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Anywhere the wind blows

26 July 2021
Grasses blowing in the wind provide wonderful, textural movement.

It doesn’t really matter – there are plenty of plants that will continue to flourish as the wind whips around them.

Words Veronica Armstrong

If you live in a windy place like Wellington, you will know how challenging it is to keep certain plants alive. Wind can be very damaging in the garden – it dries out the soil, can burn and damage foliage and flowers, and even rock plants right out of the ground. But there are plenty of options for those shooting the breeze.

Providing your precious plants with some shelter is the obvious thing to do. However, take care which sort of shelter you use. Solid fences and walls may seem the best solution, but they deflect the wind over top and it becomes stronger on the leeward side. A better option is to create windbreaks and staggered plantings that filter the wind through and slow it down, causing less damage, or create a sunken garden, where the wind passes over the top.

Plants that are wind tolerant tend to be low-growing and spreading, are deep-rooted, and have pliable branches that flex in the wind. Their leaves are often thick and waxy, or they may be small and narrow, like grasses, to reduce moisture loss and decrease wind resistance.

Go with the flow
Choose plants that look their animated best when nodding and waving as the breeze ripples through them. Ornamental grasses are the queens here and there are so many from which to choose. Try the aptly named wind grass (Anemanthele lessoniana), with its green and bronzy foliage, or Chionochloa flavicans, a tussocky grass with lime-green feathery flower heads. There’s tall Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, which is upright growing, as is Miscanthus sinensis, the maiden grass with its airy and fluffy, white or pink-tinged flower heads. Hakonechloa macra, the Japanese forest grass, has arching bright green leaves that change to coppery shades in autumn. Remember, to keep them looking sharp, grasses do need some grooming to remove old leaves.

The Aussie imports, Lomandra, are becoming increasingly popular. These are real easy-care grasses and several varieties are available. They grow in a myriad of conditions: sun or shade, wet or dry. They can be cut back or just left to grow and flow.

rangitoto island framed by beautiful pohutukawa flowers at takapuna beach
Our New Zealand Christmas tree, pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), copes well with the wind

Windy natives
There is a place for our natives in the windy garden for sure. Our iconic New Zealand Christmas tree, pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), which graces our coasts and produces those stunning red and orange summer flowers, has to be a strong contender for the windy garden.

Rengarenga (Arthropodium cirratum) is an absolute stalwart. It’s easy to grow and undemanding, and it produces delicate white flowers in spring and summer – plus, those long, strappy leaves look good waving in the wind.

Flaxes often grow naturally in windy places and there are so many from which to choose. The smaller wharariki or mountain flax (Phormium cookianum) is better than the larger harakeke, P. tenax, for windy sites. There are both upright and weeping forms of this flax, and they come in a range of colours to suit many garden styles.

Our native sedges, such as Carex comans and C. testacea, love blowing in the wind, as long as they have moist, well-drained soil.

In coastal areas, taupata or the mirror plant, Coprosma repens, with its glossy, bright green leaves, is a real toughie – the fact it survives on Wellington’s south coast is proof of that! Other smaller, more colourful coprosma cultivars are now available and, while some don’t withstand frosts, they can be a valuable addition to any garden if well cared for – and they look good in pots.

Karo, Pittosporum crassifolium, has felty grey-green leaves and small, scented burgundy flowers. It’s very hardy and wind resilient.
Mānuka, Leptospermum scoparium, with its pretty, delicate, white, pink or red flowers, can also withstand the wind.

Whipcord hebes (Veronica cupressoides) are ideal too, with their small narrow leaves and low-growing, compact growth form. The dwarf form V. cupressoides ‘Nana’ has a round ball shape and covers itself in white flowers in summer.

The Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis) is native to coastal cliffs, so it is used to sea winds. It has leathery, felty grey foliage and daisy-like flowers on sturdy drumstick stems.

Ground covers
In a windy garden, any plant that hugs the ground will do well. Prostrate rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’, is a lovely, spreading and aromatic herb. It has needle-like leaves and blue flowers and loves the sun. It looks good in a pot or tumbling over a wall. The Aussie version, Westringia fruticosa, also known as coastal rosemary, likes the sun too. It’s a neat, compact little shrub with white flowers, similar to our whipcord hebes.

If your windy garden is sunny or coastal there are several daisy-like, low-growing plants that are ideal. African daisies, such as Gazania, Osteospermum and Arctotis, come in a range of colours. They like a sunny position and will reward you with flowers all summer long. They are easy care, too.

Succulents are wonderful, sculptural, textural plants. Provided they have good drainage and at least half a day’s sunlight, they will thrive. Sempervivum, Echeveria and Sedum all have compact, low-growing habits and beautiful shapes, with the bonus of flowers. They thrive on neglect and make stunning pot plants too.

Sturdy shrubs
Is there a place for roses in the windy garden? Yes, providing you choose a suitable type. Small shrub roses may be susceptible to root rock, but climbing roses that have sturdy canes and can be tied on to a support will better survive the wind. The old rugosa roses are very hardy and can tolerate windy conditions as they have thick leaves – the downside is their thorns, so take care around them! Try the fragrant white Rosa rugosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.

Echium sp., known as the pride of Madeira, are striking plants. They grow from large rosettes, so they need space, and pump out large blue-purple flower spikes. They love the sun and can cope with sea breezes so are ideal for windy, coastal gardens.

Bottlebrushes (Callistemon) will do well provided they have lots of sun. Their distinctive flowers are usually red or orange and provide lots of nectar for birds. There are also dwarf forms that would be very suitable for windy gardens.

So, although wind can be a problem, there are certainly a number of solutions!

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