Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grevillea wickhamii, Holly Grevillea

Grevillea wickhamii Holly Grevillea
This is a Grevillea I admired at the recent Illawarra Grevillea Park open day.
It is from north west WA.
If you were a truckie back in the 1950's or early 60's, making your living by plying a load of blue asbestos from the mine at Wittenoom to the port of Roebourne or if you were one the 20,000 residents of the now ghost town of Wittenoom, the brilliant red flowers of this Grevillea would be hard to miss. Plant one in memory of Bernie Banton, social justice campaigner,who died of an asbestos related disease in November 2007.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shatoot Mulberry, Morus macroura

Today the first green buds and flowers appeared on the Shatoot Mulberry
I was admiring the bare elegant tracery of the branches against a clear blue sky when I spotted the first tinge of green. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means the days are getting warmer and longer, but there are still all those garden tasks to get done before the weather really warms up.
This Mulberry is a much loved tree of Pakistan where the sickly sweet fruit is dried as a sugar substitute. It is called a yard tree and often forms the centrepiece of a small courtyard garden. The tall arching branches provide generous shade in Summer. However, It really does need a lot of space to look at its best but will take heavy pruning ,poor soils and difficult sites. In other words ,it is a great tree for spots where winter sun is required and heavy summer shade is needed where you can set up a table and chairs.
The pale yellow fruit is produced in such quantities that I usually rake it up to give to the chooks.
It is probably the only fruit tree you won't mind sharing with birds.
A pair of Red-whiskered Bulbuls, much loved by novelist Patrick White where they were a familiar site around his Centennial Park home, usually take up residence .Described accurately by Graham Pizzey as having"jaunty pleasant liquid notes"
My favourite bird visitor to this tree is the Koel which is sometimes called the Cooee or Rainbird..
The male bird is glossy blue black and very amusing to watch because it is so clumsy . It is currently on holiday in New Guinea.
I would recommend this tree because it forms such a good shape. It does get quite tall but is unlikely to fall down in a storm as the branches are quite elastic and supple.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Vegetables,herbs and flowers in stainless steel planters 

The potager,which comes from the French word potage, or "soup" is a kitchen garden ,however small, which provides the daily seasonal produce for a family.
 It is is charming and decorative form of vegetable gardening is at its best in winter and spring for colourful lettuce,baby beets,leeks and peas. The peas rarely make it to the kitchen and are eaten straight off the bush.
Flowers such as Viola, Nasturtium and Calendula add a vibrancy to salads.

Viola tricolor ,Johnny Jump-Up

I also love the herb Chervil or French Parsley which adds a delicate flavour to a wide variety of dishes. It is impossible to grow in the warmer months.
And then there is Kale which turns "silky" when added to soup.

Kale Red Bor F1

Monday, July 28, 2008

Grevillea refracta

Grevillea refracta
On the coldest day for what seems like years, I am dreaming of Darwin and that is where this beauty comes from. It is a very open shrub with beautiful silvery bronze foliage and quite striking apricot coloured flowers. It would grow in the south only in a frost free location and in well drained soil. It is one of those native plants which needs to be planted in a group to make any impact as it is too slender to stand alone in a garden setting.

Landscaping with Aloes

Roof Garden with Aloes and other Succulents in Sydney
Having grown Aloe plants for more than ten years in the Nursery, it is always exciting to be able to use them in a landscaping project. On this exposed sun baked terrace with no irrigation they were the perfect plant to use for a low maintenance garden and to make a bold statement
More on individual Aloe species in future posts.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Melaleuca filifolia, Wiry honey-myrtle

Melaleuca filifolia, Wiry honey-myrtle

This spectacular flowering shrub which originates from those sandy gravelly soils north of Perth should be more widely grown.The mauve-purple flowers which appear like some many bright explosions over the thin foliage are at their best now. Many Melaleucas are "swamp" plants and tolerate quite wet soils but not this one .Along with Melaleuca fulgens ,the scarlet honey myrtle ,it prefers well drained soil and should be kept on the dry side The area where it comes from receives winter rainfall hence the winter flowers.
Because of its very fine ,almost needle like foliage, it tends to disappear in the landscape when not in flower so needs to be positioned in front of a more broad leaf plant for best effect. Something like a bold succulent would be ideal .The striking foliage of Furcraea foetida "Medio-picta', Mauritius Hemp, when teamed with Melaleuca filifolia would make for a bold statement.

