The Beauty of Natives

Nursery Manager Sandy gives an insight into her 10 favourite underrated natives for the garden, and what makes them so special.

For some people New Zealand native plants are considered to be a bit boring. Of course, a bed of bright cheery summer annuals or beautifully scented spring bulbs can make the heart sing and I have to confess to my current love affair with Dahlias and their many delights.

Fortunately though, more and more gardeners over recent years have been discovering, the perhaps more subtle joy in the beauty and variety of our native species, not just in the forest but in the garden too.

Native  plants can be so exciting and rewarding to garden with once you begin to explore the colours and textures of the many types of foliage and form. From the tropical glossy green of the Griselinia lucida to the structural vertical drama of the lancewood to the soft divaricating pillowy shape of Muehlenbecki aastonii our natives have so much to offer.

Natives can be used in the purist ‘native only’ garden – natural, textural, soothing, and providing food and habitat to our native birds and invertebrates, or, can be enhanced with pops of colour from judiciously chosen complimentary exotic species such a svireya, hibiscus, clivia or gardenia.

Natives are also a great choice for building the strong bones and structure of a mixed garden – rural or urban, and indeed many councils are now specifying the use of natives for new subdivision consents.
Native plants have evolved in the unique New Zealand geological and climatic environment which makes them well adapted to local conditions and usually less prone to pest and disease problems.

I would like to share with you 10 of my favourite underrated native plants that could be a great addition to your garden.

Not all native trees are forest giants! I’d like to begin with 3 small/med trees that I think lend themselves to the proportions and restrictions of the smaller garden, or can compliment larger trees to create interest and texture.

1.   Aristotelia - wineberry - makomako

This a quick growing attractive tree that will reach 3-4 metres in the garden setting. It also responds well to pruning so can be maintained to the desired height and shape.

It has interesting serrated leaf sometimes mottled or with a red underside.In spring the small delicate flowers are white through to red darkening as they age creating a lovely colourful effect. You will need both male and female plants to produce the dark red berries that are a great food resource for birds in summer so its best to plant in a group. Maori used boiled leaves to apply to burns and infected wounds, used the fruit for food/juice and made a blue/black dye.

They are hardy trees tolerant of sun-semi shade, damp soils, wind and frost.Wineberry is naturally a border species so is suited as a quick growing boundary or hedge planting or to create a transition from garden to forest.

 2.   Melicope ternata – wharangi

Wharangi grows to 3-4 meters in the garden setting and naturally forms a closely branched round-topped shrub. The wavy edged leaves give off a lovely citrusy scent when touched.

It has shiny bright limey-green foliage which can be used to lift a border planting and to offset the softer hues of other native foliage. In nature it is found in low and coastal forest and so is suitable for coastal gardens.
Wharangi prefers a position in full sun with fertile well drained soil but is generally tolerant of a broad range of conditions.

3.    Plagianthus regius – ribbonwood – manatu

Ribbonwood grow to 6-8M in the garden setting. They are very quick growing, semi deciduous with a divaricating juvenile form. The adult tree has a larger serrated leaf. They have a small greenish flower, baring male and female flowers on different trees.

It grows naturally from Awanui to Stewart Island. Is coastal hardy and tolerant to wind wet and dry conditions. It has an attractive airy form but can be pruned as desired and is useful as a hedge or boundary tree.

Not all natives are green so I have three of my favourite shrubs to share with you that can offer beautiful colour and texture to any garden.

4.    Pseudowintera colorata – horopito - N.Z pepper tree

This attractive shrub will grow (quite slowly) to about 2metres in your garden. It most outstanding feature are the multi-coloured leaves that can range from olive green to bright red  often with beautiful mottled patterns.

Horopito is quite hardy and requires little maintenance. It will be most colourful in full sun, although can also tolerate shade. It is tolerant of a range of soil conditions but prefers a cool position that is neither extremely dry or wet.
It can also be used as a culinary flavouring or seasoning as it has the highest pepper concentration of any southern hemisphere plant species.The leaves and bark were used medicinally by Maori for skin conditions and toothache.

5.    Coprosma virescens

A slender shrub growing up to2m the coprosma virescens has a beautiful soft divaricating habit with orangey gold stems and tiny bright green leaves. It can form interesting sculptural shapes and contrasts nicely against lush tropical foliage such as griselinea or puka.

Virescens can tolerate a range of conditions wind, full sun, semi shade with its main dislikes being for very wet soils and heavy shade. It can be pruned and shaped. Also grows happily in a pot.

6.    Corokia cotoneaster – wire netting bush

Corokia are a species of shrub with a large range of colour and textural variations from the olive green of Geentys green to the dark brown of frosted chocolate and even a variegated form called sun splash.

My favourite is the cotoneaster which has densely tangled divaricating branches. Its stunning black stems and soft grey growing tips are very textural. If that isn’t enough it also becomes covered in tiny bright yellow flowers followed by bright red berries which can light up the plant for many months.

It will grow to about 1.5 m.and may be trimmed to shape or clipped to formal hedge or even topiary shapes.
Corokia are very tough and tolerant of extremely dry and windy conditions.Apart from very wet soils it will grow happily in any full sun or semi-shade site.

By selecting natives like these that offer colour and textural contrast along with variation in height and form, you can create drama and interest in your garden all year round.

There are many native ground covers in common use in our gardens and amenity plantings. I want to tell you about a few of my favourites that often fly below the radar but are fantastic options for the northland gardener to try.

7.   Metrosideros perforata – white rata

This member of the Pohutukawa family grows as a climber/ground cover while under shade and will change to its adult shrubby form once in the open. It has small glossy leaves and white flowers in summer that are very attractive to bees. It is hardy to coastal conditions and tolerates dry windy conditions. It can be trimmed to shape.

8.  Coprosma neglecta

This coprosma is a northland coastal species that is not well known and often overlooked. It makes a dense trailing ground cover and looks fantastic draped over rocks or retaining walls requiring minimal trimming. It prefers full sun and can tolerate dry exposed conditions.

9.  Leptinalla dioica

There are about 20 species of leptinella native to New Zealand. The one I am introducing you to today is Leptinella dioica. This beautiful fern like ground-cover forms
a soft dense mat in a shade to semi-shade position. It produces small button-like flower heads.
It prefers a moist well drained soil and will suffer through summer if it gets too much sun. It will usually recover again in cooler months.
It makes a lovely underplanting for ferns or shade trees.

Take a moment when you visit the nursery today to see our leptinella in our garden under the pseudopanax trees by the back door.

10. Selliera radicans

This versatile ground cover forms a tight mat of small bright green leaves with delicate white flowers in spring.

It can grow in sun to semi-shade in moist to well drained soils. It can grow right on the waters edge of salt or fresh water and can be weeded by spraying with salt water. Selliera can be grown as a lawn or used as an edging between pavers or rocks

One final favourite:

Psitania - king fern

This stunning ground fern can have fronds up to 3 metres high. It has a beautiful tropical vibe and looks fantastic under native or exotic trees. Because of its palatable starchy base it has been largely decimated by wild pigs and is now quite rare in the wild. It prefers a rich damp soil in a shady sheltered spot. Can wilt when dry but usually recovers once rehydrate.

Kerikeri Plant Production is one of the few nurseries in New Zealand propagating King ferns which have had a surge in popularity lately, so you may need to order ahead if you want some of these beauties.


Please come and talk to us about any of the above Natives, our knowledgeable team are here to help.


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