Try growing: Austral Bugle (Ajuga australis)

One question I get a lot when talking to people about local natives is about small flowering plants that can be used in garden beds and pots. What grows here? What's available? And how do I look after it? 

These are fair questions! While the Illawarra's native trees have received growing attention over the recent years, understorey plants are less well known and harder to buy in nurseries. I'll profile a few small understorey plants over the next few weeks.  

One great little local plant is the Austral Bugle (Ajuga australis), a perennial herb in the same family as mint (Lamiaceae). Here it is! 
Austral Bugle growing in woodland in the West Dapto area. Image by Leon Fuller.
It's only a small plant, generally reaching around 30cm high, though it may grow larger and lusher if it is treated very well in a garden. The tongue-shaped leaves are a pleasant soft green and the purple flowers are small but attractive. 

The pretty purple flowers appear in spring. Image by Leon Fuller.
Sometimes the flowers can be quite tall and spectacular.
Image by Michelle Oddy.
Austral Bugle prefers part shade and generally grows in well-drained soils.  In the Illawarra, it is known mostly from woodlands that have seen minimal disturbance, but it should be able to cope in a wide range of soils so long at is in a fairly sheltered position. Once established it can tolerate dry periods, but it can be a bit finicky at first.
This specimen grew well then went through a dry patch without extra water. The older leaves reddened and died off, and then new leaves sprouted from the base. Image by Carl Glaister, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0.
This plant does eventually spread out and create a bit of a mat, so it's useful for garden borders and cottage gardens. It is not terribly aggressive though, and regular mulching will discourage aggressive weeds from growing up around it. In any garden, the challenge is to find plants that will do well and hold their own, excluding weeds but without dominating and taking over. Austral Bugle is at the 'non-agressive' end of the scale, but it is very pretty and will do well if you take a little care and remove weeds around it now and then. Oh, and you can buy it at the Berry Public School Plant Propagation Nursery, which I blogged about recently. 

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