Furcraea foetida "Medio-Picta', Mauritius Hemp

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen is a wonderful bulbous plant to grow under deciduous trees and shrubs as they not only flower from winter to spring but their leaves are attractively marked in shades of pale green to grey and silver. The name Cyclamen is thought to derive from the Greek kyklos meaning circle, a reference to the shape of their tuber or "bulb" The modern florists Cyclamen were bred from C.persicum which has tall slender blooms in pink shades with marbled heart shaped leaves.
As this plant originates from Greece,Turkey and the Middle East it is often difficult to replicate their ideal growing conditions especially in Summer when they are dormant. They like a free draining soil with plenty of leaf mould or compost. They also like a hot dry Summer so any deluge of rain on the coast at this time may cause them to rot. It is worth mentioning that some are noted for their fragrance. Here are some species which I have tried and alas lost: C.coum. C cyperium,
C repandum ssp pelopponesiacum, C balaericum, and C intaminatum. So now I stick to the hardy C.hederifolium which is available in punnets from about March onwards.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Clivia x cyrtanthiflora, a Clivia Lily

Clivia x crytanthiflora ,Clivia Lily
I originally made a post of this with a description for Clivia nobilis but thanks to Ken for sending me the correct name. Another mate Craig also said it didn't look like C nobilis either.
This is the first of the Clivia Lilies to flower ,the more common Clivia miniata comes into flower during the next couple of months. Clivias are always grouped with bulbs ,though the only resemblance to a bulb is that they have a thickened stem at the base and very fleshy roots.
Clivia nobilis has salmon coloured ,green tipped tubular bell flowers .
Even the cluster of red berries which follow the flowers are decorative and they seem to last for months C nobilis is from eastern Cape Province in South Africa. The broad strap shaped leaves are slightly longer and are rough to touch along the margins compared to other species.
Clivia x crytanthiflora is of garden origin.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Megaskepasma erythrochlamys,Brazilian Red-Cloak

Megaskepasma erythrochlamys 
Brazilian Red-Cloak
Ok so this plant has a real tongue twister of a name. If you break it up it might be a bit easier ... so say ...... meh-gas-ke-PAZ-ma ....... e-rit-ro-KLAY-mis..
It is a delighful shrub from south Venezuela and grows to about 2 metres. It starts to flower in June and goes right through to Spring.The flowers which can be up to 30cm in length are made up of a series of crimson bracts each of which contain white 2 lipped flowers. The leaves are immense as well .They are ovate in shape and also to about 30cm. However these leaves are quite soft and when you hear the weather forcast for gale force winds you know that they will be a bit on the tatty side by the end of the day.This photo was taken before it was shredded!
It is very hardy and may even survive light frost but it does need protection from strong win.
2017 update I no longer grow plants for sale but there are a couple of growers in Sydney who can supply it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pyrostegia venusta, Orange Trumpet Vine

Pyrostegia venusta, Orange Trumpet Vine
I have known this vibrant orange South American climber for many years even under the old name of Bignonia venusta (after Jean Paul Bignon). In milder climates it does not become rampant and will even survive light frost. It drapes itself nicely over fences ,will flower in the horizontal position on a roof and is perfect to cover arbours or those Bali Style garden pavilions.
Here it is covering a fence and brightening the mid winter streetscape.

In October 2016 I visited Bali Botanic Gardens where it is growing over a wall and it left me wondering whether it produces flowers for much of the year in the cooler tropical mountain climate of that region.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A garden of Provence

Provence is a country to which I am always returning, next week, next year, any day now.....
Elizabeth David

