Lots of our native plants flower in winter. Grevilleas and Callistemons are probably the mostly well-known and widely grown native flowering shrubs, but there are plenty of others that are well worth growing.
One of my favourites is the Australian rice flower, Ozothamnus dismofolius, which is native to Eastern Australia from north Queensland as far south as the Geelong area in Victoria.
Ozothamnus grows as a woody shrub to about 2m, and is usually found in heathland and in rainforest margins. The leaves are bright green and quite fine, about 10-15mm long and 1-2mm wide. The pink or white flowers form in tight heads at the ends of the branches. It is their appearance when in bud that gives rise to the common names of Rice Flower and Sago Bush. They usually bloom from mid to late winter and into spring, although around here they seem to flower for much longer than that.
Esther and Graeme Cook at Helidon in Queensland have been selecting and breeding from wild plants for many years and have produced a wide range of plants for the cut flower trade as well as for garden performance. Easy to grow and needing little supplementary water once established, these are colourful and compact garden plants which are also excellent in floral arrangements.
Ozothamnus are easy to grow in most well drained soils in a sunny position. In heavier soil, you’d be wise to plant them on a mound. They are drought tolerant once established and don’t seem to be bothered by pests or disease. Mulch well to conserve moisture but keep the mulch away from the stems. Prune heavily after flowering and lightly tip prune thereafter to encourage more branches to form. Because they flower on the ends of the branches, more branches means more flowers. Don’t prune after Easter, as you will be removing the flower buds that are beginning to develop.
They grow quite quickly, and in good conditions will reach their full height of 1-2m, depending on the particular variety, in a season. But do remember that pruning will produce more flowers, so don’t just let them shoot up with only a few branches. Because they form an attractive, shapely bush, you can grow them as a single feature specimen in a garden bed or pot, or you could use them as a hedge.
If you want to dry the flowers, pick the stems when the buds fill out and just before the flowers open. Then place them in a cool dark place (not in water) until they are dry. If the stems wilt, it means you have picked them a little early.
Ozothamnus are a good choice if you are trying to increase the bio-diversity in your garden as they are attractive to bees, butterflies, insects and birds. They also look great, and the cut flowers last for ages. And like so many of our native plants, they work well in many different garden styles. Certainly one worth seeking out.