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A stroll Around John and Julie Barrie’s garden, daisy 

Patch, feels like a guided bushwalk across the vast Australian 

outback. the dramatic landscapes of Kalbarri, Kalgoorlie, 

the Gawler ranges and the Hay Plains have been brought to 

life in all their arid glory in south Australia’s upper south 

East, using more than 1500 species of native plants. Each 

has been specially selected for its drought pedigree. “I’m not 

really interested in anything from up the eastern coast above 

Melbourne or across the top from Cairns to Broome; trying to 

grow plants that need summer moisture is not very sustainable 

in these parts,” John says. 

the Barries’ 2.5-hectare property at Coonalpyn sits on the 

edge of an area once known as the ninety Mile desert. Average 

rainfall is 425 millimetres, and the summers seem endless; last 

year, the hot dry spell lasted almost eight months. “It’s during 

that long, dry period when you just cannot justify adding water 

to keep plants from more tropical areas alive,” John says.

the former Adelaide couple went bush in the early 1980s with 

their four daughters to set up a housing-construction business, 

but have since taken different career paths; Julie works in It at 

the local area school, while John divides his time between his 

environmental consultancy, the garden and the couple’s native-

plant nursery. In the beginning, their property contained a single 

tree and some patchy scrub, so they trucked in 195 loads of sand 

to try to create a desert habitat echoing the wider landscape, 

with its dunes and swales. “drift sand has great infiltration when 

it rains, and excellent moisture retention – feel three inches  

[7.5 centimetres] down and it’s often still moist,” John says.

While many of the plants in the garden have been found 

during the couple’s travels, they source most from the Australian 

native Plant society. “to join a society with botanical 

connections really opens the door; they have study groups that 

collect and share specimens, which gives us a lot of access to rare 

material,” John says.

turning one small seed into a thriving plant growing 

thousands of kilometres from home takes much trial and error. 

“not everything is perfectly happy; no matter how well you plan 

a garden, some things grow better than others, or a key element 

may die and ruin the effect. We are still learning, but we are 

becoming much more discerning about plant selection because 

we can now see the patterns.”

the garden is heavily reliant on natural rainfall, with a 

complex drainage system collecting and redirecting most of the 

run-off. “Annuals need surface moisture in winter, but if you wet 

the topsoil in summer, you’re creating a serious weed load that 

you then need to deal with,” John says. “Much better to get the 

water down deep. My watering sins are with my new plantings 

and the veggie garden, but I think everyone would excuse that.”

sturt’s desert pea is another rare exception to the watering rule. 

out in the wild, its distinctive blood-red flowers appear during 

spring, but in Coonalpyn it’s too cold then. “they challenge so 

many people, but we have finally worked out how to succeed,” 

Julie says. Potted sturt’s desert pea seedlings are soaked in liquid 

fertiliser before being planted in a new sand mound in late 

spring. Plastic tubing, such as old downpipe, is inserted about  

40 centimetres into the ground close to the roots, and each plant 

is given at least a litre of water each day in the height of summer. 

“We will also pour double-strength fertiliser into the pipe at  

2–3 day intervals; they are very hungry plants,” John says. “It does 

go against our ethos and is a lot of work, but we are well rewarded.”

the only other plant to garner such special attention is Julie’s 

favourite – the desert-loving emu bush. “It comes from very dry 

conditions, and in the middle of winter we will go out at night 

and cover the poor baby up as it doesn’t like frost,” Julie says.  

“I just think it’s the most fascinating plant – it has big leaves, it’s 

very slow growing and has amazing pendulous flowers that look 

almost like an orchid.”

John loves the “princess of Australian plants” – the brilliant 

pink feather flower found along Western Australia’s Murchison 

river – but the swathes of paper daisies that appear in their 

thousands in spring are his pick of the bunch. “daisies are such 

a smiley sort of a thing, and the fact that they come out in such 

a mass is incredible – they bring your whole garden together and 

look absolutely spectacular. What’s missing in traditional gardens 

is the beauty that the Australian bush can provide, and I think 

paper daisies epitomise that.” september is their big month to 

shine, and the brevity of the bloom only adds to their appeal. “It’s 

nice for things to change and reflect the emotions of the seasons, 

and they come back again and again in an absolute blaze of 

colour, which is worth waiting for,” John says.

self-seeding of all species is aided by the minimal use of organic 

mulch, which can work like a weed mat to prevent new growth, 

and there is a real sense of discovery as John and Julie point out 

various tiny seedlings that have spontaneously taken root.

“the layout evolved like topsy,” he says. “We have lots of 

plants regenerating from seed and often we will realign a garden 

bed to incorporate those that pop up on the edges. the garden 

has right of way.” 



G A R D E N s

Desert beauties

An AwArd-winning gArden cAlled dAisy PAtch flourishes  

in An Arid corner of south AustrAliA.

story 

GRETEL SNEATH   Photos EMMA STEENDAM

DAisy PAtch GARDEN AND 

NAtivE PlANt NuRsERy

  

1 george terrace, coonalpyn, sA, 5265



Phone 0407 282 477

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Paper daisies arrive in 

their thousands each September; the daisies die off 

once the temperatures rise; pink feather flowers; 

the rare Verticordia cooloomia, from the Murchison 

District of WA; garden owners John and Julie Barrie.




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