Stage 14 of le Tour de France provided a wonderful bird eye view of this region of France .
Here are some of the plants I like to use in a garden design to create the atmosphere of this delightful part of the world.
Small growing shrubs:
Lavandula dentata ,French Lavender A hardy shrub which grows to about a metre and it always seems to have flowers at most times of the year. Can become a bit woody after a few years and may need to be replaced but cuttings strike readily.
Rosmarinus officinalis, Rosemary. Another aromatic shrub which is able to be pruned to a compact and rounded shape. Blue flowers are loved by bees.
Santolina chamaecyparissus Lavender Cotton. A small growing shrub which responds well to trimming. Hates humid weather and may suffer by producing the odd dead branch which is best pruned out.
Satureja montana Winter Savory (The Provencal name pebre d'ase means Donkey Pepper)
This low growing shrub has very strongly flavoured leaves and very pretty white or pink flowers.
Cistus species Rock Rose Not a thorny rose at all but a very dry hardy small shrub with large tissue paper like flowers in shades of pink or white
Myrtus communis Myrtle The branches of this shrub are laden with fluffy white flowers followed by small berries which have a strong aroma. The branches are placed around roasting meat to impart a unique flavour.
Trees and Shrubs
Cupressus sempervirens 'Stricta' Pencil Pine This tall growing slender tree is one I can't live without (even though the top of one of mine was sheared off by the 110 k per hour winds.)
Olea europaea Olive Tree Now a familiar tree on the Australian landscape and suitable for large and small gardens alike.
Nerium oleander Oleander. Despite the bad press about it being a poisonous plant, there are many attractive colour forms of this shrub and it is one I continue to propagate and plant out in gardens. Reliable,hardy and with fragrant flowers, who could ask for more.
Punica granatum Pomegranate This large shrub is undergoing a bit of a revival thanks to the enthusiasm of cooks such as Maggie Beer. The flowers are a rich orange red and the fruits are extremely decorative and useful.
Albizia julibrissin 'Rosea' This is a graceful small tree with ferny foliage and fluffy pink flowers covering the canopy in Summer.
This is a small selection of the interesting plants which can evoke that French Provencal atmosphere in your garden.

Eucalyptus preissiana, Bell-fruit Mallee

Eucalyptus preissiana, Bell fruit Mallee
One of the highlights of a recent visit to the Illawarra Grevillea Park at Bulli In New South Wales was the sight of this golden yellow flowered Mallee. It is from WA and grows to about 3 metres. It is a rather spindly tree and would need to be planted as a group of about 6 to have any impact. A raised garden bed would probably suit it as well. Under-planting it with the blue form of Kangaroo Grass Themeda 'Mingo'
would make a very pleasing picture indeed.

Themeda 'Mingo' PBR, Kangaroo Grass

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Illawarra Camellia Show

Today was the 56th annual Camellia Show which was presented by Camellias Illawarra Inc. It was great to view these magnificent bloom up close
Here are some of the award winners.

Grand Champion bloom of the Show: Damanao

Reserve Champion bloom of the Show: Lady Pamela

Champion Illawarra bloom of the Show: Mrs D W Davis Descanso

Champion Minature:Grace Albritton

Champion Non- Reticulata Hybrid: Spring Daze

Here are some of my favourite flowers from the show:

Maroon and Gold

Black Magic

Little Bit

Grand Slam

Fire Chief


Dona Herzilia de Freitas Magalhaes

Bob Hope

Friday, July 18, 2008

Jasminum polyanthum, Jasmine

Jasminum polyanthum, Jasmine

Once the harbinger of Spring,this Jasmine now begins to flower in June and is at its peak now in mid July. I like it when the first pink buds open but by the time it is a mass of flower it is a bit overwhelming and it reminds you of its presence at a distance of 20 metres.

It really needs to be grown in a tough spot. Somewhere the mower can go right up to the base to mow down any wayward shoots. It ends up with an almost tree like base so perhaps should be sold with a "buyer beware" tag before being planted in a choice spot

tree like trunk of Jasmine polyanthum

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thunbergia mysorensis, Lady's Slipper Vine

Thunbergia mysorensis,
Lady's Slipper Vine
This exotic looking climber, a native of the Nilghiri Mountain region of southern India started to flower about a week ago.This was a big surprise to me as it is growing in a forgotten corner and is struggling to grow up through various shrubs .I had given up on it in a pot never thinking it would come to much, as it is from a more tropical climate. After planting it was given no further water or attention.
The flowers could be described as funnel shaped ,golden yellow on the inside and red-brown on the outside. Given more favourable conditions ,the long pendant flowers can reach to a metre in length.They are full of nectar and open in sequence downwards.
There are about 5 more flower spikes to come out so it will be definitely be getting more TLC in the future.
2017 update: Small plants are available in Sydney from the Growing Friends Nursery at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
I have ordered in larger plants for customers from other growers in NSW and freight charges apply to the order.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Snow" Plants

