Winter can be a rather sad time in traditional highland gardens. Adding colour and the sounds of nature to gardens over winter can brighten our lives.
By incorporating colour into the garden during winter we reduce some of the negative impacts winter has on our souls. Traditional highland gardens are geared to provide maximum colour and effect during spring and autumn with winter being a rather drab and dreary affair.
Incorporating native plants into the landscape makes sense, as winter and spring are the times when their flowers are most abundant. Winter can be a difficult time for our native birds. Flowers providing nectar are a valuable food source allowing birds, bees and other beneficial insects to survive through to spring.
Flowering begins early in winter with Banksias and Grevilleas starting the floral display. As winter progresses more species begin flowering with maximum flowering occurring late winter through to summer.
My favourite banksia is the hairpin banksia (Banksia spinulosa). It is an excellent hedging or specimen plant that likes a well -drained soil. An abundance of yellow candle like flowers provides a floral display for many months, attracting many birds.
Grevilleas also begin flowering in early winter. Grevilleas are long flowering and provide valuable habitat and food for small birds. With a good selection of species, flowers bloom for twelve months of the year. I personally use species that grow naturally in the highlands as they are much tougher and longer lived and do not attract as many harmful insects as the bigger flowering varieties originating from tropical and subtropical regions. These varieties generally are shorter lived and require pest and disease control to maintain them in our highland environment.
Wattles (our national floral emblem) are well known and admired for their winter colour. If you have read this statement and reacted with negative thoughts, I suggest you dispel your prejudices and start learning about the numerous species (over one thousand different types of wattles grow in Australia) and their benefits. Wattles can come as ground covers, shrubs or trees. Their lifespan ranges from short lived to species that can grow for hundreds of years. Unfortunately when I mention the word wattle most people visualise the black wattle that has a rather negative reputation.
The waratah flower (our local Shire and our States floral emblem) is big and provides one of the best floral displays. In the past they have been difficult to grow as they have very precise cultural requirements. Fortunately plant breeders have been working for decades to improve their sustainability in gardens. Today there are many cultivars available that are crosses between different species that occur naturally. They are easy to grow and provide unbelievable floral displays that are the envy of many. It is best to seek advice as to which cultivar would be best for your soil type and climatic conditions to achieve maximum effect.
As winter continues many more species begin their flowering cycle. As I have already exceeded my word limit allocated for this article I will have to stop here.
If you are a traditional highland gardener, extend your zone of comfort; bring in the sights and sounds of nature by using native plants that add colour and vitality to our winters.
The photo I have chosen for this article is a simple native floral display of Grevillea and Crowea that greets the volunteers of the Aylmerton Bushfire Brigade as they enter the depot during winter.