Pretty And Productive Plants For Brisbane

Native Torch ginger, Etlingera elatior
Native Torch ginger, Etlingera elatior

I was asked by a client to prepare a list of ornamental productive plants that can be grown outdoors in subtropical Brisbane.

I grow 150 – 200 kinds of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices in my 300 square metre garden. This list covers my favourite 100.

After seed? See this. It’s a long read, written over a period of years:
‘Where do I get seed for that plant?’ 

Jerry Coleby-Williams

10th April 2014





Acerola, Barbados Cherry Malpighia glabrata Shrub/ small tree Fruit are unaffected by fruit fly. Plants make good container or lawn specimens and hedges
Leaf Amaranth/ Chinese spinach Amaranthus tricolor ‘Flying Colours’ Warm season annual Highly decorative. Source: Pohlmanns
Leaf Amaranth/ Chinese spinach Amaranthus tricolor ‘Mekong Red’ Warm season annual Decorative. Source: Green Harvest
Love-lies-bleeding/ Leaf Amaranth Amaranthus caudatus Warm season annual Decorative
Arrowroot Canna edulis Warm season perennial Lush
Blue banana Musa x sapientum ‘Java Blue’ Perennial Permit required to acquire and plant, decorative, blueish fruit
Basil Ocimum basilicum ‘Purple Ruffles’ Warm season annual
Bean, climbing Phaseolus vulgaris ‘Purple King’ Cool season climber Decorative flowers and pods
Bean, snake Vigna unguicularis subsp. sesquipedalis Warm season climber Attractive flowers and pods
Beetroot Beta vulgaris ‘Bull’s Blood’, ‘McGregor’s Favourite’ Cool season annual Attractive foliage and stems. Plant young in windy sites
Begonia, Bedding Begonia x semperflorens Warm temperate perennial Attractive, inedible foliage, edible flowers
Bok Choi Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis Cool season annual Attractive foliage, ‘Red Choi’ especially attractive
Broccoli Brassica oleracea var. Italica ‘Romanesco’ Cool season annual Attractive flowers
Cabbage Brassica oleracea ‘Variegata’, ‘Cabeza Red’ Cool season annual Attractive foliage
Calendula Calendula officinalis Cool season annual Edible petals
Cauliflower Brassica oleracea Capitata ‘Purple Sicilian’ Cool season annual Attractive flowers
Canna lily Canna x generalis  and C. x orchioides Perennial Lush, attractive foliage and flowers. Canna x generalis ‘Purpurea’ and C. x orchioides ‘Tropicana’ are the brightest
Cardamom Elettaria cardamomum Evergreen perennial Edible flowers, leaves and spice, from ground seed, used to flavour food. Lush, requires full sun, ample moisture and shelter. Not widely available, see false cardamom notes below.
Cardamom, False Alpinia nutans Evergreen perennial Edible flowers, leaves used for flavouring food. Lush, more drought- and cold-tolerant than true cardamom. The spice is unappealing. Commonly mislabelled/ misidentified as ‘cardamom’.
Cassava, aka tapioca Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’ Shrubby perennial Bright, decorative, drought-resistent. Edible foliage and roots (after boiling to neutralise toxins)
Cha-plu Piper sarmentosum Evergreen groundcover Cha-plu is a lustrous-leaved groundcover suited to shade. Usually sold under the incorrect name of betel leaf, Piper betel, an unattractive, lanky shrub.
Chives Allium schoenoprasum Perennial Edible leaves and flowers. Useful for edging
Chives, garlic Allium tuberosum Perennial Edible leaves and flowers, tougher than chives. Useful for edging
Chilli Capsicum annuum Various cultivars, ‘Peri Peri’, ‘Hungarian Yellow Wax’, ‘Habanero Orange’, ‘Habanero Red’, ‘Scotch Bonnet’, ‘Siam Gold’ being particularly colourful and long lasting
Chinese cabbage Brassica pekinensis ‘Tokyo Bekana’ Cool season annual Attractively curled, golden yellow foliage. Insect-attracting flowers
Cinnamon Cinnamomum zeylanicum Evergreen tree/ shrub Highly ornamental new growth, starts red, turning yellow to green. Ideally suited to coppicing, hedging. Foliage is food for Green Triangle butterfly caterpillar
Citrus various Citrus species and hybrids Evergreen trees Ornamental foliage and fruit. It is recommended to grow 1. a Lemonade tree, which is an Australian hybrid (Citrus limon x reticulata); 2. Pomelo (Citrus grandis), because demand in Brisbane exceeds supply; 3. Australian Sweet Lime, a recent release; 4. native Finger lime (Citrus australasica) 5. native Round lime (Citrus australis) and 6. mandarin ‘Parramatta Sweets’, a 19th century Australian-bred cultivar
