Creative with Natives Competition: Playful Experimentation Wins Out

15 September 2020
Creative with Natives Competition: Playful Experimentation Wins Out

Read on to find out who won and how experimentation with natives can reward you in truly spectacular ways! 

We were really impressed with all the outstanding entries we received for our Creative Natives competition. Our judge, native gardening expert Kate Herd, certainly had a tough job picking a winner. Read on to find out why she chose our winner, and how experimentation with natives can be rewarding in so many ways. 

Kate, an artist, author and garden designer who is known for testing the boundaries of what native plants can do, has awarded the winner with a copy of her book Native: Art and Design with Australian Plants, co-authored with Jela Ivankovic-Waters.

Over to Kate.


It has been a total joy to look at the entries to OGV’s ‘Creative with Natives’ competition. Every photo offered a feast for the eyes, each entry a testament to the diversity and versatility of Australian native plants and the passion and hard work of enthusiastic gardeners. The entries paint a portrait of natives as ready for anything that you might ask of them in the home garden: green roofs, potted colour, topiary, hedges, covering banks or fences, screening shrubs, flowers for picking, flowers for insects and birds, subtle foliage, feature trees, hanging baskets, or trained as bonsai.

And the prize goes to....

First place goes to Erin Cosgriff and Jenny Potten’s garden at Inverloch. This garden epitomises a creative approach to garden making with Australian native plants. Playful experimentation is at work here – the plantings are obviously designed with specific pictorial effects in mind, such as sculptural feature plants, defined garden ‘rooms’ and soft ‘pools’ of groundcovers under trees. Overall the aesthetic is relaxed and lovely, with an interesting yet harmonious palette of plants and materials.

Great use is made of tried-and-true cultivars, with Erin showcasing the characteristics (be it pliability, floriferous-ness, form or texture) of her chosen plants with intent. Weeping forms of grevilleas and acacias are used as standards to punctuate the middle space between taller trees/the surrounding coastal vegetation and the lower shrub layer.

Weeping and standardised plant forms above and foliage contrasts below with silver Eremophila glabra 'Kalbarri Carpet' and the textured needles of a prostrate form of Casuarina glauca.

Gorgeous red blooms of a standardised grevillea sway above a low green mass of Correa ‘Dusky Bells’ that has been clipped into a ‘cloud-hedge’. The repetition of weeping and mounded forms in this garden helps establish a sense of rhythm throughout the whole composition. I also love that Erin and Jenny have taken such care to build the garden around two old trees, an Agonis flexuosa and a 100 year-old Banksia integrifolia – a local remnant specimen that Erin describes as a ‘matriarch’.

The 100 year-old Banksia integrifolia – a local remnant specimen.

Erin reports that not all their experiments with native plants have been successful, but the failures have informed new and different plantings. After all, gardening is about observation, trying, doing, assessing, making something beautiful from dirt, seeds and living plants – and it can sometimes be a wonderfully random endeavour. In Erin and Jenny’s garden, a self-sown Eucalyptus leucoxylon ‘Rosea’ is a serendipitous addition to the front yard now it has been coppiced ‘to maintain a mallee form with prominent white trunks’. 

This puts me in mind of what Sir Ken Robinson (who sadly died earlier this month) said about creativity as involving being prepared to be wrong – a capacity we possess as kids and tend to lose as we grow up. We can perhaps look to our home gardens as safe spaces for creative play, spaces where young and old alike are free to experiment and maybe even get it wrong.

Art and sculpture add to the element of fun in this garden, where Erin and Jenny have used materials that are in keeping with the coastal bush environs.

Special Mentions

If, like Kevin Ritchie you are a plant-training virtuoso with an eye for balance and harmony, you might even combine those two latter artforms. Kevin has created some extraordinary hanging baskets – irrepressible combinations of his native bonsai and companion plants such as groundcovers, trailing plants, climbers, ferns and mosses. Says Kevin: ‘In each of these I have attempted to provide a picture from which anyone may create their own story for this setting.’ It is great to see entirely native and local species used in new and whimsical interpretations of the hanging basket, a much-loved, and perhaps undervalued, garden medium.

Kevin Ritchie's ‘Cape Schanck Coastal hanging basket’ incorporates coastal tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum), coast banksia (Banksia integrifolia) and moonah (Melaleuca lanceolata) trees with companion groundcovers.

