It was all very well for the local plant nazi to decree that we should use only Australian natives in our Canberra garden. As all those who have tried it know, the challenges of succeeding with this policy are considerable. Natives, even those endemic to a given area, are not necessarily more robust than exotics. On top of that, Canberra has cold winters by Australian standards, the soils are often heavy, and with coolish nights, the diurnal temperature variation in summer can be up to 30 degrees.
Casualty rates are high, and the learning curve somewhat intermittent, which is why a really good plant guide is essential. Over the years, I have made a lot of use of the hardy Canberra Gardener, but I have to confess that I had not previously heard of ‘Australian Plants for Canberra region gardens and other cool climates‘, published by the ACT chapter of the Australian Native Plants Society. The fifth edition has just come out (the first appeared in 1974).
Having now had a chance to read the excellent general advice contained in this book, and even to test-drive a few selections from the hundreds of plants that are described and discussed, I would not be without it.
Here is a guide that has obviously benefited from its numerous iterations, so that when puzzling about ‘what might work where’ it will tell you, not only every possible species classified by size and spread, but also which are frost tolerant, when special care is needed, and whether the gaily-flowering hybrid you’ve set your heart on at the local Bunnings will tolerate a bit of shade or a non freely-draining soil. There is also a clear colour photo for every entry.
The vexed subject of pruning (essential for most natives) is referred to only in general terms, although more specific advice is given in a section on garden rehabilitation. Having wrestled with two Snowy River wattles which simply stopped in their tracks whenever and wherever I attempted to trim them back, it was astonishing to read that they can be cut back to ground level. Emboldened by the collective wisdom underpinning Australian Plants for Canberra region gardens, I might just give it a go.
My only criticism of this excellent book is that it says very little about how to go about acquiring species identified through the guide. I know the native plants society holds regular sales, but you can’t necessarily get along to them, and anyway the urge to put something in the ground does not necessarily coincide with the society’s bi-annual schedule. Many of Canberra’s best nurseries disappeared during the last drought, and those remaining tend to have lots of ‘flavour of the month’ plants, but not necessarily the ones you want. I guess ANPS may not be keen to be referring people to commercial Internet plant-sourcing sites, but a few pointers in the right direction would not have gone astray.
Australian Plants for Canberra region gardens and other cool climates (5th edition 2015)
Australian Native Plants Society Canberra Region Inc.
342 pages, 934 plant descriptions, $30 RRP
Available at the ANPS Canberra Region plant sale days (next 19 March 2016 in the ANBG carpark), from both the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the National Arboretum bookshops, Dymocks stores throughout Canberra, and the ANU Co-Op Bookshop, plus other selected bookshops.