and was a good garden performer.
The new hybrid native plants appearing in garden centres now may well help to power a resurgence in native plant popularity and a change in garden fashion.
Words and images by Brian Sams