Planting with New Zealand Native Plants

Something unique distinguishes New Zealand native bush from any other flora worldwide. Helping clients integrate this feeling into a garden planting scheme is what my design service does best. Not only can a well designed scheme look great, it can also provide an excellent habitat for native NZ wildlife and go some way to help address the loss of so much of our native bush over the years.

By utilising our hugely diverse native flora a good planting design can cope with almost any site conditions; exposed planting, dry or wet planting, coastal planting, ground cover planting, steep sections…

Discussed below are just a few of the most distinctive native garden plants which we could use in your planting plan - maybe this will give you a taste for New Zealand's unique plant forms and how they could make your landscaping project come alive.


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More photos of - Cordyline australis, Southern cabbage tree, ti kouka

Pseudopanax crassifolius

Pachystegia insignis

Pseudowintera colorata 'Red Leopard'

Cyathea medullaris

Cyathea medullaris

Astelia fragrans

Cortaderia richardii

NZ Native Trees

A garden design without trees will often seem flat, lacking an important upright structural dimension. Indigenous New Zealand trees have provided a backbone for many impressive planting designs; not surprising considering their range of forms and unique characteristics.

Most people from outside New Zealand are familiar with our native Cordyline australis (cabbage tree or ti kouka) which makes a striking architectural statement in many gardens. You might think it too common for your planting design, but like so many other native plants it grows so happily in the harshest of environments you'd need a good reason not to consider it as a garden plant.

With its very striking young leaves, Pseudopanax crassifolius (horoeka or lancewood) has instant impact. A tree endemic to New Zealand (native to NZ only) with prehistoric foliage that speaks for itself!

Another NZ endemic tree is Metrosideros excelsa (NZ Christmas tree or pohutukawa). The red flowers are stunning in summer and an excellent nectar source for visiting birds and insects. For those who lack space for a 15m fully grown specimen I have often included the more shrubby species and cultivars in garden planting plans.

A favourite of mine Hoheria populnea (lacebark or houhere) can make a fine small specimen tree. It also makes a dense informal boundary hedge covered in starry white flowers in late summer.

Add a sub-tropical dimension to your planting design with Meryta sinclairii (puka). A small compact tree with very bold foliage.

NZ Native Shrubs

Possibly the largest group of native New Zealand plants - the variety available for use in your planting design is enormous.

The majority of NZ shrubs are evergreen (retaining at least some leaves all year round), so if trees provide the back-bone to your design, the shrubby under planting can bring it all together with foliage textures and colours, plus vibrant flower and fruiting interest.

Pachystegia insignis (Marlborough daisy) is smothered with white daisy-like flowers in summer. Even the autumn seed-heads can look awesome on a sunny June day.

Myrsine divaricata (weeping matipou) is a classic example of a divaricating shrub. This plant form is unique to native NZ flora, forming a characteristic weeping tangled mesh of branches - looks great planted beside contrasting lush foliage plants.

Hebe salicifolia (koromiko) is just one of a huge selection of native Hebe shrubs bursting into flower in summer. If you add on all the new cultivar varieties bred by dedicated NZ nurserymen I could almost be tempted to fill a garden design with nothing else!

Carmichaelia odorata (NZ native scented broom, maukoro) smells great, flowers for ages and is smothered in insects. That will help attract a great array of wildlife back into the garden.

Pseudowintera colorata 'Red Leopard' (pepper wood) has amazing evergreen foliage. I am keen to include cultivated NZ native plant forms in my planting designs - after all, they're just carefully selected natural variants of native plants. Although for purist clients I am willing to relent this habit!

NZ Native Ferns

New Zealand's tree ferns and ground ferns make up a very distinctive part of the NZ native flora and no planting design would be complete without them.

Tree ferns form a trunk - hence their name - and look great planted in groups. The commonest native bush tree fern is Cyathea medullaris (black tree fern, mamaku). It can reach 20m tall.

Slightly smaller is Cyathea dealbata (silver fern or ponga) a beautiful fern with striking silvery-white frond undersides - this plant is New Zealand's national emblem.

Dicksonia fibrosa is a smaller, slow growing variety that suits garden planting schemes with more limited space.

There are many ground ferns which are invaluable for adding soft foliage textures to your planting design, under planting shrubs and trees, or as ground cover. Blechnum discolor (crown fern) is a versatile native fern and a favourite of mine in garden planting designs. The unfurling fronds look especially stunning.

NZ Native Grass / Flax

NZ grasses and flax-like plants are very versatile must-haves for any NZ native garden. Whether dry or wet, sunny or shady there's a NZ grass that will grow well and look great.

Astelia fragrans (bush flax or kakaha) is a common forest-floor NZ native with great architectural bold foliage. A definite asset for your planting plan as ground cover, under planting trees or combining with other grasses and ferns. You can't miss the bright orange autumn berries on female plants.

A great native plant for providing shelter or height at the back of a planting design is Cortaderia richardii (toetoe cutty grass). I just love the contrast of fluffy, waving flowers against the harsh, drooping leaves.

Our native Phormium tenax (New Zealand Flax) is now commonly cultivated throughout the world. If the species is too common for you, it would be hard to dislike the myriad of different coloured cultivar varieties now available. Great as specimen plants in your garden design, or combined with other native grasses and shrubs.

Libertia peregrinans (New Zealand iris) fits especially well into a garden plan where conditions are harsh or soil is poor - those orange leaves look even more vivid when the plant is stressed.

Chionochloa flavicans (snow tussock grass) I love planting this one in long swathes, watching the flowers cascade onto a path or over a wall.

Metrosideros excelsa

Hoheria populnea

Meryta sinclairii

Myrsine divaricata

Hebe salicifolia

Carmichaelia odorata

Cyathea dealbata

Dicksonia fibrosa

Phormium tenax

Libertia peregrinans

Chionochloa flavicans

All New Zealand horticultural photography taken from my other site: www.nzplantpics.com

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