I was at a big family party on the weekend and got chatting to someone about gardens, and in particular about plants. This isn’t altogether a new experience, it happens often in my line of work. Most people have a garden, or at least a few pot plants on their balcony that they love and like to have a chat about. It’s a great conversation topic. I particularly like chatting to Michael (my Saturday night conversationalist), not only does he have a fabulous garden at home, but, as a teacher he is also responsible for the gardens and environmental education at the school he teaches at.
Whenever I sit down and have a chat to Michael, I always come away with some new ideas or questions to answer. The question he left me pondering on Saturday night was not at all earth shattering, and the answer isn’t going to save the world, but it had me stumped.
What is your favourite plant right now?
Simple question really, but one that still has me trying to come up with an answer. Michael was telling me that he had discovered Bromeliads. He loved their easy nature and unique and interesting look. The ease with which they could be reproduced, spread and shared had him waxing lyrical. For a school teacher trying to produce the best gardens possible for his students, Bromelliads were a perfect plant.
But what was my favourite? I do have a few, or should I say a lot. I’m a firm believer in the right plant in the right place philosophy, and won’t try to force something to grow when it just doesn’t feel at home. Asking a landscape architect what their favourite plant is is a bit like asking an artist their favourite colour. While there is a leaning towards certain species, we need to love them all to achieve our design outcomes.
As I ummed and ahhed my way around an answer I think I left Michael a little underwhelmed. So, Michael if you’re reading this (and yes, Deb you should show him!) here’s your answer.
I have two types of favourite plants, the ones I love with my heart, that make me smile and invoke happy memories, and those that I love with my head, that are reliable and always perform as they should. I’ve written about a few of them already, and will write about the others in the future, so will link to them as the profiles are written, but for now I’ll just tell you why they make my heart or head smile.
I’m a sucker for a good tree. They can make or break a garden, and the right tree in the right place can create a world of it’s own through shade, colour and play opportunities. On the reliability front, I am always recommending Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) and Native Frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum). These rainforest trees are reliable, don’t cause too much grief and are right at home in a small yard. If deciduous is what you’re after then the lovely Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is where I would head. Flowers, form, sculptural, lovely. But ask my heart and it will tell you to look at the gorgeous gum trees. Australian to their core, they bring back memories of bush walks and stories of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. It’s the smooth barked Spotted Gums (Corymbia maculata) and Sydney Blue Gums (Eucalyptus saligna) that I particularly like but it’s the Smooth Barked Apple (Angophora costata) that really makes this Sydney girls heart smile. Uniquely Sydney, this tree’s sculptural and gnarled trunk and branches and it’s smooth pink bark cling to shallow sandstone soil around the harbour and coastal areas.
Yes there is a deciduous tree that makes my heart smile. It’s one that has a lot of people cursing the annual clean up it creates, but personally I see this as a minor inconvenience for the spectacular floral display it puts on each spring. I’m talking About the Jacaranda. I grew up with a jacaranda tree in our small terrace house garden, and seeing them brings back childhood memories.
As for the smaller plants, there are so many that work, but I would be remiss to not mention my shady garden favourite, the Native Violet, or the hardy, and relatively trendy Phormium family, so many colours, so neat and low maintenance. But still I am agonising over what my head is trying to choose as it’s favourite and most reliable plant.
My heart, on the other hand is screaming it knows it’s favourite, and it isn’t reliable, it’s actually
pretty fussy. This plant is not often seen on a design plant schedule, but is magic when you find it in the wild. My favourite plant isn’t one I’d recommend for your garden, but hope that you stumble across when you’re enjoying a quiet bush walk. My all time favourite is the Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi). Another plant with May Gibbs memories, I love it’s subtlety and simplicity. It reminds me of summer holidays down the coast where the vacant lot next to my grandparents house was a meadow of Flannel Flowers and Bracken Fern.
I still don’t think I’ve provided Michael with a clear answer, but at least I’ve tried.
What’s your favourite plant? Is it loved by your heart or head?