The increasing ‘horticutural dexterity’ in using Australian plants is something that we should be very excited about – whether it is new methods of direct-seeding grasslands, vertical gardens in residential developments, woody meadows, or green roofs trialling species from dry sclerophyll communities, these creative applications will serve to expand our understanding of the characteristics of native plants and will help change the look of our parks and cities. 

It is inspiring to see home gardeners pushing the boundaries of gardening with natives. Brod Street has created a green roof growing grassland species indigenous to Melbourne featuring Carpobrotus glaucescens, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, Stylidium graminifolium, Themeda triandra, Austrodanthonia caespitosa and Kennedia prostrata. He has also developed a ‘wetland’ green roof using Rockwool covered with vertical garden felt and a pump recirculating water to grow species like Australian buttercup, rounded noon flower, swamp weed, and goodenia.

Brod Street has created both a green roof growing grassland species indigenous to Melbourne and a ‘wetland’ green roof. The former is shown here, and features Carpobrotus glaucescens, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, Stylidium graminifolium, Themeda triandra, Austrodanthonia caespitosa and Kennedia prostrata.

The ready availability of Australian native plants gives rise to new possibilities for landscape designers and home gardeners alike. Suburban gardens, I think, look far more interesting than they did a decade ago! More gardeners are considering natives for aesthetic reasons of texture, colour, form, habit, fragrance and resilience, rather than making stop-gap purchases of plants they believe to be ‘no-care-no-water’. The competition gardens presented a rich ornamental plant palette whether they were low-maintenance xeric gardens, slick and stylised backyards or more traditional ‘bush-garden’ plantings.

Dominic van der Merwe’s backyard in Hampton may not be expansive but it will develop into a private oasis resplendent with texture. I love Dominic’s choice of Angophora costata as the central tree here, with Banksia ‘Sentinel’ and Eucalyptus caesia beside the pool. There are many delicious natives in this small space: Banksia blechnifolia, Austostipa stipodes, Correa alba, Anigozanthos sp., Xanthorrhoea sp. and I especially like how he has trained Hibbertia scandens on wires against the fence.

Dominic van der Merwe’s backyard in Hampton.

David and Jenny Williams' garden is a great example of dense and multi-layered planting with plants varying in shape, form and size. Foliage type – from the fine leaves of a grass tree, to the serrated leaves of banksia and weeping ones of acacia, and foliage colour – predominantly silvers and grey-greens, makes for a lively but harmonious composition.

Jenny and David Williams' garden in Croydon.

Habitat creation was a motive for many of the gardeners who entered ‘Creative with Natives’. Attracting local species of birds, insects and lizards seen as a key benefit of gardening with local and native plant species. Not content to simply ‘borrow’ the landscape, entrants were intent on actively connecting their gardens to surrounding bush or parkland through careful plant selection, and on using timber and rocks for ground-dwelling critters, providing insect hotels, nesting boxes and water to make wildlife-friendly landscapes.

Darren Mayer’s butterfly garden was lovingly created on a site previously infested by jasmine. Planted with mostly indigenous plant species like epacris, goodenia and chrysocephalum, the burgeoning patch will form a soft and cottagey mosaic of flowers. The insects (and birds and reptiles) will thank him!

Darren Mayer’s butterfly garden in The Basin.

Sue Guymer and Bill Aitchison’s garden in Donvale is a fabulous example of plantings designed to provide habitat. This billabong is in fact a converted swimming pool and features Nymphoides spinulosperma and Cycnogeton procerum in the water, Lythrum salicaria and Marsilea drummondii in the wet margins, and Lomandra longifolia behind. Such an inspired use of water, rocks and plants!

Sue Guymer and Bill Aitchison’s billabong garden in Donvale.

Home gardeners as well as horticulturalists and designers draw lessons from ecological vegetation communities in dealing with the challenges of climate and site conditions. They realise the value using indigenous and native plants lies in making a distinctive experience and atmosphere of a place. 

Whether their native garden was three years old or thirty-plus, I am struck by the many entrants who inferred their garden-making was a way of nurturing not only living plants, but also their creative selves. Their passion for gardening is especially poignant given these difficult Covid times – home gardens have certainly provided wonderful solace during lockdown in 2020.

Kate Herd



Go back