The Aotearoa alternative to lawns
In the drier, sunnier spots where English gardeners like to put lawns, over in Aotearoa Papatuanuku or Mother Earth likes to create a mixed garden of tall grasses and low, sun-loving shrubs and perennials. With a judicious selection and placement of the right grasses and shrubs, it is easy to recreate such a nature garden, and keep it looking good. The photo shows an example at the Otari Native Plant Museum in Wellington. Native tussock grasses are mixed with the shrubs that typically grow among them, such as coprosmas, corokia, hebes and senecios. Flowering in front is the NZ iris (Libertia spp) which is an attractive perennial with bronzy leaves and spikes of white flowers.
Coprosmas don’t have much by way of flowers, but are great for glossy green leaves and bright berries. Senecios are part of the big daisy family, and come with white or yellow flowers, and attractive silvery grey leaves. My favourite in this family is the big, bold Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis), but celmisias are also great, as are olearias and helichrysums. Hebes need no introduction but the range of shapes, sizes and flowers now available means that there can be one in flower almost every month of the year, if you choose carefully. (My top choice is the ‘Marlborough lilac’, Hebe hulkeana.) Then there’s mingimingi (Cyathodes spp), manuka, native brooms (Carmichaelia odorata has beautifully scented drooping lilac flowers), horopito or pepperwood (some fabulous new deep red cultivars are now available), the ground fuchsia (Fuchsia procumbens) and clematis species that form sprawling ground covers (such as C. foetida and C. afoliata). An excellent big shrub for the southern edge of a planting is the rangiora (Brachyglottis repanda) with its big leaves with soft cream undersides, and sprays of scented cream flowers. You can even deter trespassers (canine and otherwise) from entering the garden by using attractive but fierce natural barriers – spiky matagouri bushes, ‘Spaniards’ (Aciphylla spp.) and the bush lawyer vine (which has pretty white flowers). Just one thing to remember to keep these plants happy – don’t crowd them. They all like a little space around them and don’t like being shaded or jostled by their neighbours. They also like good drainage – so a shingle or rock mulch between plants takes care of both issues (and reduces weeding).