Cocoyam, aka White Taro Xanthosoma saggitifolia Clumping perennial Ornamental, edible young leaves, young stems and roots (after boiling to neutralise irritating crystals). More productive, more drought tolerant and producing hevier yields than taro, the United Nations Food Programme  recognises this as an underused crop. I understand Queensland now has only one commercial grower of ‘White Taro’ near Tully. The cultivar ‘Lime Zinger’ makes a good potted aquatic specimen given shelter and partial shade
Coffee Coffea arabica Evergreen shrub/ small tree Lustrous foliage, attractive fruit, jasmine-scented flowers. Suitable for containers, hedging, lawn specimen trees, semi-shade
Coriander Coriandrum sativum Cool season annual Edible, attractive leaves and flowers. Flowers highly attractive to beneficial insects
Corn Zea mays ‘Anasazi’ Warm season annual Tall, lush, attractively speckled cobs. Needs shelter
Corn Zea mays ‘Red Aztec’ Warm season annual Tall, lush, attractive red cobs. Needs shelter
Corn Zea mays ‘Multi-coloured Aztec’ Warm season annual Tall, lush, attractive cobs. Needs shelter
Date Phoenix dactylifera ‘Medjool’ Palm Tall, slow growing. Edible fruit are best during drought. Seedlings make good container specimens, formal lawn specimens
Dill Anethum graveolens Cool season annual Edible, attractive leaves and flowers. Flowers highly attractive to beneficial insects
Echinacea Echinacea purpurea Perennial Attractive, long lasting flowers. Plants short-lived in subtropics, often suffer from fungal problems during summer. Best in containers
Endive Cichorium endivia  ‘Green Curled’, Cool season annual Tougher and longer lasting than lettuce
Eggplant Solanum melongena ‘White Egg’ Warm season annual Attractive fruit
Eggplant Solanum melongena ‘Listada de Gandia’ Warm season annual Attractive fruit
Fennel, or Florence fennel Foeniculum vulgare, or F. vulgare  Azoricum group Perennial Best treated as a cool season annual. Attractive foliage. Choose bronze fennel, or Florence fennel
Feverfew Tanacetum parthenium Perennial Best treated as a cool season annual. Double-flowered form and golden-leaved form are highly ornemental
Four Seasons Herb, variegated Plectranthus amboinicus ‘Variegatus’ Perennial groundcover Ideal subtropical alternative to oregano and marjoram. Prefers afternoon shade
Ginger Zingiber officinale Winter herbaceous perennial Attractive flowers and foliage. For best results, provide shelter and water well in dry conditions
Ginger, Shell Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ Evergreen perennial Tall, attractive foliage, edible flowers, roots, leaves used in cookery
Ginger, Torch Etlingera elatior Evergreen perennial Native. Edible flowers. Needs reliable moisture and shelter from winds
Granadilla Passiflora quadrangulata Evergreen vine Vigorous, scented flowers, edible fruit. Excellent screen or pergola specimen
Hibiscus, cranberry Hibiscus acetosella Evergreen shrub Purple foliage, maroon flowers. Tall, slender growth, mostly produced in late summer. May be trained against a fence, latticework, or over archways.
Jaboticaba, aka Jabuticaba or Brazilian grape tree Plinia cauliflora (syn. Myrciaria cauliflora) Evergreen tree Fruit unaffected by fruit fly. Slow growing, decorative tree with flaking bark, useful container and lawn specimens, or for hedges
Jackfruit Artocarpus heterophyllus Tree Trained as a compact orchard specimen, this tree bears the largest compound fruit on Earth. In Brisbane, demand for fruit exceeds supply
Kale Brassica oleracea ‘Red Russian’ Cool season annual Decorative blue-grey foliage. Good foil for variegated cabbage and kale
Kale Brassica oleracea ‘Variegata’ Cool season annual Decorative foliage
Kohl rabi Brassica oleracea gongyloides ‘Purple Vienna’ and ‘White Vienna’ Cool season annual Decorative foliage and stems
Krachai Boesenbergia rotundifolia Winter herbaceous perennial Decorative leaves, clumping, leaves and roots used to flavour food.
