The classic picture postcard from Western Australia is a carpet of everlasting daisies stretching to the horizon in one of the natural world’s most spectacular wild gardens. But is this something that you should try at home?? Well, judging by the results I have seen over the years at two of Australia’s premier Botanic Gardens, the answer is an emphatic yes. The annual displays at Kings Park Botanic Gardens in Perth, and The Australian Botanic Gardens, Mt Annan, NSW are a testimony to the fact that an Australian wildflower meadow is eminently achievable in cultivation.
So how do we do it? The simplest way to achieve that informal cottage garden style that in my experience adds a naturalistic touch that many gardeners love is to direct seed a mixture of the plants you want into a pre-prepared seedbed. This allows the plants to establish themselves in situ, which usually results in a much better root system due to the absence of transplant shock.
A method that works really well with direct seeding is to work the soil and water it well several weeks in advance of planting. This encourages weed seedlings to come up so that they can be eliminated by cultivating again just before you sow the seeds. This not only reduces weed competition, but also produces seed bed conditions for your wildflowers.
There are several species of everlasting daisies that are perfect for the meadow effect. The common everlasting (Xerochrysum bracteatum) is found growing wild in every state of Australia and is my first choice. The various members of the genus Rhodanthe are sometimes given the common name sunray and they provide the other outstanding candidates, namely Rhodanthe chlorocephala, Rhodanthe manglesii and Rhodanthe anthemoides.
Whichever species you choose, the seeds are relatively small and light and are best mixed with some fine sand to aid in evenly distributing them across the seed bed. Mix the seed and sand and broadcast it by hand and then water it in well to encourage germination. I like to wait until the seedlings are a few centimetres tall (1-1½ inches) before giving them a liquid feed.
By springtime hopefully your wildflower meadow will be blooming its head off. I find that if I let the plants go after flowering they usually seed themselves for the following season, further enhancing the meadow concept. If the seeding becomes too successful then dead heading flowering plants during the season will prevent them from seeding.
A further benefit of a meadow (or just a small patch if space is limited) is that everlasting daisies also make outstanding cut flowers, either fresh or dried. Cutting them at the late bud stage is a little trick that prevents them from going to seed while they are in the vase (or being hung upside down to dry).
As well as the everlasting daisies, there are various short lived Australian perennials that are great for this wildflower concept. Think scaevola, lechenaultia, dampiera, brachyscome and kangaroo paw to name but a few.
Have fun with it!