Master Gardeners: Aussie love affair keeps blooming

There seems to be two types of gardeners: those who live for flowers, and those who relish the texture and intrigue of foliage. For me, the leaves win.

Don’t get me wrong, flowers are fantastic. But there’s nothing like eye-popping foliage combinations to keep the garden interesting. It’s sort of like finding the perfect mate. If you fall for that gorgeous show-off, you may find that your love affair is short-lived. But if you find someone who’s consistently engaging, you may have just found yourself a keeper.

My love affair began somewhere along the way at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens at Strybing Arboretum. While walking through the Australian section I became entranced with the gorgeous drapery created by a large and graceful weeping ovens wattle (acacia pravissima), then charmed by the adjacent Seuss-like royal hakea (hakea victoria), looking like a startled cabbage. Turning around I saw lush groupings of some mysterious dark green, thick-leaved plants with bright blue berries on display and wondered to myself, “Can I try growing these at home?” My heart was captured.

 More and more Australian plants are finding their way into our nurseries and demonstration gardens. It is essential, of course, to import only noninvasive plants that play nicely with our natives and other Mediterranean climate plants. Purchasing plants from a responsible source is paramount.

Here is a guide to some Australian plants that may be useful in your garden:

What if you’re looking for something a little larger, perhaps a small tree? I’ve developed a particular affection for the hugely misunderstood acacia, or wattle, as they say Down Under. Say the word Acacia and many people shrink back in horror, visions of tissue boxes and invasive yellow plants coming to mind. The  lists only two species, silver wattle (acacia dealbata) and Australian blackwood (acacia melanoxylon) to be invasive here. There are more than 1,000 species of these beautiful shrubs and trees, many of them gorgeous, noninvasive, low water use and not necessarily allergenic. Olives and pines tend to be a more common source of allergens. Pines start releasing pollen at the same time Acacia blooms, thereby perpetuating another myth associated with Acacia.

Looking for a quick way to screen out an unattractive view? Instead of using the often uncontrollable and messy bamboo, why not try a wispy and delicate willow wattle (acacia iteaphylla)? They move with the slightest breeze, creating a softly dynamic element to the garden.

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