Eremophilas can be marvellous plants in the garden, but their reliability in a variety of soils and climates is still being established by their many devoted growers. As so many eremophilas have been only recently collected from the wild and introduced into our gardens, they are still a work in progress as garden plants.
They have so many good points for garden design. Many are small, compact plants which bloom over long periods and attract both birds and insects. They come with a variety of flower and foliage colour and form. Most of them react enthusiastically to pruning, even harsh pruning. They can be clipped into hedges and larger plants used as screens and windbreaks. Many eremophilas make successful groundcovers.
My ‘chequered’ history with eremophilas
My garden history with eremophilas has been passionate but uncertain. When I first met a wide variety of eremophilas at Lang’s Nursery in Mildura in 2010, I enthusiastically purchased ten plants new to me. Despite planting them in full sun in a mixture of native potting mix and sand, they all died in the Canberra rainy season of 2010-11. This was discouraging, but they were not the only plants which died during that period.
On searching my garden records, I find that I have purchased 423 eremophilas of 167 different species, hybrids and cultivars in the last 13 years of which 30% have died or been removed for failure to thrive. I also notice (thankfully) that my success rate is improving over the years – either I am choosing more wisely, Canberra’s weather is milder, or I am growing eremophilas better – probably a mixture of all three.
I had fixed in my head that I could not grow the silver or grey leaved eremophilas as well as the green leaved ones, but my statistics show that there is little difference between the two groups – 28% failures in green leaved varieties and 33% of deaths in silver or grey leaved varieties. According to my notes, about half died in winter (my comment is usually ‘frosted off’). Only a low number of plants died in the rain and the heat, 8% for each, and I removed 20% or so for failure to thrive or having outgrown their space. The others suffered various accidents and tribulations, such as:
‘dug up by possum’, ‘stepped on’, ‘did not recover from being cut back’, ‘overwhelmed by other plants’, ‘blown out of the ground’, ‘unearthed by fox’, ‘whipper-snipped in error’ or ‘nibbled off by raven’
– the usual litany of garden woes.
Eremophilas bloom for a long time
This is one of their best characteristics. In 2016 in our garden, 27 different varieties of eremophila flowered for more than half the year and two, Eremophila maculata brevifolia and Eremophila maculata ‘Aurea’ flowered every week of the year, even during Canberra’s winter.
This is important for both birds and insects.
‘Approximately 75% of eremophilas are insect pollinated (entomophilous), with the remainder being bird pollinated (ornithophilous), or adapted for pollination by either.’
(Colin Jennings, Newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (South Australia), August 2001).
Long periods of flower, particularly in the winter in Canberra and other cooler regions, can keep both insects and birds alive.
Eremophilas in pots
Eremophilas work well in pots. I have a group of nine Eremophila ‘Desert Passion’ in planters near the front door which flower well. I have also had many years of growing Erermophila ‘Yana Road’ in a pot. When I tried to transplant it into the garden it died. My experience is that many eremophilas resent being moved. However, the ‘super’ plant Erermophila maculata ‘Aurea’ was originally ripped from the ground and discarded, before being resurrected and moved to another position where it thrives many years later, so not all eremophilas baulk at being moved.
Eremophilas make useful hedges. In the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden near Port Augusta, there are some small display gardens which feature eremophila hedges. Both the blue flowering, grey leaved Eremophila hygrophana and red flowered, green leaved Eremophila maculata brevifolia were clipped very successfully into low hedges and were mobbed by feasting honeyeaters. They can also be used as larger screening plants to boost the bird and insect life in your garden.
Eremophilas are useful plants in garden design. Eremophilas, like most garden plants, appreciate judicious watering, pruning and fertilising to encourage them to put on their best display in the garden. They grow in a wide variety of habitats and conditions and can be used in many ways in the garden, hedges, groundcovers, screens and shrubs. They will attract both insects and birds to your garden.
Some of my favourite larger Eremophila plants are:
Eremophila alternifolia for its deep pink bloom and long flowering period;
Eremophila alternifolia x Myoporum platycarpum for its delicate pink flowers;
Eremophila bignoniifolia x alternifolia ‘Meringur Isaac’ for its large pink/purple flowers;
Eremophila bignoniifolia x polyclada ‘Big Poly’ for its spotted lilac flowers;
Eremophila bignoniifolia x viscida ‘Meringur Midnight’ for its large dark purple flowers and long green leaves;
Eremophila calorhabdos for its upright form and bright pink flowers;
Eremophila dempsteri for its dense flowering habit in pink and white and
Eremophila longifolia for its dusty pink flowers contrasting beautifully with the grey-green leaves. The fruit of Eremophila longifolia are eaten by emus, useful knowledge if you happen to have emus in your garden.
Great Eremophila groundcovers
Eremophila biserrata with its perky orange flowers;
Eremophila ‘Belalla Gold’ for its bright yellow flowers over a long period;
Eremophila glabra ‘Fruit Salad’ for its bright orange and yellow flowers and
Eremophila glabra ‘Roseworthy’ for its flat habit, dense flowering and even spread of foliage.
Long flowering small Eremophila shrubs
Eremophila ‘Beryl’s Blue’ with glorious blue flowers and stunning grey foliage;
Eremophila calorhabdos x denticulata, a non-stop performer with bright pink flowers;
Eremophila decipiens with fine bright green foliage and brilliant red flowers;
Eremophila ‘Fairy Floss’ orange buds, pink flowers, and never stops blooming;
Eremophila glabra ‘Rottnest Emu Bush’ with pleasing contrast between red flowers and green foliage;
Eremophila glabra ‘Steep Point Green’ with even brighter red flowers;
Eremophila glabra subsp. albicans (orange) for its cheerful orange flowers;
Eremophila maculata apricot form obtained from Port Augusta Nursery and our best performing plant, one that we have propagated many times;
Eremophila maculata ‘Aurea’ and Eremophila maculata brevifolia for their all year-round performance;
Eremophila maculata ‘Compact Lemon’ with lovely lemon flowers on a neat bush;
Eremophila maculata ‘Elf’, a compact bush with pink flowers whose foliage turns burgundy in winter in Canberra;
Eremophila maculata (purple), sometimes called ‘Thundercloud’, with large purple flowers;
Eremophila maculata x viscida, a vigorous bush with masses of mauve flowers;
Eremophila oldfieldii ‘Honeyeater Cheer’ with bright green foliage and tons of orange flowers beloved by spinebills;
Eremophila oppositifolia ‘Hardy Harry’ with lovely grey foliage and white flowers over a long period;
Eremophila racemosa with orange buds and pink flowers, and
Eremophila ‘Yana Road’ with a pleasing contrast between grey foliage and pink flowers.
Where to find eremophilas
I have purchased eremophilas from more than twenty different sources over the years, as well as receiving many as gifts from propagating friends. Most have come from sources close to Canberra such as Yarralumla native plants sale, Stocks Native Nursery, Heritage Nursery and Australian Native Plants Society Canberra sale, but some from Australian Native Plants South Australia, and nurseries such as Belair, Port Augusta, Maffra, Kuranga, Goldfields and Sunvalley.
Try some eremophilas in your garden design – they are surprisingly adaptable to a variety of garden conditions and make a great design contribution to your garden.
By Ros Walcott, photos by Ben Walcott
Ben Walcott is President of ANPSA and heads the Garden Design Study Group and Ros Walcott is the Garden Design Study Group’s Newsletter Editor. This article was amended from its original publication, ‘Taking a chance on eremophilas’ in the Garden Design Study Group Newsletter 97, February 2017, pp.7-11.