Designing Landscapes with New Zealand Natives
Designing landscapes using New Zealand Natives celebrates the uniqueness of New Zealand’s native flora and so is deservedly popular. However, it is not always as fail safe as one might think. As with all themed landscapes, when designing with natives or creating a ‘Native Garden’, appropriate plant selection is crucial. Choosing ill-considered species may not create the low maintenance landscapes many people are looking for when using natives.
Size matters. Many residential landscapes lack the space to grow many of our New Zealand natives to full size, so when designing it’s important to consider the mature size of your plant. This is usually not the size on the plant label, which typically shows the expected size at 10 years. As beautiful and graceful as that Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) looks in the garden centre trees a smaller growing Kowhai (Sophora) or marble-leaved Carpodetus serratus (putaputweta) is potentially a better choice size wise.
Conditions also count so even when designing with New Zealand natives, understanding and designing in response to your landscapes unique growing conditions is important. Choosing the right natives removes the need to significantly alter existing garden conditions, which is important to those on a budget or embracing environmentally friendly gardening practices. In New Zealand landscapes clay soils are common. These are prone to water logging and many of our natives don’t like ‘wet feet’, so do your research. Adaptable natives provide a greater chance of success so when designing consider plants that cope with both wet and dry such as small green flax Phormium ‘Emerald Gem’, Oioi, Manuaka and our iconic Cabbage tree Cordyline australis.
New Zealand Natives are natural contenders when designing landscapes such as bush settings or alpine rock gardens which echo the patterns and forms of nature however natives are equally at home in formal and contemporary New Zealand landscapes. Designing with natives in these settings usually takes the form of using plants in a more sculptural way especially if you are seeking to achieve a modern ‘architectural’ aesthetic. Nikau, cabbage trees and lancewoods such as Psedopanax ferox (toothed lancewood) have distinct architectural forms that are ideal as single or strategically grouped statement specimens. Sculptural Xeronema callistemon (Poor Knights lily) and Astelia banksia and flax make a smaller but still dramatic statement and are ideal for pots or dry landscapes.
Even if you are designing in a subtropical stye, these landscapes can still be founded on New Zealand natives by using species with bold glossy leaved natives to create a lush, green tropical aesthetic. Tecomanthe speciosa (Three Kings Climber), shrubby Griselinia, Copsrosma and Pseudopanax spp. and bold leaf trees such as large-leaved Meryta sinclarii (Puka) are great choices for tropical landscapes with New Zealand flair. Punch it up with Nikau or tree ferns of differing sizes to provide graceful arching fronds. Then you just need a few exotics for the flamboyant colourful blooms many of our natives lack. If you are willing to put in the effort to keep the hairy black clianthus caterpillars at bay, Clianthus maximus (kakabeak) provides a stunning, bird attracting display of colourful, flowers. This is an endangered species worthy of our efforts to preserve.
Many other New Zealand natives are also abundant in nectar rich flowers, along with seeds, berries and fruits all of which are great for enticing native birds into your garden, along with bees and butterflies. The type of birds attracted will depend on their feeding habits so planting native species occurring naturally in your area contributes to what is known as a ‘green corridor’, the route native birds travel across the populated areas between your garden and nearby bush.