Alison AplinFoliage plants for under a eucalypt tree canopy

I’m establishing a small rainforest section of foliage plants under a canopy of eucalypt trees in my ‘Middle Garden’. This is currently my favourite part of the garden. The middle garden consists of a canopy of numerous Eucalyptus leucoxylon. When we moved in 3 years ago, these beautiful trees had lots of dead wood through them, starting at ground level. No formative pruning had been done; the trees were just planted and left. Fortunately there was a deep deposit of decaying mulch at the base that would be excellent for my new garden.

Perpendicular effect of the eucalypt trunks

Perpendicular effect of the eucalypt trunks

It is a relatively large area given the acre property that we have. Part of owning a garden, to me, is to balance what I want in a garden, with what others would appreciate when we decide to sell. So something had to be done with this area, because it was just an untidy mess.

We decided to raise the canopies, by clearing out all of the dead wood and removing most of the weedy plants. I have left a few Arum lilies because I love to pick them in spring and some of the Acanthus, because for all that it is weedy, I still love the architectural look of the leaf.

Alocasia brisbanensis (syn. Alocasia macrorrhizos)

Alocasia brisbanensis (syn. Alocasia macrorrhizos)

The intention was that this area becomes a rainforest. Rainforests do not need massive amounts of water – humidity is preferred. It is this part of the garden that receives regular irrigation which will be ongoing in order to keep the humidity up. I use a butterfly head sprinkler for this water.

Yesterday I noted that while the sprinkler was on, we had four large green parrots sitting under the spray of water and flapping their wings as though it was rain. The birds in our garden are as important as the plants.

Acacia imbricata as an understorey plant

Acacia imbricata as an understorey plant

There is an absolute mixture of plants in this area including – Acacia imbricata, Cordyline petiolaris, Cordyline obtecta, Cyathea and Dicksonia tree ferns, Blechnum ferns, Westringia longifolia, Agonis marginata, Lomandra hystrix, Lomandra hystrix ‘Tropicbelle’ and ‘Katie Belles’, Lomandra ‘Katrinus Deluxe’, Dianella ‘Emerald Arch’, Dianella ‘Goddess’, Eleocarpus reticulatus ‘Prima Donna’, Stenocarpus ‘Doreen’, Syzygium australe, Helmholzia glaberrima, Randia chartacea plus many more. It is the challenge of trialling plants to see how they grow and whether their appearance works with the design that I find so stimulating in a garden.

Cordyline petiolaris

Cordyline petiolaris

I nurture these plants for about 12 months; if at the end of this time they are looking poorly, I throw them away and try something else. I cannot see any point in molly-coddling plants that are never going to work. I don’t use plants based on an individual appearance – I use plants for the overall effect in the area, so the foliage is essential to the finished appearance.

Three Lomandra hystrix 'Tropicbelle'

Three Lomandra hystrix ‘Tropicbelle’

All of the cut back branches were kept for edges to the path that meanders through the site. It is a steep area as well so extra branches have been used through the slope to help stop the leaf mulch moving down the slope. We also have free-ranging chooks in our garden who just love this mulch and help move it in every direction. I have to poke sticks into the ground when new small plants are planted to stop the chickens digging up these newly placed plants.

We have been given some rocks by neighbours who had no need for them which have been placed in the area. Some are used to hold back a bank of deep mulch which also acts as a seat, but I am too busy in the garden to sit for long. I always find something to do.

Logs & rocks define paths & help retain the steep site

Logs & rocks define paths & help retain the steep site

As mentioned, the site is steep; it is the edge of the ridge of limestone between the top garden and the bottom garden. So the soil has a subsoil of limestone that is broken up and crumbly, thus the good drainage that is important to rainforests.

This area is only about 12 months old and is on-going. Gardens of plant lovers and collectors are never static – there are always new plants to be found that keep passionate gardeners constantly researching catalogues and plant lists for different plants to use. This aspect of research is just one of the many joys that can be attributed to gardening.

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Alison Aplin

About Alison Aplin

Alison is a passionate, multi award winning sustainable landscape designer, Horticulturist and arborist. She has been the owner and designer of 2 Ecotourism gardens that have both won significant awards. Her writing is based on knowledge, empirical learning which is essential to sustainable ethic, and a questioning mind leading to much research. Her articles are often controversial - with a disclaimer that she is responsible for the written matter, and not Garden Drum. A deeply caring person about the natural environment, Alison's writing endeavours to explain why sustainable landscapes are so important. Without people like her, they will be lost and gardens will become merely concrete

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