Jim Fogarty June 16, 2012
The brightly flowering clivia likes a shady location.
Fill garden gaps and provide colour cohesion with reliable plants that can withstand all sorts of weather.
Australian gardens have experienced weather extremes during the past decade and, all things considered, have emerged extremely well.
In fact, many plants often overlooked in leafy suburban gardens have stood up to the challenge and proved reliable.
You would expect Michael Warner to have a good grasp of reliable garden plants as the director of Warner's Nurseries, a Melbourne wholesale business that has supplied garden centres and landscapers for 98 years.
Mr Warner's criteria for ''reliable plants'' means ''timeless classics that have not succumbed to pests or disease. Nor do they require undue human attention to look at their best.''
For larger shrubs, he picks Camellia sasanqua with its ''wonderful dark-green glossy foliage and long-lasting flowering''; varieties of evergreen magnolia, ''very versatile, used for tall screening''; bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), ''the true Mediterranean classic with the added bonus of aromatic leaves''; and Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica), with its lush, dark-green glossy foliage with spring raceme flowers.
Smaller shrubs include rhaphiolepis 'Spring Pearl', a tough, compact shrub with spring flowers and one of Mr Warner's best; Nandina domestica 'Moonbay' with its brilliant red colour; clivia, ''great strappy fillers for shade''; box, ''the world's all-time favourite hedging plant''; gardenia, ''a lush foliage shrub that prefers a warm, sheltered spot, and will reward with heady perfume''; and liriope, ''a grassy filler with dark-green foliage, but watch for snails''.
Two trees that stand out on Mr Warner's list are the ornamental pear (Pyrus sp.), a tree that is ''fast-growing, handsome, with lovely autumn colours, spring flowers and provides a perfect screen from the neighbours''; and crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), ''tough, hardy, striking summer flowers in vibrant pink/red, mauve and white, with autumn foliage colour and striking smooth bark''.
Reliable plants might be used as definition in your planting design, or provide a constant in an ever-changing environment. Sometimes they fill gaps and pull together a colour scheme.
The key is that these plants are survivors in leafy gardens. As Mr Warner advises: ''Like people, they do need those basic essentials of food, water and sunshine.''