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Gardens and plants from down under!

Much of the time, we take our trees and plants for granted, never thinking too deeply about where they are from.  I have mentioned the importance of native plants in several previous blogs but in our modern Irish landscape, we see plants from every part of the world.

One of the most striking plant groups are those from the Antipodes (continent of Australia and New Zealand). When we think of Australian plants, possibly the best known is the Eucalyptus for its striking bark and grey-blue foliage and bright flowers.  Many large Eucalyptus trees are visible along stretches of road in County Wicklow (photo above taken in Mount Usher gardens).

There are many other Australian plants that thrive in the Ireland and the UK thanks to the similar climate experienced on the East Coast of Australia, in Tasmania and New Zealand.

The history of plant discoveries is fascinating and requires detailed study that can’t be covered here.  However, it is worth noting that many of the plants were initially procured by botanist Sir Joseph Banks during the course of Captain Cook’s voyage in the late eighteenth century and a huge collection was brought back to England of these marvelous new plants.  Here in Ireland, an extensive collection of Tasmanian  plants was amassed by the Lord Milo Talbot at Malahide Castle gardens and these are now available to visit, as the grounds are open to the public.

Some Australian plants that we can see growing in our gardens, parks and also used in landscaping projects are listed at the foot of this blog.  Here, I would like to concentrate on two of the best known, the Acacia and Eucalyptus.

Acacia species

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Acacia melanoxylon – a small, quick growing tree – this one growing in Kilruddery, Co. Wicklow.  Young feathery foliage gradually gives way to knife-shaped phyllodes

Acacia species (aka Wattles) are a significant component of the Australian bush woodlands.  In Australia, they are found in all sorts of different climatic zones including very wet areas, dry areas and those near the sea.  They are part of the legume family (Fabaceae) – pea-like, with have evergreen foliage, some ferny in appearance, others with elongated leaves.  They have fragrant yellow flowers.  Hardier species will survive temperatures of -10 to -5˚C for short periods, especially if the soil is well drained. However, it is best to site them in full sun or they may develop a poor root system. A spot sheltered from cold winds is also essential so here in Ireland this can be restrictive.  Some types that you can consider growing include:

  1. Acacia baileyana (Cootamundra wattle) – a shrub or small tree with fern-like, silvery-grey leaves; subtle yellow raceme flowers can appear at Christmas and carry on into spring (perhaps the most beautiful of the wattles.) There is also a purple leaved cultivar ‘Purpurea’.
  2. Acacia dealbata (Mimosa, Silver Wattle)known as Mimosa to flower arrangers. Evergreen tree, 15m tall. Silvery, fern-like leaves and jolly racemes of yellow flowers in winter.
  3. Acacia pravissima (Oven`s wattle) – Shrub or small tree with slender, gracefully arching branches. It`s worth growing for its foliage which is razor-wire like in appearance or like shark fins. Yellow, honey-scent flowers appear in late winter and spring. Not a particularly hardy species, but excellent in sheltered spots in town gardens.
  4. Acacia retinodes (Wirilda) – A large spreading evergreen shrub to 6m, with narrowly lance-shaped, leaf-like phyllodes and spherical lemon yellow flowerheads in late summer that persist into winter. Suits urban and coastal districts and is more tolerant of limy soils than many acacias, but needs warm and sheltered spot.

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Eucalyptus species

Probably the most symbolic plant of the Australian continent.  Part of the Myrtaceae family, these plants display a great adaptation to living in a range of habitats.  Many Eucalyptus become very stately specimen trees in the right location, making an excellent focal point. They add structure to the winter garden with interesting evergreen foliage, architectural habit and beautiful bark.  They can also be part of woodland areas.  Some varieties to choose from include:

  • Eucalyptus perriniana (Spinning Gum) – A small tree dark with a white sheen. Juvenile leaves eventually dry out and then spin around the stem. Elegant adult leaves are long, drooping, sickle shaped, and a gorgeous blue-green colour. Can be grown in a patio pot on your terrace or as a specimen in the garden.
  • Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila (Snow Gum) – It is best known for its beautiful bark – green, grey, cream and silver create a marble effect. A relatively small tree is worth growing for its evergreen grey-green leaves, and its fluffy clusters of a white summer flowers. Hardy and slower growing to 10 m tall. A splendid ornamental tree for high altitude or coastal exposed locations and ordinary gardens. One that I have successfully grown myself.  Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp. niphophila planted with a row of Ilex aquifolium in front produces a robust, stylish and effective privacy screen.
  • Eucalyptus coccifera (Tasmanian Snow Gum, Mount Wellington peppermint) – Very attractive bark detail. Beautifully coloured, interesting shaped foliage with peppermint -scented, creamy-white flowers open in summer. This plant can make a distinctive evergreen hedge or screen, but is also used as focal point in the garden.
  • Eucalyptus glaucescens (Tingiringi Gum) – An excellent variety that is both versatile, beautiful and extremely hardy. It makes a very attractive nicely-shaped specimen tree, both in the juvenile and adult stages of growth (12m to 20m tall).

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List of Australian plants:

  • Acacia
  • Eucalyptus
  • Correa reflexa, Correa backhouseana, Correa `Mannii`, Correa pulchella (Australian fuschia)
  • Sollya heterophylla (Bluebell creeper)
  • Schefflera actinophylla (Octopus Tree)
  • Muehlenbeckia complexa (Australian ivy)
  • Pelargonium `Australian Mystery`
  • Cyathea australis (Hill Tree-Fern)
  • Dicksonia Antarctica (Soft Tree Fern)
  • Ficus rubiginosa (Port Jackson fig)
  • Acacia baileyana (Cootamundra wattle), Acacia parvisissima (Oven`s Wattle)
  • Plectranthus argentatus (Silver Spurflower)
  • Xerochrysum bracteatum (Everlasting Flower)
  • Callistemon sp. (Bottlebrush)
  • Leptospermum scoparium (Tea Tree `Kiwi`)
  • Grevillea rosmarinifolia (Rosmary Grevillea), Grevillea juniperina f. sulphurea
  • Dicksonia Antarctica
  • Crassula helmsii
  • Acaena novae-zelandiae
  • Haloragis micrantha
  • Juncus planifolius
  • Eucryphia milliganii
  • Acradenia frankliniae (Whitey wood)

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Text inspired by my colleague’s visit to Tasmania and some sources:

Garden magazine Dec. 2016 (article by James Armitage on acacias)



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