Lagos spinach Celosia spicata Warm season annual Decorative leaves, flowers. Attracts butterflies and beneficial insects. To 1.25m high
Leek Allium ampeloprasum ‘Blue Solaize’ and ‘Blue Green Winter’ Cool season annual Decorative foliage and stems
Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus, C. flexuosus Perennial Decorative, vigorous, clumping grass
Lemongrass, native Cymbopogon flexuosus Perennial Compact, delicate, tufted native herb with attractive, fluffy white seed heads in spring. Under-utilised, non-invasive native groundcover
Lettuce Lactuca sativa Cool season annual Various cultivars with highly ornamental foliage,  but avoid the ‘Lollo Rosso’ and related cultivars as they are too short-lived. Grow ‘Frilly Pink’, ‘Gloria’, ‘Royal Purple Oakleaf’, ‘Red Coral’, ‘Salad Bowl Red’, ‘Salad Bowl Green’
Lotus Nelumbo nucifera Perennial aquatic Decorative flowers and foliage. Edible roots. Various cultivars
Luffa Luffa cylindrica and Luffa aegyptica Warm season vine Attractive flowers and fruit. This heavy vine needs a strong support. Pergolas are ideal.
Macadamia, aka Baupel nut, Queensland nut Macadamia integrifolia Evergreen tree Attractive flowers and foliage. Australia‘s best known native food plant
Marigold, French & African Tagetes patula, T. erecta Cool season annual Attractive flowers, edible petals
Mizuna, red Brassica juncea var. japonica ‘Red’ Cool season annual Attractive foliage, pretty flowers
Mulberry, King’s Morus alba ‘White Shahtoot’ and ‘Red Shahtoot’ Deciduous tree Edible fruit. Shahtoot mulberries are seedless and non-weedy, ideal substitutes for weedy varieties. Can be trained and kept compact by pollarding. Mulberries are an Australian backyard icon
Mustard/ mustard greens Brassica juncea ‘Osaka Purple’, ‘Red Giant’ Cool season annual Attractive leaves and flowers, fast growing. At their most colourful in mid-winter. Sow direct sowing, use for mass planting or to fill gaps.
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus Cool season annual Edible leaves and flowers. Attractive, quick growing. Useful as a gap gap-filler
Native plum, Black Apple Planchonella australis Evergreen Tree Edible fruit. Narrow, upright crown. Slow growing at first.
Olive Olea europea ‘St Helena’ Evergreen Tree Decorative grey foliage. Ideal for containers, specimen trees and  hedging. Seedlings from St Helena Island prison farm (Moreton Bay) won Australia its first international award for agricultural produce
Onion/ spring onion/ Welsh onion Allium fistulosum ‘White Lisbon’ Short-lived perennial Sow or plant in the cool seasons. Decorative white stems and blue-grey foliage
Oregano, Golden Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ Short-lived, perennial groundcover Best grown in containers, susceptible to fungi in summer
Pandan Pandanus amaryllifolius Perennial Requires full sun, plenty of water, protect from frost. May be grown in containers with their bases just standing in water, eg feature plants in pools. Leaves used to flavour food, rice
Pansy Viola tricolor Cool season annual Edible flowers
Parsley Petroselenium crispum Cool season annual Triple-curled parsley makes a fine edging to beds and borders planted with purple-leaved beetroot and rainbow silverbeet. Italian flat-leaved parsley flowers are highly attractive to beneficial insects.
Passionfruit Passiflora edulis Evergreen vine Vigorous, short-lived perennial. Pretty flowers, edible fruit, good screen or pergola specimen, an icon of Australian back yards.
Pawpaw, aka papaya Carica papaya ‘Southern Red’ Evergreen perennial Vigorous, short-lived tree-like perennial. In Brisbane, demand for unripe fruit exceeds supply. Australian backyard icon
Pea, garden Pisum sativum ‘Dutch Purple Podded’ (to 2.25m) Cool season annual climber Decorative pink flowers and purple pods. Requires full sun and shelter from strong winds.
Pea, snow Pisum sativum ‘oregon Sugar Pod’ (1.75 to 2m) Cool season annual climber Decorative white flowers and green pods
Perilla, aka shiso Perilla frutescens var. crispa forma Purpurea Warm season annual Decorative foliage and flowers
Pineapple Ananas comosus, Ananas bracteatus ‘Variegatus’
Ananas nanus
