Photo: A interesting and relatively durable plant - the Scarlet Ginger Lily (Hedychium coccineum) about to flower in a garden irrigated occasionally from our rainwater tank (I'll replace with picture of open flower in due course...)
'Interesting and durable plants' is a tag used by the Designer Growers Network, convened by Peter Nixon (see www.peternixon.com.au/DGNblog). It's a good term, and pretty much sums up my views on what we should grow in our gardens.
'Durable' means, to me, a plant that firstly doesn't require much potable water once it's established. That might mean relying on natural rainfall, or supplementing with tank, bore or recycled water.
It also shouldn't require the regular application of chemicals that harm the environment. You might need to treat a disease outbreak occasionally but generally it should resistant to most local pests and pathogens. And anything you add to the soil to make it grow shouldn't harm the microorganisms in the soil.
Finally, on the 'durable' side, the plant should not be so durable that it spreads out into the nearby bushland. A plant has to be durable in the broader sense of the environment and not displace local native plants or upset natural ecosystems. The plant I've illustrated is a weed in South Africa and Jamaica and should be watched closely in Australia - it has close relatives that are already environmental weeds.
But any plant, even a local indigenous species, can become a weed if we propogate vigorous strains, allow it to interbreed with native plants, or disturb the local habitat in ways that encourage one species over another. Some people might argue we should stick with dull plants that have proven they won't spread beyond our fence, and there is some sense to this view. However like architecture and street design, I'd still like us to expand the garden palatte, with appropriate care and attention.
'Interesting' is the fun part of gardening. Let's enjoy the variety of plant life out there by including a range of fascinating species and cultivars from our local area, from our region of Australia, from elsewhere in Australia, from nearby countries such as New Caledonia, New Guinea and Indonesia, or from anywhere else in the world.
You might want to attract native wildlife to your garden for environmental reasons or - and let's be frank about it - to make it interesting for yourself. Local species are probably the best but plants from other parts of Australia and other countries often work just as well.
If it's durable, but not too durable, and it looks interesting, plant it. Give it a try - to me gardening is all about experimenting. If you want ideas, look at your neighbour's gardens and see what survives and thrives, or of course visit an interesting (and durable) nusery.