Angus StewartCushion Bush dreaming

One of my favourite Australian plants for the garden would have to be the cushion bush (Leucophyta brownii) with its amazing globe-like growth habit highlighted by the silvery glow-in-the-dark foliage and flowers. It is the perfect plant for salt-windswept coastal gardens and, well, really just gardens in general. Apart from being an almost zero maintenance plant that will win friends and influence passers-by, it is also one of a select bunch of Australian plants that can tolerate and even thrive in the alkaline soils that result from the limestone parent material that is often present where it grows in the wild.

Cushion bush along the Great Ocean Rd Photo Gardening With Angus2

Large mounds of cushion bush along the Great Ocean Rd. Photo Gardening With Angus

I always love to seek out my favourite plants in the wild and the cushion bush has to be one of the most rewarding of all when you see its little cushions in their coastal homes. It can be found all around the southern coastline of Australia from Western Australia right across to Victoria and Tasmania and varies considerably across such a wide variety of longitudes. It can be intensely silver in WA to forming very large mounds on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to having a slightly lemony tinge where I have most recently been cushion bush spotting on Kangaroo Island.

Cushion bush on Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Photo Gardening With Angus

Cushion bush on Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Photo Gardening With Angus

Kangaroo Island is a short ferry ride from the southern coast of South Australia and has an environment that is heavily influenced by the fact that you are never far from the sea and the ferocious winds that rip over the island from the Southern Ocean. The coastal areas provide for some of the more fascinating ‘wild gardens’ which often feature cushion bush amongst other ultra tough plants that cling on for dear life.

Cushion bush thrives in the harsh coastal environment of Kangaroo Island, South Australia Photo Gardening With Angus

Cushion bush thrives in the harsh coastal environment of Kangaroo Island, South Australia Photo Gardening With Angus

Cushion bush framed by rocky outcrops on Kangaroo Island

Cushion bush framed by rocky outcrops on Kangaroo Island. Photo Gardening With Angus

The pock-marked limestone that outcrops in many areas of the Kangaroo Island coastline makes for a sculptural background to cushion bush and the Australian succulents that often accompany it in its natural habitat such as pigface (Carpobrotus rossii) and coastal noon flower (Disphyma crassifolium). However, for my money it is when cushion bush is framed by rocky outcrops that it really comes to life in the landscape.

Cushion bush along the Great Ocean Rd Photo Gardening With Angus

Cushion bush along the Great Ocean Rd Photo Gardening With Angus

Spectacular silver mounds of Leucophyta brownii, cushion bush Gardening With Angus

Spectacular silver mounds of Leucophyta brownii, cushion bush. Photo Gardening With Angus

From a design point of view its wonderful shape, colour and texture can be used as a year round backdrop that can either contrast or harmonise with flower or foliage plants nearby. Interesting textural plants such as everlasting daisies and kangaroo paws are some famous Australians that sit well among the silver cushions.

Mounds of Leucophyta brownii cushion bush in a garden Photo Gardening With Angus

Soft mounds of Leucophyta brownii (cushion bush) contrast well with rocks in the garden. Photo Gardening With Angus

Cushion bush with native everlasting daisies

Cushion bush with native everlasting daisies

If you are now inspired to grow cushion bush just give it plenty of sun and a well-drained spot and let it do its thing. It is fairly readily propagated from tip cuttings if you have a friend that has already discovered the joys of the great Australian cushion. You may wish to include some rocks to give it something to contrast with, but however it is presented I guarantee it will be noticed all year round. Apart from watering it in it does not need to be fertilised unless you particularly want to speed up its growth rate. Do not prune it under any circumstances!

 

 

 

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Angus Stewart

About Angus Stewart

Gardening Australia TV presenter, author of 'Creating an Australian Garden', 'Australian Plants for Year-round Colour' and 'Let's Propagate', garden travel guide, native plant specialist and breeder. Central Coast, NSW. Find out lots more about native plants at Gardening with Angus.

6 thoughts on “Cushion Bush dreaming

  1. Your photos are gorgeous, Angus, and how wonderful to see Leucophyta in all these places in the wild. I am also a big fan of Kangaroo Island! I really should get planting some in my garden…..

  2. What would you consider to be the rough shelf-life of a garden-grown Leucophyta, Angus? Along with its demand for perfect drainage, it seems to fall into a similar category to a lot of Mediterranean stuff, in which the ornamental life is extended by virtual starvation.

    • Good question Michael. The shelf life will be very dependent on soil conditions, the better the drainage (and, I suspect, wind movement) the longer the life up to perhaps ten years. But it will be much shorter if drainage is not good. In Sydney conditions the combination of heat and humidity after a summer deluge can cause sudden death so it is best not to base a permanent garden design around cushion bush, as tempting as that may be!

      I agree with you about the virtual starvation. I suspect the plant gets by in the wild through mycorrhizal associations in the roots(no scientific evidence there, just gut feeling). I also agree with you in the emphasis on its requirement for perfect drainage so it may not work in many urban garden soils that have clayey soils.

  3. Carol Griesser on said:

    Thank you, Angus for mentioning this wonderful native plant in your column. People visiting our Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan, fell in love with these plants too; the Friends of the Gardens nursery managed to sell over three hundred of them last year!

  4. Craig on said:

    Thank you for this article, Angus.

    I have a cushion bush in my garden and it’s one of my favourites. I love its neat, compact shape. However, I have been pruning it lightly to maintain a low, circular shape to match the other shrubs I have surrounding it (I’m going for a sort of Japanese garden look with contrasting mounds of colour). Your article says not to prune them, does it hurt the cushion bush to prune them a little bit?

    • Hi Craig – Angus is rushing about this week but says to tell you that although cushion bush doesn’t need pruning, your regular trimming is fine. It’s all about finding the balance between how you want a plant to look and how it wants to grow naturally. As cushion bush grows in a low mounding shape, accentuating that with your regular light trimming means you’re working with and enhancing the plant’s natural tendency. We’d both love to see photos of your Japanese-style garden! You can send them to info@gardendrum.com

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