Making the most of what nature has given you is half the battle in our tempremental climate, so embrace native plants like the head gardeners at Kings Park do, and make the job of tending a thriving garden a piece of cake.
In a climate as diverse as WA’s, tending to a garden can be one of the last things people feel like doing. With scorching summer temperatures and plenty of rainfall over winter and spring this year in particular, it can all seem a bit too hard.
Creating an outdoor sanctuary Don Burke would be proud of is achievable, but it does take some preparation according to Kings Park and Botanic Garden’s senior curator Grady Brand.
He’s been working at Kings Park for 35 years and tending to WA’s most beautiful garden and premier tourist attraction is no mean feat. There are close to 50 staff and horticultural students maintaining the lawns, trees and gardens and a specialist team to look after the bushland.
Even though WA enjoys a Mediterranean climate, Brand says that “previous embracing of European flora is no longer a sustainable approach”
In other words, native plants are the best option.
“They have been here for millions of years and have evolved to growing and coping with the climate. You don’t have to teach them anything, they’re made for it,” he says.
“It’s just selecting those that can grow in your garden well and will flower well and be able to be pruned. They’re designed for WA.”
While native plants are an ideal choice to spruce up your garden, one of the most common mistakes people make with them is not tending to them enough and Brand says that “there’s no such thing as a ‘no care’ garden, because it will end up looking like a ‘don’t care’ garden”.
“I think the main misconception is that they don’t need care and they don’t need water.”
“I suppose all gardens take time and effort to maintain and present. If you don’t mind your garden looking a bit unruly or a little bit wild then yes, you don’t have to do as much caretaking. But if you want them to look like well-kept gardens that people are in love with… those things just mean you spend time doing it.”
Planning is the key for any native garden, and Brand suggests doing plenty of research before starting on your own mini Kings Park.
“Take photos of plants, read about them. There’s a lot of information available today on the Kings Park website about what you can grow at home,” he says.
“Throughout any suburb, I can see the gardens that are cared for and those that aren’t. It’s the same in a native garden; you can see a wild one and you can see one that’s cared for.”
Kings Park’s Backyard Botanicals near Zamia Café is a good starting off point according to Brand
“There are a lot of areas in Kings Park that are quite grand – million dollar views – a lot of people go, ‘I couldn’t do that at home’. So what we chose to do was build a garden of a scale that people could relate to.
"It’s a garden designed for people to identify with.
“All of the plants that are in the Backyard Botanicals are available commercially and are really tried and proven plants to cater for a wide range of varying-skilled people. This range of plants is for everybody.”
Brand finds it difficult to name his favourite native species as “there’s 12,000-odd in Western Australia” alone.
“There are so many to choose from but I think some of the ones that really excite me would be the qualup bell (pimelea physodes), and the black and green kangaroo paw. The black kangaroo paw is one that is just so bizarre, I think they’re pretty delightful.
“For kangaroo paws, this is their home – the only place on Earth they grow – so they’re pretty special. I am drawn to those [plants] that only grow in WA. The qualup bell is a little bit more for the specialist gardener as is perhaps the black kangaroo paw, but the kangaroo paw range is a highly commercialised, hybridised species – there is a kangaroo paw for everybody really.”
If it all seems a bit too hard, Brand says the best thing to do is get some “sound advice” from a professional.
“The top place to go to is a landscape architect,” he says.
“They’re a little bit like the physician of the medical world, the top, highly trained person that will get the design elements within your garden.”
And does he practice what he preaches at home?
“We live in Fremantle and we bought a house that had very mature Australian native trees, so it’s a very shady garden,” he says.
“There’s not a huge range of West Australian plants that you can grow in shade, they much prefer the full sun, so we have lots of Australian natives but more [of the] ones that prefer the shade.”
For Brand, his garden is just as important as the rest of his home.
“It’s a bit like designing your house. I would say there’s equally as much enjoyment and need for a similar design and effort on your garden. Often for people the garden is where the money runs out; they spend all their dough on the house and to me, the indoor and the outdoor is one and the same.
“Those things make a house a home.”
Grady Brand’s top tips for a creating native garden
What do people need to assess in their garden before starting out?
The key things are the aspect: where is the sun? Does it have any influences from other houses? What’s in the ground? Where’s the deep sewerage?
Understand how a plant will grow and what it will look like in maturity so you don’t cause neighbour issues with your planting. Think through how that garden will look in the future.
It’s also about site preparation, making sure you get really good quality plants – not el cheapo ones, they just won’t really work for you.
Make sure you’ve got the right watering system for the garden. Group your plants in with a common water use: those that are similar, put them together – group them according to their needs.
Make sure that the soils you bring in are from an accredited supplier so you’re not bringing a disease in from somewhere else. Your soil improvers or your mulches should be from properly accredited sources that are disease-free.
The Friends of Kings Park is a voluntary group that work in Kings Park and they have four plant sales annually. There’s a range of plants that are uncommonly available within the nursery trade and provide a niche opportunity to people to get a little bit of Kings Park for their home garden.