Creating a sanctuary with native plants

An outdoor room project with New Zealand native plants garden
ARTICLE Joanna Mathers

While this is enough to make lovers of nature throw up their hands in despair, fans of New Zealand native plants can do their bit to help redress the years of plunder and create their own small sanctuary. The right combination of plants not only gives your garden an authentic New Zealand ambience, it will also attract native wildlife as well. 

Zones native plants expert Tracey Barker has some great advice for those wanting to inject a slice of pure Aotearoa into their garden. 

What are some of the most popular natives for urban gardens? 

Barker has used native plants for a number of her client’s, some who are looking to create gardens that are 100 per cent native, and others using them in conjunction with exotics. 

She says that native grasses tend to be the most popular option across the board.  

“Whether clients are looking for a subtropical look, or are after a garden where colour and flowers are important, native grasses can be used to fill the gaps.”

Popular grasses include Carex dissita (a flat leafed grass with black seed heads), Carex lambertiana (long, folding leaves and dark long spikes) and the yellow-green Carex secta.  

Flaxes can also be used as a fill-in for gardens that use brighter colours of exotics  –Astelia chathauica (silver spear), and Phormiums ‘Black Rage’ and ‘Evening Glow’ both being popular options.  

Ground covers are also in favour; Scleranthus biflorus (a cushiony green mounding groundcover) is a striking addition to contemporary gardens. And hedging natives such as Griselinia lilttoralis, along with pittosporum and corokia, are also very sought after.  

“Puriri tree are great for attracting birds, and also popular right now in the subtropical garden are native palms, such as the nikau, punga and cordyline (cabbage trees),” she says.   

What makes natives a good option for the urban garden?

Native plants are readily available, and usually well priced. There are many nurseries (including online) that stock natives, and if you are careful to buy for your conditions they are hardy and grow well. 

Cabbage trees on the coast

I want to attract some birds to my garden, what are the best options? 

Barker says that puriri trees, cabbage trees and kowhai are all bird-attracting natives. These trees do require a bit of space as they grow quite big, but they will reward you with the stunning sight of wood pigeons (kereru) roosting in their branches. Tui love to feast on Phormium tenax, a flax that produces a nectar that they find irresistible; they are also drawn to callistemon (bottlebrush) and kowhai. 

What are some flowering varieties of natives?

While native plants create an impact with their texture and foliage, fewer of them flower. Barker says that kowhai (with yellow flowers), puriri (with large pink flowers) and the spectacular blue-flowered Chatman Island forget-me-nots are all good options for those who like their plants to be pretty. 

Are there many native options for bringing colour to the garden?  

The majority of natives tend to be green or brown, but if used judiciously they can brighten up a garden.  

“Brightly coloured flaxes can be used as instead of flowers, and you can even try grasses with their many shades of brown and green,” says Barker.  

What are some of the best native trees for planting in smaller gardens?

Native grasses are an excellent option here, as well as ferns and some of the smaller flaxes.  

“A feature native palm or even punga can also look good in a smaller garden with a lot of under planting,” says Barker. 

You might be interested in reading: How to create a bee-friendly garden.


This article by Nichola Vague and Amber Wijnstok featured on page 36 in Issue 025 of Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.


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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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