Christmas in the Australian garden

Are there particular plants in your garden, or in the bush, which remind you of Christmas? Or maybe it’s the birds and insects that bring back childhood memories of the festive season. The iconic sights, sounds and smells that tell us that it’s high summer in Australia, and holidays are on the way.

The enduring symbols Christmas on the east coast, would be easily recognised by the early settlers in the Colony of New South Wales, two hundred years ago. Inhabitants of the bush, particularly, have become defining elements of the uniquely Australian Christmas.

Christmas in my childhood, was a dream run of daily sun-worship. Long hot days started when the distinctive whooping call of the channel-billed cuckoo woke us well before dawn.


Channel-billed Cuckoo, Scythrops novaehollandiae

When the cuckoo left off, the cicadas began their day-long wall of sound which would continue without more than a few seconds’ pause, until after dusk.

Cicada varieties

Families made annual pilgrimages to camp at the beach, or the children kept cool and contented on the long hot afternoons, playing under the sprinkler in the garden.

In adulthood, the bush and the garden have remained a strong part of my Christmas. As a young mother, visits to my mother, Anne, meant returning home with my children bearing armfuls of huge, palest pink or blue hydrangeas to decorate the house.


We seared the cut end of the stem, to seal them and maximise the longevity of the blooms. Hydrangeas do well in Mudgee, too.


My Mudgee hydrangeas

Christmas in those early family years also meant visits from my friend Jo, who would deliver great unruly sprays of pinkish-red Christmas Bush from her grandfather’s garden, to all her friends.


Australian Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum)

We immediately sprayed the masses of star-shaped flowers with a mist of water to keep them from drying out, and repeated this several times daily.

Christmas Bush was enormously popular in the early Colonial period. Fortunately this native plant has survived and continues to flourish in the sandy, coastal soils of eastern NSW.


A boatload of Christmas Bush being rowed towards Sydney for sale in the markets [Sydney Mail 23 December 1882]

When I haven’t spent too  much money on Christmas presents, I may make a trip to the florist to buy Australian Christmas Bells (Blandfordia nobilis). When these long stems, topped with their circlet of crimson and gold flowers, are sprinkled through a bunch of Christmas Bush, you have the quintessential Australian native Christmas flower combination, commonly known as “bells ‘n bush”.


Christmas Bell


Christmas Bell in its habitat 

Christmas Bells and Christmas Bush are flowers of the coastal environment. The Bush grows in the dry forest just behind the heathlands, while the Bells grow in low lying, swampy areas between the sandy ridges.

Christmas Bells were also immensely popular in Colonial times, but did not survive as well as Christmas Bush. They are now protected and may only be grown commercially under licence.


‘Christmas Belles’, the caption of an illustration of young ladies collecting Christmas Bells (from the Illustrated Sydney News – Christmas Issue 1886)

In my Mudgee garden, the approach of Christmas is heralded by the first buds of the reliable agapanthus (Nile Lily), which flowers no matter how hot and dry the season is. The blue of the agapanthus’ spherical flower heads, mimics the summer sky. These are also dramatic cut flowers for Christmas home decoration.


First buds opening on blue agapanthus in my Mudgee garden today.



The white aggies are a little more advanced.

The child of the east coast can walk in the forest and drink in the sights, smells and sounds of Christmas- dry bark crunching underfoot, sweet nectar from the masses of eucalypt blossoms, and the buzzing of thousands of bees in the angophora flowers.



Angophora flowers

red gum forest01

Sydney Red Gum (Angophora) forest

The channel-billed cuckoo migrates to eastern Australia from New Guinea around October each year. By December, in some years, it reaches as far west as Mudgee, and wakes me while it’s still dark, to inform me that Christmas is on the way.


