Going Formal with Natives

Contrary to popular belief, native plants can be used to create spectacular results in formal gardens.

Formal gardens are gardens with well-defined lines and strong structure. Plants are often used in geometric layout with the use of clipped and stylized plant forms such as hedges and topiary to define and link elements within the garden. Sculptures, statues and water features are used to create focal points and interest in the garden.

Creative pruning of native rosemary in a formal garden

Formal gardens evolved based on symmetry and the principle of imposing order over nature. Classical formal gardens, idealised by many, require enormous resources and commitment to sustain and maintain them. They are becoming less popular in todays world where sustainability and the love and respect of nature are key motivating forces.

Semi formal gardens are now more popular than the classical formal garden. Soft curves are replacing straight and rigid lines with formality and dominance of nature being achieved using creative pruning and bold statements.  Blending the formal and the informal to achieve flow and harmony creates a garden that provides nourishment for the soul to recharge and energise in todays busy and complex world.

Traditionally, very few native plants were used when creating formal gardens, with popular belief being that natives are unsuitable for formal gardens.  For some irrational reason, many devotees of formal gardens actually actively discourage friends and colleagues from using native plants in their gardens.

Many people are now creating formalised gardens using native plants and reaping the benefits.Water wise native plants that are suited to the local environment not only reduce maintenance in the garden they also assist in maintaining and enhancing nature. Benefits include reduced financial costs, reduced labour (therefore more free time to enjoy your garden or pursue other lifestyle activities) and an abundance of bird song and activity in the garden.

Creative pruning using curves rather than straight lines provides more impact (or statement of design) than straight angular hedges or screens. A good example of this is this months photo I have chosen of a native rosemary which screens an underground rainwater tank and an associated pump etc.

To maximise flowering displays in the garden, limit the number of intensively pruned hedges and borders and achieve formality with annual or biannual pruning. Intensive pruning is when undertaken more than twice a year and biannual pruning is undertaken every 2 years.

Another way to achieve formality in the landscape rather than by intensive pruning is by using mass planting of single species and creating layered heights in garden beds. To achieve this function, bold displays of foliage colours are used as well as flowers. Annual or biannual pruning of these displays is required to retain formality.

An abundance of long lived native plant species and their cultivars are suitable for hedging and topiary. These species include bottle bush, lilly pillies, tea trees, banksias, paperbarks, kunzeas and native daphne. Some of my favourite plants suitable for formal gardens.

Please find below some native plants which I regularly use to intensively prune to create formality in gardens.

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Acacia pravissima Little Nugget Great form and lovely lime green foliage
Acmena smithii mini pilly Great alternative for camellia’s
Banksia marginata Bright A compact form of a local banksia with grey green foliage.
Callistemon Anzac White Great low growing bottlebrush with white flowers.
Callistemon Pandy Pink Bottlebrush with soft, fine foliage and pink flowers.
Callistemon Endeavour A great alternative to Photinia’s.
Callistemon Little John This bottlebrush produces red flowers and keeps to below 1m
Grevillea Forest Rambler A spreading Grevillea with peach flowers
Grevillea John Evans Great form of one of our local grevillea’s
Grevillea rosmarinifolia nana Tough dwarf form of one of our local grevilleas
Grevillea Scarlet Sprite A dwarf free flowering grevillea
Kunzea Snowman A great plant to substitute traditional box hedges
Leptospermum Cardwell Low growing tea tree with soft copper coloured new growth
Leptospermum Mesmer Eyes Compact form of tea tree with large pale pink flowers
Leptospermum Rudolf Tea tree variety with an abundance of deep pink flowers. Very tough.
Native Rosemary (Westringia sps) A number of varieties for almost all situations
Philotheca Cascade of Stars Compact form of wax flower producing a mass of white flowers
Philotheca Profusion Masses of white flowers over winter/spring.
Philotheca Winter Rogue A very tight free flowering form of wax flower


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