There’s nothing like adding a bit of greenery to your outdoor area to create a space that is cool, colourful and reflects your individual style. Yet, as much as you might like to surround yourself with the positive power of plants, not everyone has a green thumb. For those who are keen to leap into the world of growing but lack the confidence to do so, here are 6 hardy plant varieties to help you transform your patio or deck.
1. Kumquat (or cumquat)
The kumquat (Citrus japonica) is a perfect patio or deck plant for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it does well in a pot, as it’s slow growing and can be pruned to keep it at a manageable size. It’s also low maintenance, requiring a deep water about once a week and, for best results, some liquid fertiliser once a month or so. While kumquats can easily tolerate the cold, they’re also sun-lovers and can adapt well to temperate and subtropical climates. Above all, it’s a beautiful looking plant, with glossy dark green leaves and bright orange fruit all year round (kumquats are usually about the size of a large olive but can grow to the size of a small mandarin, particularly on a mature tree that is in the ground). Add to all this the distinct scent of both the flower and the fruit, and you’ve got a plant that just keeps on giving. Of course, if you’re really keen and your tree produces lots of fruit, you could venture into the realm of homemade kumquat marmalade.
Native to South America, bougainvillea is now found all over the globe, but most abundantly in dry, hot climates, such as the Mediterranean, Africa, most parts of Australia, islands throughout the Pacific and Caribbean and, of course, Central and South America. It’s popularity as a decorative plant stems from its hardiness – it is drought tolerant, can handle soils with a high salt content, and requires little maintenance beyond pruning — combined with its striking beauty when in blossom.
There are now approximately 300 varieties of bougainvillea around the world, with many of these exceptionally good for growing in pots on patios, deck or balconies. Larger varieties planted in the ground can be trained over an arbour, trellis or even over a patio roof for shade, although these will require a bit more maintenance as they can easily take over. The key to a healthy, happy, bougainvillea with abundant blooms is to ‘treat it mean’. In other words, don’t over water or over feed, or you’ll end up with a plant covered with spikes and none of the spectacular flowers that have made bougainvillea so popular.
As beautiful and tranquil as a fern garden is, some people only have to hear the word ‘fern’ to run in the opposite direction. This is usually because there’s a bit of a myth out there that ferns are hard to grow (or easy to kill, depending which way you look at it). But this really is a myth – there are many varieties of ferns that, following some initial care during and straight after planting, are pretty much capable of looking after themselves.
Ideal for shady spots in your garden or on your patio or deck, ferns thrive in temperate, tropical and subtropical climates, preferring a slightly acidic organic soil and regular feeding during the warmer months with a fish emulsion or blood and bone. Apart from keeping an eye on the water levels (particularly if they’re in pots or hanging baskets) and fertiliser, ferns need very little maintenance beyond the removal of dead fronds. Other than this, you might need to divide the plants occasionally, as ferns propagate from rhizomes and can spread quickly, which is also one of their benefits, as they will fill your allotted space in no time at all.
There are literally 1000s of varieties of succulents, crossing every continent on earth and growing in a range of environments, from the desert to a tropical rainforest. One of the defining qualities of a succulent is that it stores water in its stem or leaves, giving them their distinctive fleshy look and the added benefit of being highly drought-tolerant, which is also what makes them very easy to grow.
If you are planning a succulent garden, or incorporating them amongst other plants, don’t go straight to your local nursery. Succulents grow really well from cuttings, so ask around your friends. family and neighbours for some snippets before you start spending money on them. Most varieties also thrive in pots and rarely need feeding, so they’re a great low-maintenance option for small decks or patios. Mix up your varieties for a striking display of tones, textures and flowers that requires very little attention beyond a weekly water during summer and even less during a rainy winter.
Given that the majority of the 3475 known species of bromeliads originate in the tropics and subtropics of South and Central America, it is easy to see why they have adapted so well to the eastern and northern areas of Australia. This is also an indication of how easy they are to grow, needing minimal attention once they are established.
Bromeliads come in a variety of colours, both in terms of the leaves and the dramatic flowers, and mixing and matching bright yellows with dark red and pinks can provide you with a glorious display all year round. Things to take into account, particularly if you’re planting in pots, is that bromeliads don’t like wet feet. Use a free-draining orchid mix and don’t over water. As many bromeliads hold water in their stems, checking on these levels is a good way to ascertain whether they’re in need of a drink. Needless to say, once you’ve started off with a few different bromeliads you’re more than likely to become a passionate advocate of these hardy but exotic-looking plants.
Few people know that the vast majority of plants commonly known as geraniums are actually from the genus Pelargonium, whereas true Geraniums are from a different but related genus. Leaving technicalities aside, the plants we’re talking about here are from the Pelargonium genus (using their common name geranium), which includes around 200 different species with a huge variety of flower colours, leaf textures and scents – the delightful lemon-scented Pelargonium for example.
The best thing about geraniums is that they are incredibly hardy – they are drought-tolerant, pest resistant and can grow in almost any soil. They do very well in pots and planters, and there are also trailing varieties that are ideal for hanging baskets on decks and patios.
The other advantage to geraniums is they strike well from cuttings, so it’s not likely you’ll have to go out and invest in a plant. If you are propagating from cuttings, take it from the base of the plant and remove any flowers or dead heads. Cut the stem on an angle and either stick the cutting in a jar of water for a few days or put it straight into the ground or pot. In the latter case, just make sure you keep it damp for a week or so, while the roots establish. In the former case, wait for roots to appear on the stem, then plant it in the soil and keep damp as above. Before you know it, you’ll have a riot of colour reminiscent of the Mediterranean.