Home is a Backyard full of Colour
Australian suburbs are saturated in a diversity and density of botanical colour unlike anywhere else in the world, something I never appreciated until returning after several years living overseas. We may not have the lush greenness of northern hemisphere summers, or their expanse of gold and red in autumn, but the punches of yellow, fuschia, mauve and orange bursting from our suburban backyards are unmatched.
Growing up in Perth, I thought I lived in a desert. The soils are sandy, the sun is brutal and gardens seem to suffer from perennial dehydration. When I moved to New York City I was blown away by the greenness of summer there. Summer to me was brown, dry, crisp; in humid subtropical New York, summer was lush and damp. I couldn’t believe the way everything grew and nobody watered because the rain took care of that. It blew my mind. Summer in New York and its surrounds is green, really green.
Drive an hour out of the city (“upstate”) and you’ll see oaks dripping with ivy and forests thick with moss. But aside from the green, there isn’t much other colour going on. There are many beautiful wildflowers that bloom throughout the summer – Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Queen Anne’s Lace to name a few – but these roadside pepperings are small punctuations of colour in an otherwise solid landscape of green. Spring with its magnificent show of cherry blossoms, Callery pears and peonies, and autumn with the oaks, birches and liquidambars turning shades of gold, orange and brown are both bright bursts. But each of these seasons truly lasts only a few weeks, and although the showings of colour at these times are breathtaking, they are not all that diverse.
When I moved back to Perth last year, I was sideswiped by an onslaught of colour.”
While summers here are brown as I always believed, they are also pink, orange, yellow, purple and blue. We have taken our desert and we have reimagined it as a jungle of sun- and sand-tolerant plants. Bougainvilleas burst over neighbourhood fences in swathes of fluorescent pink and orange. Durantas send forth clusters of bright orange berries alongside soft mauve blossoms.
Our unique heritage and global perspective has resulted in backyards of extraordinary diversity. Native Australian flora grow side by side with species introduced from as far and wide as Africa, Europe and Asia. The cascading buttery inflorescences of Cassia fistula tumble over the same driveways as the striking orange-red petals of the Royal poinciana and the explosion of red caps and yellow blossoms from the native Illyarrie.
What is perhaps most impressive is that this multi-coloured display doesn’t limit itself to one or two weeks during the summer, it’s a year-long affair.”
Our mild winters and extended summers make for a fertile growing season that lasts most of the year. In spring, rows of jacarandas present such a solid mass of blossoms that they would rival displays at most cherry-blossom festivals, and Illawarra flame trees become a conglomeration of almost fluorescent red bells. In early summer the spiky orange and pink proteas show their faces as birds-of-paradise nod into backyard swimming pools. In the height of summer, every street is awash with colour as bougainvilleas and crepe myrtles hit their stride. Meanwhile the many varieties of native Corymbia (red flowering gums) dotting our suburbs provide a steady stream of blossoms in a huge range of tones. The show begins in spring and doesn’t end until autumn, with the baton being steadily handed from variety to variety.
Once the summer is over, we still have plenty to look forward to, with many species like bougainvilleas, cassias and even the humble backyard rose offering up a second bloom in autumn.”
And camellias and azaleas give us red, pink and white blossoms from summer through autumn and even into winter.
Once my eyes were opened to the spectacular colour parade going on in my own neighbourhood I realised although our Australian suburbs may be a bizarre melting pot of native, naturalised and introduced species, the result is a year-round explosion of colour worth celebrating.