Eomecon chinonantha, Snow Poppy
Many garden plants are given a common or Cultivar name using the word "snow".The following are a few that I grow.
Flowering right now is the perennial from China the Snow Poppy. The flowers are in groups of 3 or 5 on stiff upright stems to about 15cm. The leaves are round with a slight gloss to them especially during the cooler months . In summer the leaves are less appealing and are often burnt around the edges on hot days. This is a great perennial to grow in difficult sites under trees.It spreads out by creeping rhizomes and may need some containing in overly favourable sites. Cut root pieces, which have a colour similar to turmeric, strike readily.To compliment it, it would be worth teaming it with Iris japonica 'Variegata' which likes similar growing conditions.This has white and grey green striped leaves.

Iris japonica 'Variegata', Japanese Iris
If you like to see "snow" in summer it is hard to beat the magnificent Japanese water Iris: Iris ensata 'Driven Snow' It flowers for many weeks with a succession of delicate flowers. Right now it has gone to ground and is just showing some tiny leaves.

Iris ensata 'Driven Snow'

The native paperbark tree Melaleuca linariifolia is usually given the common name of Snow-in-Summer because of the masses of fluffy white flowers which blanket the canopy. I grow this on the nature strip as it only reaches about 5 metres and has a neat rounded habit. There is also a dwarf compact Cultivar of this tree called 'Snowstorm' which only grows to about 1.5metres.Finally ,it is hard to resist growing the annual Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata .Sowing the seed direct where it is to grow in early spring ,it is a hardy and not in need of any special soil and has low water requirements.

Euphorbia marginata, Snow-on-the-Mountain

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

3 Mallee Eucalypts

Eucalyptus caesia ,Gungurra

By definition a Mallee is a multi-trunked Eucalypt often originating from a fairly arid part of Australia or where the environment is windy ,exposed or with shallow soil. The multi stems are thought to be an adaptation to the harsh growing conditions ,as wind blown leaves are able to collect around the base of the tree more readily, thus conserving soil moisture.They are usually smaller growing than other Eucalypts making them ideal for using in suburban gardens, courtyards and growing under power lines. The multi stems often give way to a single trunked specimen in these more favourable growing conditions. Herein lies a problem. Often they are tied to a stake "to make them grow straight" even though they have been "programmed" to make way for other stems and want to grow almost horizontally when young. This is particularly the case with Eucalyptus caesia This small tree is from the Mount Stirling Ranges and Murchison River district of Western Australia and occurs naturally on granite soils. The flowers are remarkable and are produced in bunches of three sometimes directly from the main trunk

While the upper stem bark is mealy white, the lower trunk has thin dark red bark which peels off in decorative little curls. I like to plant it in groups of three and it is complimented by underplanting with a tall evergreen grass such as Miscanthus transmorrisoniensis. I have seen it underplanted with Gaura lindheimeri which complimented the delicate airy pendulous branches of the tree.
My second Mallee is Eucalyptus curtisii , Plunkett Mallee. This small tree produces masses of creamy white flowers which cover all the ends of the branches in November. Needless to say it comes alive with all manner of insects and birds attracted to the blossom. The bark is satiny smooth to touch. It rarely grows straight up but twists and turns all over the place .
Another smooth barked specimen is the Port Jackson Mallee , Eucalyptus obtusiflora .As the common name implies ,it is a coastal plant adapted to thin Hawkesbury sandstone soils .The leaves are large ,thick and leathery able to withstand strong winds . The flowers occur from June to August . It would make an excellent low shrubby hedge in an exposed coastal garden.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Molasses Grass, Melinis minutiflora

Melinis minutiflora, Molasses Grass
This grass came into flower a couple of weeks ago and I guess the colour could be described as reddish brown or maroon This photo does not really show it up that well because it is such an unassuming plant and is not particularly showy or ornamental.
I grow this on the nature strip under some trees. It grows in a loose straggling fashion from a central crown. It was introduced into Australia from South America as a pasture grass in the early part of the 20th century as it was able to grow on steep banks and prevent erosion. It never became a "weed" as it does not set a lot of viable seed.
What I love about it, is that it exudes a strong sweet smell from its somewhat hairy leaves especially during humid Summer days. If you are driving through northern New South Wales or South East Queensland at that time of year ,it is hard not to miss it and take in that heady fragrance .

