A Sustainable Life – 10 top sustainable plants

LOW MAINTENANCE: Through sustainable design, you can have a garden that won't requires lots of watering, mowing, hedging or too much weeding.
LOW MAINTENANCE: Through sustainable design, you can have a garden that won't requires lots of watering, mowing, hedging or too much weeding.

We need to seriously consider designing energy-wise gardens. Nothing reinforces that more than watching our changing weather patterns. Although our winter was long and cold, we did not have the rainfall that we usually get. You don’t have to dig too deeply to notice how dry the soil is.

Although it is so dry, I have still been impressed with what nature can put on show but it does come with some work and good design. I was reflecting on my own place recently as we’ve been living here for 10 years now. I’ve spent a lot of time over those years creating a garden that thrives in the dry because when we moved here we were in drought.

Not everyone is into gardening and it’s funny how many clients say to me: “I want a lovely garden but it has to be low maintenance”. There has to be some effort to gain the rewards but through sustainable design, you won’t have a garden that requires lots of watering, mowing, hedging or too much weeding.

Your plant choices are a major contributor to how sustainable your garden will be. There are a lot of thirsty plants about that put on a good show but there are also plenty that are hardy, frost tolerant, thrive on neglect and look amazing! So my top 10 sustainable plants that will have your garden looking great without too much fuss are:

Herbs – rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, bronze fennel, mint and oregano are some of the few that once you have them in the ground they will just keep providing you with spectacular shows and food each year.

Echium (Echium candicans) – this is extremely drought tolerant and every year the plants in my garden put on a amazing show of blue spire flowers. It is a quick grower and a great screening plant.

Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) – once you have planted an artichoke it will keep returning each year, providing great form and edible fruit. I do love letting it go to flower, as it is quite beautiful.

Spurge (Euphorbia characias subsp. 'Wulfenii') – with its lime green flower heads, this drought tolerant plant will put on a spectacular show in spring and it will last the whole season. It is prone to spreading but you can deal with that by potting them up and sharing them with friends. 

Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina) – I took my first cutting of Lamb’s Ears 16 years ago on a visit to Daylesford. ItS lovely silver furry foliage provides a great contrast in the garden as well as being an effective edging plant. It is so easy to propagate.

Succulents – not all succulents are successful if you live in a frost prone area but there are ones that can cope and they just keep thriving, providing lovely architectural form in the garden. I've had great success with Aeonium arboreum and Echeveria elegans.

Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) – my favourite is English Lavender as it holds its form really well and, of course, puts on a lovely, fragrant show when in flower.

Grasses – I’ve loved discovering the different types of grasses indigenous to the area because seeing them mass planted waving in the breeze is really lovely.

Iris - to think this rhizome goes into the ground, continues to multiply and then each spring sends up an amazing flower with no effort on my part whatsoever. It continues to perform through sheer neglect.

Hellebores – these plants get you through winter! If you have a dry shady spot in the garden, hellebores, or winter roses as they are commonly known, will fill the gloom with a long spectacular display of flowers in a range of colours.

The only 'maintenance' work you really need to consider doing is adding a good organic compost and fertiliser to the soil each spring. Mulching your garden helps hold moisture in the soil and keeps the weeds at bay. This will help you achieve a fairly low maintenance garden that will put on a show time and time again.

- Michelle Stephenson is a garden designer and consultant specialising in sustainability with BE Designs. Learn more at www.bedesigns.com.au/blog

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