How much do you know about native flowers? There’s the waratah, crimson and patriotic; the wattle, with clouds of golden yellow fluff; and the hairbrush banksia. You may admire the pretty purple flowers on the side of the road when you go on car trips out of Sydney but it’d be a stretch to name them. [fold]
We have a wealth of stunning, unusual flowers in Australia that are often neglected by florists, save for the one ‘native posy.’ Barnaby Wilshier of Potts Point's Poho Flowers, for one, thinks they deserve more of a presence in the bouquets you buy for family and friends.
Most of Wilshier’s arrangements have a subtle native theme, weaved into a more traditional bouquet. “I did a lot of bushwalking and camping growing up and my parents were keen gardeners, so I’ve always had an interest in Australian flora. Also, moving here from England when I was young, I really felt the difference in terms of landscape and nature between the two,” says Wilshier.
The combination of soft, delicate pastels reminiscent of the English countryside with dramatic and sculptural natives is reflected in Wilshier’s arrangements. “Often when using natives on their own, the arrangement can look a little heavy and dry but breaking them up with other seasonal blooms creates an interesting and original arrangement.”
Spring is their season. Each year from July until November, flowers start blooming from the north all the way down to the south of Australia. “Western Australia is the centre of this blossoming and is considered one of the botanical wonders of the world,” says Wilshier.
We asked him for his favourites and were pleased to see he included the waratah (we get one right, at least!).
Waratah (Telopea speciosissima)
This lush, almost spherical flower only visits between September and November, despite holding the important position of being the New South Wales state emblem. Unsurprisingly, it is native to southeastern Australia. “Traditionally, it’s red, but it also comes in beautiful shades of creams and pale pinks,” Wilshier notes. “It has such large and bright flowers – Telopea is derived from the Greek ‘telepos,’ meaning ‘seen from afar’.”
Flannel Flowers (Actinotis helianthii)
If the waratah is the official state emblem, the flannel flower is the unofficial Sydney representative. It’s native to bushland around the city and its delicate, crisp, white beauty immediately makes one think of weddings and Margaret Preston. “The velvety white and pale, petal-like bracts make this look like a soft and textural daisy,” Wilshier comments. It’s not the diva of the bouquet but perfect for pretty spring posies. It’s distant cousins with the carrot and means ‘furnished with rays’ which is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘sunbeam’ or ‘spoke of a wheel.’
Wax Flower (Chamelaucium)
The wax flower is a small, girlish flower that is particularly beautiful when used on mass. It is native to the south of West Australia, often called Geraldton Wax after the town. It has a sweet almond and lemon fragrance and flowers in colours of white, pink and blush.
Blue Bush (Eucalyptus Macrocarpa)
Another flower native to Western Australia, this is Wilshier’s favourite flowering gum. The long, silver-grey leaves hold giant gumnuts that flower in early spring to summer and late autumn to early winter. The flowers can grow up to 10 centimetres in diameter and can be red, pink or cream. “The wonderfully long branches provide striking and simple arrangements. They’re best used alone as nothing can compete,” Wilshier says.
Everlasting Daisy (Xerochrysum bracteatum)
These simple, cheery little flowers are found Australia-wide, flowering in spring. They are named ‘everlasting’ because they dry well and can be kept for years, but make sure to strip the leaves off the plants before drying as they have a shorter shelf life and can go limp. The daisies have papery bracts (the leaf-like plant part located just below the flower) and are often in shades of yellow, white and red. “They are a wonderfully textural addition to a spring arrangement,” Wilshier notes.
Native flowers are easy to keep at home but there are a few things that must be taken care of, Wilshier explains.
Firstly, cut native flowers can dirty water quickly, so changing the water often helps keep the flowers fresh and perky. For this reason as well, ceramic or textured glass vases are useful, as they hide grey water.
Keep them outside or on the balcony. Native plants, accustomed to Australia’s sunny days, don’t like being inside as they thrive in heat and sunlight. Another plus is that natives usually last longer and can be easily dried.