Get a glimpse of Australia through its native plants

Kangaroos anyone? How about hebes, phormiums and disease-free roses? Australia and New Zealand are two places that have not only become sources of great new garden plants but also become top destinations for garden and nature-loving travelers.

  • Friday, May 2, 2008 6:00am
  • Life

Kangaroos anyone? How about hebes, phormiums and disease-free roses?

Australia and New Zealand are two places that have not only become sources of great new garden plants but also become top destinations for garden and nature-loving travelers. Blame part of the boom in New Zealand travel on “The Lord of the Rings” movies. Finally the whole world can see why these lush, green islands are like no place else in the world.

Weird-looking animals, geographical oddities like thermal holes and volcanoes, flightless birds and more flowers, foliage and blooming plants than any gardener could imagine or naturalist could classify.

So this spring, when six inches of snow fell on top of my blooming daffodils, I knew it was time for a do-over. Yes, the best part about visiting New Zealand and Australia in the fall is that on the other side of the world you get to enjoy a second spring.

If you’d like to join our small group this November as we tour English-style gardens with rhododendrons, tulips and wisteria in full bloom, tropical gardens with tree ferns, parrots and orchids and seek out bird sanctuaries, wineries and mountain ghost towns then contact Enumclaw Travel at 360-825-6186 or e-mail me. Spring should be sweeter the second time around, ­ and we’ll be exploring this continent just before Thanksgiving ­ when it will be ablaze with spring color.

Gardeners love New Zealand because the climate is similar to ours but the native plants and animals are so very different. Our tour will begin with 12 days on a cruise ship to make the best use of our time. We¹ll stop at the very English town of Christchurch which boasts cathedrals, rose gardens and tea rooms galore. If you’ve ever wanted to visit Scotland, the New Zealand city of Dunedin was settled by the Scotch, the dialect is still full of a brogue and we’ll be visiting a Scottish castle and the acres of formal gardens that surround it.

Then there is Auckland. This shining city on the sea is set among emerald-green mountains with so much natural beauty that even Seattleites gasp at the setting. Auckland is the garden city we’ll explore for two days before boarding our ship. We’ll sample the fresh cuisine that is built around seafood and fruits and get used to the wonderful form of English that New Zealanders (or “kiwis”) speak. New Zealand also is home to the Maori people, the native South Pacific Islanders that were there before the English.

I’ve been tipped off about some incredible private gardens in Australia and New Zealand so our group will glean great ideas for improving their own gardens. Although many of these private gardens are very large ­ more private estate-style than backyard patios ­ you don’t have to join our tour to capture the same mix of tropical delight and English formality that makes up this garden style. By visiting a local nursery you can collect plants from Australia and New Zealand into a single container or group them into a compact pocket garden. Here are the top four plants that celebrate the gardens of Australia and New Zealand ­ so you can pot up a kangaroo-theme garden of your own.

New Zealand Flax

or Phormiums

Dramatic and evergreen, these spiky plants first came in bronze and green shades but now you’ll find pink, red and striped versions that survive our cold and wet Puget Sound winters. Look for the Sundowner and Sunset varieties with more red and pink in the foliage. Use phormiums as accent plants for perennial gardens or as a “thriller” or centerpiece plant for a container.


Another New Zealand native that loves our cool summers and rewards with sprays of purple blooms. Hebes can be sheared after blooming and pruned to be kept tidy but these evergreens are naturally compact so they make excellent low hedges or filler plants in a container garden. Hebe Patty’s Purple has the biggest blooms but Hebe Red Edge is rounded and low with a distinctive crimson border on each leaf.

Flower Carpet Rose

This is the almost impossible-to-kill shrub rose introduced by Australia’s Anthony Tesselaar, the plant breeder who changed the way we grow and market new plants. Flower Carpet roses act like evergreen shrubs in our climate, bloom all summer and never need spraying for disease. Grow them in large pots or as large shrubs in the ground. Flower Carpet roses come in shades of pink, white and yellow but my favorite is the vivid coral color that blooms for seven months of the year in my garden.

Festival Grass Cordyline

Another introduction from Tesselaar, this red-leaved grassy plant has spreading foliage and a deep rich color that makes it a great bedmate or pot companion for gray or yellow foliage plants. Festival Grass will not survive our freezing winters, but small plants grow large very quickly so Festival Grass brings an energetic, party atmosphere whereever it is planted. It can handle high heat and light shade, resists insects and disease and is very forgiving if you forget to water. Party on Australia – Festival Grass is a lot like the Australian people themselves ­ with a more relaxed and playful attitude that seems to shout “No worries, mate.”

We can learn a lot from the gardening styles on the other side of the world.

There are Scottish, English and Hawaiian influences on design in New Zealand; in Australia we’ll be reminded of Africa when our group visits the mystical Blue Mountains near Sydney while the Hunter Valley wineries are

reminiscent of Tuscany.

Did I mention we’ll stop in Fiji for a few days to break up the flight home? The plant material from this tropical island is already adding an island punch to western Washington landscapes. Ti plants, orchids and palms can be grown indoors and out. The world is a beautiful place to explore and transplanting all this beauty is as easy as a trip to the nursery.

Send questions for Marianne Binetti to P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. For a personal reply, enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Her e-mail address is

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