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Native vs Exotic Planting

July 9, 2017

There’s an interesting current debate being played out in the media, exploring the merits of exotic versus native plantings.  It’s a multi-faceted, ongoing discussion with political, ecological and historical undertones.  Putting aside the ideology and looking from a garden design perspective, its still an interesting concept to consider.



Typically I’ve found in my practise, that a client requesting a native or exotic garden is simply stating their individual preference for the ‘look’ created by the specific plant selection.  I’ve also noticed clients will request a native garden with the idea that it will be easier to look after and best meet the brief for a ‘low maintenance’ garden and they will request an exotic garden if they are wanting colour and seasonal interest.  


I’d suggest that if you were to look closely, you’d be pushed to find many residential garden plantings that are completely composed of either all natives or all exotics.  I’d also suggest that for a Canterbury residential garden context, a blend of native and exotics will produce a better aesthetic and a richer garden allegory, if that’s what you were wanting to achieve.


If you’re contemplating a new planting this spring, before you plant what you’ve always preferred, you may want to consider looking at your plant selection with different eyes.  Why not try using native species with a formal layout?  If you’ve always liked the structural hedge look with traditional Buxus, or Portugese Laurel, you could select a native specimen to do the same job creating a comparative dense hedge.  Corokia and  Lophomyrtus would make great alternatives and bring an injection of colour instead of dark green.   If you find natives your default setting for low maintenance reasons, why not try adding a flowering Dogwood to your mass planting of flax or Arthropodium creating a layer of restrained height, while adding seasonal highlights with no maintenance to speak of.


In Christchurch we are blessed with a rich and varied garden heritage.  Imagine our city without the flowering Cherries of Hagley Park, or the Podocarp remnant of Deans Bush.  Both have a significant part to play in our growing sense of regional identity and in how you can choose to shape the garden environment in and around your home.


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2013 FORM garden architecture ltd | Craig Wilson | Registered Landscape Architect | Christchurch | Website by Studio Blue NZ

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Craig Wilson, FORM Garden Architecture