New England gardening guru Maria Hitchcock is on a mission to save endangered Australian plants

WATTLE LADY: Maria Hitchcock is on a mission to conserve threatened flora by introducing rare natives to everyday Australian gardens.

WATTLE LADY: Maria Hitchcock is on a mission to conserve threatened flora by introducing rare natives to everyday Australian gardens.

Thousands of native Australian plants are currently on a threatened species list.

For more than 40 years New England gardening guru Maria Hitchcock has dedicated much of her time trying to save them.

One way to do this is to get endangered plants back into everyday gardens, she said.

“I run an online group called Save our Flora,” she said.

“We exchange cuttings, seeds and I write information on how to grow these things.

“I have really unusual plants and I sell a lot of rare and endangered flora.

“These are plants you can’t buy anywhere else.”

Examples include the Wee Jasper Grevillea and Grevillea Beadleana – both are very rare and endangered.

“We thought the Beadleana was extinct and then it was rediscovered maybe about 10 or 15 years ago at Guy Fawkes National Park,” she said.

“So we’re trying to get that out there into gardens.”

Mrs Hitchcock said climate change and population pressures threaten our native flora.

“In the Snowys you had your snow line go down to a certain level and then your trees started,” she said.

“Now the trees are almost to the top (with snow receding) so what happens there is all those smaller plants that lived in an area that didn’t have tree cover are starting to draw back and the population has gotten smaller.

“On the coast, housing and population pressure with big estates has wiped out a lot of our flora.

“The northern NSW coastline was packed with Flannel Flowers and now you hardly see them.”

Mrs Hitchcock grows Flannel Flowers and runs the Waratah and Flannel Flower Study Group.

“They are (Flannel Flowers) a very iconic plant, everybody wants to grow them but nobody, except for people like me, are selling them,” she said.

“I’ve been doing a lot of botanical research on how to grow them and again the idea is to get these plants into gardens.

“I did this with Correas. They were just being grown in Victoria and South Australia.

“Eventually I got them into mainstream (NSW) and you see them everywhere.”

Mrs Hitchcock said while many natives are being grown in botanical gardens, they don’t have the resources that sole gardeners do.

“My big aim in life is to get our fairly rare plants, iconic plants, that are being grown in botanic gardens, to be grown in gardens because I think there’s a big untapped resource,” she said.

“It’s important with global warming and all the strange weather events that we have, that we do look after our flora.

“Let’s turn our gardens into sanctuaries.”

Mrs Hitchcock said over the years she has done a lot of experimenting with natives, including what will grow in the New England’s cool climate. “If I was recommending people who want to put a few more natives in their garden in this area … you have to remember frosts are a big problem,” she said.

“There’s a range of bottle brushes which go from very dark pinks to purples and light pinks in all different sizes. Anything from small ground cover to small trees. They flower around November and December.

“There’s some wonderful teatrees you can get from whites right through to deep burgundy colours and most of them are frost-hardy. They flower from December to February. 

“Grevilleas and Correas are good to plant around autumn as they provide nectar for birds at a time when most other gardens don’t have anything in flower.

“In winter, there are some natives that flower right through – Leionema flowers all through winter.” She said wattles are great for colour in spring.

To join Save our Flora, contact Mrs Hitchcock on saveourflora@gmail.com. Visit Waratah and Flannel Flower Study Group at waratahflannelflowersg.weebly.com.