Kangaroo paws are hot in California. In coastal gardens they share the sun with succulents, salvias, agapanthus and other heat and salt hardy plants. But here at home, instead of encouraging their fuzzy furry textures, bold, long-lasting colours and towering height into any garden, we tend to categorise them as belonging in a native garden, at home with grevilleas and banksia. It’s a habit of thought that drives Angus Stewart crazy.
Stewart has been breeding kangaroo paws for more than 35 years and reckons he is finally starting to see a change in how local gardeners use them. “We’ve been giving our native plants this status as natives, and they’ve not been seen as garden plants. There’s been this idea that a proper garden is English in style, and perhaps there’s a bit of cultural cringe about including natives in that mix.”
Of course the English style flower garden has always been cheerfully multicultural, featuring plants from around the world, and Stewart thinks that we are finally taking the same approach in our gardens, making choices based on colour and form and texture and what a plant can add to our enjoyment of the garden rather than where it comes from.
As well as ghettoising Australian plants in native gardens, Stewart says we have also been guilty of assuming that native garden plants need no actual gardening. Like any plants, he says, they respond to proper pruning, watering and feeding regimes with better growth, more flowers and longer lives.
Stewart’s new book, ‘The Australian Native Garden: A Practical Guide’ co-written with Melbourne writer A.B Bishop, published this week by Murdoch, addresses some of those cultivation issues. It also offers handy advice on the best available cultivars. When it comes to kangaroo paws, Stewart’s recommendation is for his 2015 releases, called the ‘Landscaper series’. His goal for these plants was ‘tall and tough’. There is one with a lime green flower, an orange with red stems, a yellow with red stems, a two-tone pink and a lovely soft silvery lilac on deeper purple stems. All will tower 1.5-2m.
When the flowers are finished the stems should be cut down to ground level, along with the fan of leaves supporting than stem. In fact the whole plant can be cut down to the ground in late summer to allow for new fresh clean growth. They’ll flower regardless, but give a great show if fed with a slow-release fertiliser formulated for natives in autumn and coming into spring. The only thing that will slow them down is when the clump becomes overcrowded, so every five years or so, it’s a good idea to divide the clump, replant and use the remainder to repeat the effect in other parts of the garden, or share with friends, especially those who don’t have a native garden.