13 Comments Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    How Amusing to see some of the flowers that associated with Christmas in summer. There are not many plants that bloom for Christmas in winter. We tend to think of evergreens as associated with Christmas: fir, cedar, pine, spruce, etc., as well as holly, sometimes with berries. Poinsettias are associated with Christmas as well, but are not native, and do not look anything like they would in the wild.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Tony, the supermarkets always promote poinsettias here at Christmas, but really, we don’t need them. I can see why they’d appeal in your climate. I’d like to see a wild poinsettia. Jane

      1. tonytomeo says:

        Wild poinsettias are not much to look at. They were originally only red. They get quite tall, with awkwardly lanky stems. The bracts are naturally more abundant, but also quite narrow. they actually look rather shabby. The funny thing is that some of us who grew up with them sort of like them.

  2. Catherine Neill says:

    Oh I love christmas bush! I’ve tried to grow it, but it doesn’t like it out here. I have a friend in Sydney for whom it grows everywhere.
    My Agapanthus (known here as Aggie’s Panthers) are just starting to flower, I can see them from the kitchen window. They were given to me by an old friend, and I just love them. Early summer here is lovely. Late summer is not so lovely, but then comes autumn with the rain lillies, my favourite time of the year.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Catherine, I’ve never had any luck with Christmas Bush either. It really does seem to require very sandy soil. Thankfully we have the aggies, and they are a good plant to pass on to friends! I don’t know rain lilies- I’ll have to google them. What a lovely name! Jane

  3. anner6556 says:

    Another enjoyable posting Jane. Growing up in NZ there was always a vase of white Christmas Lillies.


    Sent from Bruce & Anne’s iThingy


    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi there, I don’t know Christmas lilies either. Another one for me to research! Jane x

  4. Loved the different colours of cicadas and hubbie was very interested in them too. Thanks for the pics, Liz (NZ)

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hello there- the cicadas are amazing and beautiful, aren’t they! Do you have them where you live? As children we used to have names for all the different coloured varieties, like “Greengrocer” and “Black Prince”. My brothers used to collect them. Jane

      1. Hi! I grew up in Northland NZ and there were stacks of the plain grey cicadas who would make their noise deafeningly all summer while the gorse pods popped in unison. Just thinking about it, I easily recall the feeling of the heat, humidity and noise! Now in the south of the South Island its not like that at all but I think there’s usually some cicadas around over the summer period. But the variety of colours you get with cicadas there amazes me. I had no idea they came in different colours!

  5. Debbie says:

    Hi Jane. I live in Florida, USA. I really enjoyed your Christmas memory story. I found you thru Google lens as I was searching for the name of a beautiful flower my brother in law grows in his garden. We can grow many of the plants you showed and we also have cicateds. No Coo Coo’s except on our roads driving cars😉 A bird I love to hear we do have is the Whippoorwill oh yes Owls also and at our beaches of course seagulls. I will try to sign up for your emails and follow your stories. The next one of your posts I saw was on tomatoes and will be checking it out as I hope to start a small backyard garden. Happy Easter and stay safe in this world of sickness. My heart breaks for all those infected by this virus and their families who have lost loved ones. Debbie from Florida

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Debbie, lovely to receive your message! I only just saw it today so apologies for my slow response. Your part of the world sounds a little bit familiar and a little bit different, to Mudgee where I live. A good time for you to start with the tomatoes- best of luck with the backyard garden! There are several posts about backyard gardening in my archive that may be of interest to you. Please let me know if you’ve had any problem with signing up for the emails. Of course we’re in the opposite season to you so my latest post, on spring bulbs, won’t exactly be helpful for you at the moment! I’m intrigued by the way you found my blog- did you find the flower you were searching for? All the best for a productive spring and summer. Let’s hope, that when the next change of season happens, we are all safe and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Jane

    2. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Debbie, not sure if my previous reply reached you as I’ve been having a few technical difficulties with my website. Thanks so much for your interest in my blog. Lucky you coming into spring- the world needs freshness and optimism right now. I’ve never heard a Whippoorwill but I think I can guess what they sound like! Sounds like you have a rich bird life where you are. All the best to you and happy gardening. Jane

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