Violets , Viola odorata

Viola odorata, Violet
"Violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes."
Winter's Tale.IV. iv.

On a warm Winters day like today the air was pervasive with the scent of Violets
I grow the very common one and it has moved around with me from place to place as I consider it an essential garden plant. I like the fact it needs virtually no attention to perform well and that it usually comes up in unexpected spots often where it ends up being walked on or driven over.
What holds true today , is that "Violets love a lean ground under hedges" This quote is from a book called "The Dutch Gardener" written in 1711 by Henry van Oosten.If you give them rich soil and fertilizer all you get is lush foliage and no flowers. In the Nursery trade, it is often hard to find good perfumed Violets. A dark purple variety with stiff glossy leaves and large flowers is readily available but it lacks scent.The Palma Violet (Violette de Palme) which is originally from Italy and the French Riviera ,is sometimes seen as well .I have grown double flowering forms and white and pink flowering varieties but they don't seem as tough as the common one.Of course the flowers are edible ,and when brushed with egg white and dusted with fine sugar they make a sophisticated addition or decoration to cakes and desserts .

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A tree Fuchsia: Fuchsia arborescens

Fuchsia arborescens
I found this shrub growing in an old Sydney garden and thought it worth propagating as it has almost iridescent magenta coloured flowers and very glossy leaves.
It really shines on a sunny Winters day.
It is fairly quick growing and needs to be tip pruned constantly to maintain a good shape.
The original plant I took the cuttings from was a sad straggly looking specimen almost chocked by Ivy but still managing to produce a generous flower display. It is native to Mexico from Morelos and Guerrero southwards to Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama. In the garden it will thrive in a semi shaded position with a bit of soil moisture. A few insects chew on the leaves but is otherwise very hardy.

Acacia or Wattle plants

One of my favourite winter flowering plants is the Acacia or Wattle.The above photo is of Acacia macradenia or Zig-Zag Wattle With its symbolic meaning of friendship, it is wonderful to see the inclusion of the wattle flower in the recently unveiled painting Our Lady of the Southern Cross at St Mary's Cathedral in central Sydney to celebrate World Youth Day 08. The flower colour is also the "Gold" of the Wallabies Rugby jersey and who can forget their recent thrashing of the French on home soil. Here are a few of my favourite Acacias for the home garden:Acacia macradenia or Zig-Zag Wattle. This has curious zigzaging stems from which hang long pendulous racemes of flowers. The new foliage is bronze and glows in the sunshine.
Acacia podalyrifolia ,Mt Morgan Wattle.This has great silvery blue foliage and is long flowering but can end up looking a bit tragic when it has succumbed to sooty mould or borers. Fortunately it self seeds and new plants appear around the original over time.

Acacia podalyrifolia
Acacia melanoxylon ,Blackwood .I planted one of these at the Nursery about ten years ago and it now a tall tree with attractive grey bark and olive green foliage. A great furniture and cabinet making timber tree.
Acacia glaucoptera Flat Wattle.I love this as a plant curiosity for the stems and leaves are as one with the flowers emerging along the trunk like hat pins.
Acacia suaveolens Sweet scented wattle. I don't have this in the garden but it is a favourite to find on coastal bush walks , not only for the sweet perfumed flowers but later on for the flat and fat oblong seed pods which have a ghostly bloom. In the bush I also like Acacia ulicifolia or Prickly Moses.The flowers are a delightful cream colour but the foliage is quite thorny. It has garden potential for creating a predator free bird nesting site when combined with say Grevillea 'Scarlet Sprite'.

Acacia suaveolens : seed pods
One last (thorny) one to mention is Acacia farnesiana.This is one is a bit controversial as it is regarded as a native plant in New South Wales and a terrible weed in Queensland where it prevents cattle from getting to water along stock routes.It is named from the Farnese Gardens in Rome (in 1611) and is the "Mimosa" of the French perfume industry. The oil distilled from the flowers has the odour of violets.