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Book review: Australian Plants for Canberra Region Gardens

Dr Jenny Stewart

Dr Jenny Stewart

January 16, 2016

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).

Australian Plants for Canberra Region GardensHaving 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.

Inside: Australian Plants for Canberra Region Gardens

Inside: Australian Plants for Canberra Region Gardens

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.

Inside: Australian Plants for Canberra Region Gardens

Inside: Australian Plants for Canberra Region Gardens

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.

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Carol Griesser
Carol Griesser
8 years ago

Hi Jenny, I have not read the book but I am addressing your comment of “How to acquire species identified through the guide”
The Friends of the Gardens at the Australian Botanic Garden – Mount Annan (between Campbelltown and Narellan) produce many native plants suitable for all regions of Australia. We have many visitors from Canberra buying our plants.
Just bring your list with you and peruse our stock, I am sure you will find something suitable for the Canberra region. You will also be helping the Botanic Gardens as all procedures are dedicated to projects,and scholarships at the three Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

Kind regards

Carol Griesser
Foundation and Friends
Growing Friends coordinator
Australian Botanic garden – Mount Annan

8 years ago

The ONE real secret to successfully pruning native plants is: prune when there is soil moisture. And ambient temperature is warm. There are two tips not one and my secret is now no more.. If the soil is too dry there will be no shoots. Jeff

Rosemary Blemings
Rosemary Blemings
7 years ago

I have just read your review of the ANPS Australian Plants to Canberra Region gardens, a year after Jenny’s comments. There is now a brief guide to acquiring native plants in the Canberra Region. “Sources of Australian Native Plants in the Canberra region”. I believe it is included on the plant society’s website. Rosemary