Statement plants


Structural plants are used to make statements in the garden. They may have striking shapes, like bromeliads, cycads and cacti, or use their verticality to create garden accents, as with ornamental grasses and strappy-leafed plants. Modern garden designs have made a feature of these types of plants. It’s said this fashion is waning and we are returning to softer, billowy, flower-filled gardens, but a visit to an up-to-date housing estate will suggest that they’re holding their popularity. Here are some hardy favourites:


With alcantarea’s leaves reaching up to two metres across, this huge bromeliad almost shouts out its presence in the frost-free garden. The red-leafed ‘Rubra’ version is the most widely sought after because the leaf colour adds a special touch. After a few years the plant produces a three to four metre tall flower spike. Then, like other bromeliads, the mother plant will gradually fade and be surrounded by clonal babies.

Puyas tend to be more cold tolerant than most bromeliads. Puya berteroniana forms a spiny plant about 1 m high and produces a tall stem of metallic blue-green flowers in summer.

Cacti and succulents

The slow growing golden barrel cactus may, after many years, reach its maximum size of about 1 m high and wide. It is unlikely to bear its yellow flowers until it is 40–60 cm wide. The spherical ribbed body is dark green and covered in fierce golden yellow spines. In time, plants produce offsets that can be separated from the parent plant during spring or summer.

For warmer gardens, aloes have tubular flowers, mostly in shades of red or yellow; all attract nectar feeding birds. The candelabra aloe (A. arborescens) grows to about 3 m and forms a multi-branched shrub topped with rosettes of fleshy leaves that bear showy pink-orange flowers in winter. Fan aloe, (A. plicatilis) grows up to 5 m. Its flat succulent leaves are arranged in one plane.


The New Zealand cabbage trees (Cordyline australis) make striking focal points in the garden. Many coloured-leaf varieties are grown, including some with cream-striped green leaves, or maroon or purple leaves. Red Fountain is a newish, NZ-bred cultivar that forms a clump, rather than developing a tall, mostly leafless stem.


The Japanese sago palm (Cycas revoluta ) is the most common cycad in cultivation. Slow growing, it can be cultivated in a container or in the ground. It has stiff, dark green leaves that are palm-like (although cycads are unrelated to palms). The sago palm isn’t a flowering plant but produces a type of cone. Male and female (pictured) cones are borne on separate plants. Watch for scale insects – Yates Bug Oil will help to control these pests.


There is a huge range of cultivars of these popular New Zealand natives that are grown for their sword-like, upright or arching foliage.

The smaller varieties grow well in containers so can even be used in courtyard gardens. As well as brightening the garden with their attractive leaf colours, these plants produce spikes of flowers that attract nectar-feeding birds like tui.


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