The use of native plants and the ‘Bush Garden’ style truly flourished in Australia in the 1950s and 60s. While Robin Boyd was writing about the compatibility of native plants and modern houses, landscape designers Edna Walling, Gordon Ford and Ellis Stones led the way with gardens of predominantly Australian plants and rustic bush elements.
In his book The Natural Australian Garden, Gordon Ford speaks of a ‘new nationalism’, the breaking of cultural dependence on Britain and Europe and a search for sense of place. Australian gardeners, homeowners and designers were becoming increasingly interested in the traditional bush environment and the use of indigenous plants. Dry gardens with mulch floors replaced English style lawns as an awareness of water conservation and adapting gardens to the Australian climate was increasing (Ford 1999, p38).
Nation-wide promotion of the use of Australian plants was achieved with the creation of the Society for Growing Australian Plants in 1957 and the publication of their journal Australian Plants (which continues today). The journal contained high-quality coloured illustrations which ensured that readers could fully understand the benefits of Australian native plants in the garden (Aitken 2010, p202).
A key element of the bush garden style was utilising existing trees. In this respect the architects of mid-century modern homes played a key role, by designing around the existing environment rather than ignoring it. By retaining significant trees, the house and garden can be set beneath this existing canopy and is already a part of the natural environment.
Australian native plants are varied in their shapes, sizes, colours and textures. They can be used to provide the perfect setting for any thoughtfully designed building and create a private and pleasing environment within our dense urban areas. Being suited to local soil and climate conditions they are sympathetic to natural ecologies and well-suited to water sensitive design.
‘Such a garden encourages an awareness in a micro way, of the macro environment in which we live. The Australian bush engages all the senses. The olfactory pulse of the age-old continent, birds and birdsong can be replicated in the man-made bush garden.’
Gordon Ford (1999, p38)
The following are just a few of the many species available and their benefits within today’s bush gardens.
The gum tree that is the bane of my grandfather “Why would anyone plant a gum tree in their backyard?” is now available in many varieties and cultivars that are suited to any size garden. Eucalyptus and Allocasuarina (She-oaks) provide height, shade, vertical features and their flowers attract native birds.
Well known species such as Melaleuca (Paperbark), Banksia, Acacia (Wattle)and Leptospermum (Tea-tree) can be used to screen boundary fences or divide sections of a garden and provide interest with their varied bark textures, foliage and stunning floral displays.
The many species of Grevillea provide an amazing array of colour and interest in both flowers and foliage and are the perfect feature for any courtyard, mound or garden corner.
Smaller varieties of Banksia are also available and inject colour into a garden with their large flowers and varied foliage.
Smaller shrubs and ground covers
Callistemon (Bottlebrush), Correa (Native Fuchsia) and Westringia (Native Rosemary) are amoung a number of smaller shrubs that again provide an abundance of flowering colour and a variety of form. Westringia and Correa can be planted as a screening or dividing hedge and replicate the roles that were previously taken by Box Hedge or Lavender.
Brachyscome (Native Daisy) is a perfect groundcover for mounds or around rockeries and Viola (Native Violet) is a hardy species that can even be used as a native lawn.
Grasses and Tufting Shrubs
The striking colour and form of the Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos) is a very recognisable Australian native and provides an accent of colour to any garden bed.
Other tufting shrubs and grasses include Lomandra, Dianella and Poa and all can be used in dense planting or as singular elements to soften built features.
One of the true images of Australia in the 1950s, the Xanthorrhoea (Grass-tree) is immediately the feature of a garden.
Aitken, Richard, 2010, The Garden of Ideas – Four Centuries of Australian Style, Melbourne
Ford, Gordon, 1999, Gordon Ford – The Natural Australian Garden, Hawthorn [Victoria]