30 spring favourites

SABRINA HAHN
Ozothamnus Radiance. Picture: Iain Gillespie

From ornamentals to natives to edibles, try adding one of these fantastic plants to your garden this season.

There is an air of optimism and excitement for gardeners this spring. Well, for those in the metropolitan area and the South West anyway. The Wheatbelt started off with good early rains but the follow-up rains have not been that precipitous.

For those of us who have had the wonderful winter rains, our soils are eager and ready for a flurry of planting.

Let's look at some of the new natives that will rock your socks off, what to plant in the vegie patch and some pretty ornamentals that will brighten up even the dullest part of the garden.

ORNAMENTALS

The big new release this season is dianthus 'Memories', a pure white dianthus with a beautiful perfume.

Memories was purpose-bred to raise funds for Alzheimer's research, with specific reference given to the strong link between scent and memory. Of all the five senses, scent is proven to be the most powerful trigger of memory. The fragrance of carnations certainly makes me remember my nan with fondness. One dollar from each plant sold is donated to the Alzheimer's Australia Dementia Research Foundation.

There are so many flowers on spirea, also known as May bush, it can be hard to see the leaves. Spirea prefers afternoon shade and grows to 1m in height.

Looking at modern gardens, you might think campanula has almost been forgotten, but this plant has lovely blue-bell flowers and will slowly creep through the shady parts of the garden.

Felicia is a tough ground cover with masses of blue flowers for many months of the year. It likes the hot sun and free- draining soils.

Perth is covered in flowering peaches at the moment. They come in pink, white, double, single and are one of the most stunning flowering fruit trees - they actually stop traffic!

It may only be a small creeper but jasminum polyanthum packs a big punch with fragrance. The delicate pink and white flowers are born on the new growth.

Brachyscome Country Lights has yellow centred, purple daisy-like flowers. They are suitable for cottage gardens and also hanging baskets.

The deep purple and green foliage of ajuga reptans has made it a popular ground cover for shady areas of the garden for years. It sits flat to the ground and has blue flowers in spring. Another fabulous ground cover for shady spots is polemonium Blue Dove which has loose sprays of bell-shaped flowers and lacey foliage.

A new salvia now available is salvia Embers Wish, with bright coral-red flowers on a 80cm high perennial.

An all-time classic for them family garden that can be planted now is sunflowers. Every kid loves to grow sunflowers and there is a much bigger choice if you grow them from seed.

Van Gogh's Landscape has tall, single-stemmed, brilliant yellow flowers that grow to 1.5m in height. Teddy Bear has fluffy deep gold heads on a dwarf plant getting to kids' height of 50cm tall.

The giant of the sunflower world is Giant Russian, which grows to 3m and has a flower that's 50cm across. If you have chooks they are going to love this one.

Allow the seed to fully dry on the flower before harvesting - and you can eat them too.

Yellow Empress is another tall grower with very large yellow heads 25cm across.

NATIVES

The soil is moist, the microscopic fungi and bacteria are multiplying and native plants will practically leap out of the ground to greet you.

There is so much exciting breeding going on now with our very own Australian flora. It is great to think that we have access to some of the most spectacular plants on the planet.

If you love the black kangaroo paw you are going to hyperventilate over the new improved Macropidia Midnight. It's much hardier, doesn't suffer as badly from black ink spot disease and the lime green and black flowers are stunning. It is not suitable for the tropics or frost-prone areas.

Black kangaroo paws make an excellent cut flower and last in a vase for weeks.

If you missed the boat with planting out everlasting seeds, a plethora of everlastings is available in pots during September. All the pink and white and yellow rhodanthe look great en masse, as does the bright buttercup yellow schoenia.

Zanthorrea Nursery in Maida Vale has some rare and hard-to-find goodies in at the moment. If you are looking for something unusual, try adenanthos detmoldii. Only found around Augusta, it has yellow/orange flowers and grows to 1m high.

Conostylis setigera Lemon Lights is a dwarf-clumping perennial with bright yellow flowers. This particular Conostylis makes a great border plant for smaller gardens. It only grows to 15cm high and clumps up to 50cm wide.

A well-known local plant that is not often available in garden centres is grevillea synaphea. It has slightly prickly foliage to around 30cm high and 50cm wide, with showy cream flowers in winter and spring. Although it grows naturally in the gravels of the Darling Range, it makes itself quite at home in our sandplain gardens.

I have a real soft spot for the new improved version of the Flannel flower Actinotus helianthi Starbright, with its grey-green foliage and white daisy-like flowers. They are a short-lived perennial but worth a spot in every native garden.

Other great natives include pimelea White Solitaire, the native rice flower with a profusion of flowers on a 50cm high shrub; grevillea Billy Bonkers, an outstanding small shrub or ground cover with brilliant red flowers; and alyogyne Blue Heeler, the smaller version of the native hibiscus but with normal-sized purple flowers on a small 50cm shrub.

Ozothamnus Radiance is a new improved form with a more compact habit and has a mass of pure white flowers from August through to May. It grows to 1.5m in height.

VEGETABLES

Spring is a busy time to get planting in the vegie patch. It's the best time to plant out climbing and dwarf beans, capsicums, chillies, cucumbers, eggplant, spring onions, sweet corn, tomatoes and zucchini.

Try some of the heirloom beans such as Lazy Housewife, which is stringless and crops well.

Violet Queen has beautiful deep purple beans and flowers and crops for more than three months.

If space is a problem for climbing beans, try Baby Bean Sun Baby. It's a sweet little stringless bean growing to only 30cm tall but yields more than 500g per plant.

My pick of eggplants is Listada di Gandia, an heirloom Italian that matures early and has gorgeous stripes and seedless fruit. Slim Jim is a great one for barbecues because it is as it suggests: it's thin and crops within 13 weeks.

If zucchinis are your thing, try something a bit different. Blanco Lungo Cylindrico is a pale green zucchini that matures in only 10 weeks from seed.

Kids will love to see the trombone zucchini Tromboncino, which has pale lime-coloured fruit. It is at its best when you harvest it at around 20cm long but let some get to 1m. When you see zucchini flowers in the markets in Italy, they come from this zucchini.