Native plants can add structure and balance

Admittedly, I don't have a lot of natives in my garden. But I do have lovely Corokia Frosted Chocolate hedges - which currently need clipping - fabulous silver astelias and hen and chicken ferns, which are one of the best plants for shaded corners. Despite their boring image, there are many natives, especially among the latest cultivars, which will provide a creative gardener with plenty of inspiration and some excellent material to work with.

Developing a strong structure, or “backbone”, in the garden is important. Without it, the garden will fall over – visually, not literally. Structural elements help shape the garden, by outlining and defining the various spaces.

They include hard landscaping – walls, decking etc – and soft landscaping, such as feature trees, background plants, screening and hedging. Winter exposes the structure of the garden, so it’s a great time to determine whether or not your garden has any backbone!

Elegant kowhai is my favourite native feature tree. It not only provides a brilliant display of spring flowers, but attracts hordes of tui as well. For a stronger effect, check out handsome makamaka and titoki, or graceful wineberry and lacebark. When it comes to screening out the neighbours, fast growing is always a good quality!

Go for pretty tree daisy, purple- leaved akeake or good old lemonwood. Internal hedging is an easy way to introduce structure within the garden and create different spaces. Play with shapes and colour for quirky effects using colourful coprosmas, ramarama and variegated pittosporums.

Weave a tapestry

Creating a garden is a bit like weaving a tapestry. But a tapestry shouldn’t have any holes, and neither should a garden! Ground covers not only fill the holes around the edges of the garden – they also suppress weeds.

Planting groups of the same ground cover repetitively throughout the garden also provides an attractive unifying link between different areas, and creates a visually pleasing effect. But instead of going for plain green, be brave and experiment with colour!

Edgings of purple or silver- foliaged piripiri look amazing, especially when teamed with contrasting coloured, mass-planted grasses. Purple-leafed native Geranium ‘Thundercloud’ has beautifully scalloped foliage and teams well with Libertia ‘Gold Finger’. Blue- leafed New Zealand daphne and bronze sand-dune coprosma are other colourful foliage choices, and climbing rata can create a stunning carpet of red flowers in early spring.

Looking up

While you’re examining your garden for structure, take note of any vertical elements. If they’re missing, put some in! Vertical elements fuse ground and sky. They can also help reduce the impact of tall buildings by visually reducing the scale of a building – or conversely, add height without width to a small garden. Trees are the obvious vertical element, but there are few that grow tall and narrow. Lancewoods, some varieties of five finger and nikau are good choices.

Climbers are the other option and more versatile in regards to where they can be grown. Native jasmine and clematis are ideal for lightweight trellis, veranda posts or to disguise an unattractive drainpipe. Climbing rata and Tecomanthe are rather more vigorous and require a strong support. In really limited spaces, climbers can be grown on an obelisk in place of a feature tree. Take another creative look at our native plants and I’m sure you will be inspired!

Hot tips:

  • Tame messy pohuehue and create wonderful accent planting by clipping it into fabulous balls!

  • Take black and white photos of your area. Structural elements will show up clearly as precise shapes and distinctive forms, which as a whole form an organised and appealing picture. If the photos show a mass of messy, indecipherable plants, you will know you need to introduce some more balance!

It’s time to:

  1. Plant broad beans nowfor spring harvest.
  1. Get the frost cloth ready to throw over tender young trees in frost-prone areas.
  1. Dig up and transplant any small evergreen shrubs that require moving.
  1. Look out for new dwarf apple varieties ‘Teacher’s Pet’ and ‘Little Rascal’.
  1. Sow a batch of mesclun before the cold weather sets in.

Make a statement:

All the best gardens are infused with interesting accents, which draw the eye and make a statement by creating contrast. Accents can be anything from a water feature to sculpture. However, adding a few eye-catching plants is by far the easiest – physically and financially!

The architectural form of iconic cabbage trees is a statement in itself. Plant a dash of colour in a tall urn and the effect is captivating. Cream striped ‘Albertii’ remains one of the best, but check out new ‘Choc oint’, ‘Kiwi Dazzler’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Goldilocks’. Stiff-leaved flaxes also make great accents.

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