Clumping perennial Edible fruit. A. bracteatus ‘Variegatus’ is the most showy old-fashioned cultivar with decorative foliage. Commercial pineapples, A. comosus, are the tallest of the three species, while diminutive A. nanus accepts partial shade and makes a prickly groundcover. In 2003, Garth Sanewsky, Maroochy Research Station, produced a wide range of unusual hybrids for ornament and food
Pomegranate Punica granatum ‘Elcite’ Small tree/ shrub Decorative flowers, can be used as container or lawn specimens. Edible fruit
Pumpkin Cucurbita maxima ‘Queensland Blue’, ‘Australian Ironbark’, ‘Jarrahdale’ Warm season annual vine Australian bred iron bark pumpkins are vigorous, heavy vines with hefty, attractive fruit. Require considerable space (20 sq m per ‘Qld Blue’) or a strong support. Australian backyard icons.
Pumpkin Cucurbita maxima ‘Jap’ Warm season annual vine One of the best for a Brisbane summer. One plant will fill 10 sq metres. requires a strong support.
Pumpkin Cucurbita maxima ‘Golden Nugget’ Warm season annual One of the best bush pumpkins, ideal for small gardens and containers. One plant per 2 sq metres
Purslane, Golden Portulaca oleracea var. sativa Spring or autumn annual Succulent, lustrous leaves
Radicchio Cichorium intybus ‘Red Verona’, ‘Palla Rossa’ Cool season annual Decorative foliage, more robust and longer lasting than lettuce
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Benenden Blue’ Compact, evergreen shrub Decorative foliage, edible flowers
Rosella Hibiscus sabdariffa Warm season annual shrub Sow in October for crops in February to April. Thirsty plants, decorative foliage, flowers and fruit. An icon of Australian back yards
Silverbeet Beta vulgaris Cicla ‘Rainbow Mixed’, ‘Lucullus’ Cool season annual Decorative foliage and stems. Plant young in windy sites
Sisal Agave sisalina Perennial Robust, decorative, clumping succulent. Plants grown at St Helena Island prison farm (Moreton Bay) reputedly produced the finest quality sisal anywhere in the British Empire
Spinach, Ceylon Basella alba Warm season perennial vine Best treated as a summer annual. Lustrous large leaves. Requires sturdy support. Suffers badly from snail and slug attack when grown as a groundcover.
Spinach, New Zealand/ Warrigal greens Tetragonia tetragonioides Warm season annual Lush, leafy groundcover
Starfruit, aka carambola Averrhoa carambola Small, spreading tree Lush, leafy, attractive small shade tree with edible fruit
Sugar palm Arenga pinnata Solitary stemmed palm Lush, leafy, upright fan palm with narrow trunk. Sap tapped to make sugar and alcoholic beverages
Sweetpotato  Ipomoea batatas Sprawling perennial Edible leaves and roots. ‘Marguerite’, a yellow-leaved, pinkish-rooted cultivar, is productive and decorative. ‘Ace of Spades’ has attractive, purple, edible leaves, but insignificant tubers. Both make excellent carpets of colour. Frost tender.
Tamarind Tamarindus indicus Tropical tree Shade tree. Edible flowers, leaves, and demand for fruit in Brisbane exceeds supply. Readily shaped and trained into pot plants, hedges, windbreaks, shade trees. Ideal choice to replace hedging and the exisiting Poinciana trees
Tomato, cherry Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Tommy Toe’, ‘Sweetbite’, ‘Yellow Pear’, ‘Yellow Cherry’, ‘Cherry Cocktail’, ‘Golden Sunrise’ Scrambling annual, ideal for trellis, wigwams or containers Best grown by planting in autumn to fruit during winter to spring. Most successful and trouble-free cultivars are the cherry tomatoes listed. Avoid wetting foliage
Turmeric Curcuma longa Winter herbaceous perennial Attractive flowers and foliage. For best results, provide shelter and water well in dry conditions
Wall or wild rocket Diplotaxis tenuifolia Low growing perennial Tough, reliable, decorative foliage and flowers
Watermelon/ jam melon Citrullus melo ‘War Paint’ Warm season vine Fruit and foliage are more attractive than commercial watermelon. May be grown as a ground cover
Zucchini Cucurbita pepo ‘Blackjack’, ‘Gold Rush’, ‘Golden’ Warm season bushy annual Blackjack’ has attractive marbled foliage. Others listed have decorative fruit, but plain foliage.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lizzy says:

    thank you for sharing this list Jeremy

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