Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wildflowers and where to see them

Hovea ,Purple Pea Flower
"Spring is with us again, the wildflower spring that is ,for officially it is still winter..."
Kathleen McArthur Living on the Coast 1989
"...the flowers of the Australian bush are beautiful, and noted for delicacy of form and richness of colour..
Many of them emit freely a perfume which fills the surrounding air with fragrance. What can be more exquisite or more delicate than the scent of Boronia megastigma, Boronia heterophylla, Boronia serrulata, Sydney native rose..."
Ellis Rowan The Flower Hunter 1891

"...Sydney people are most fortunate in the wildflowers that abound around that fabulous harbour. The sandstone country that flowers love so much runs inland for quite a distance in places..."
Edna Walling On the Trail of Australian Wildflowers 1948

The wildflowers are in bloom so it's thanks to the following women for painting them, writing about them and contributing to their preservation and conservation..........
Ellis Rowan, Estelle Thomson, Florence Sulman, May Gibbs, Thistle Harris, Jean Galbraith,
Veda Cruickshank, Rica Erikson, Vera Scarth-Johnson, Barbara Salter, Celia Rosser,
Thelma Chippendale, Edna Walling, Kathleen McArthur, Judith Wright,Betty Maloney,
Jean Walker,Diana Snape.......
Wildflower Gardens Open to the Public
Stony Range Flora Reserve
Pittwater Road
Dee Why
The Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden
Mona Vale Road
St Ives
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary
Lane Cove Road
Mona Vale
Joseph Banks Native Plants Reserve
Bates Drive

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Crassula arborescens syn ovata 'Hummel's Sunset'

Crassula arborescens syn ovata 'Hummel's Sunset'
The colours of this "jade" shrub succulent take on a glossy glow during winter, with much more red and pink in the leaves than usual. It is a cultivar from California and can grow up to a metre in a garden bed. Needless to say it is very hardy and is reasonably frost tolerant. The top leaves get blackened in frosty weather but it recovers quickly when the weather warms up.
 2017 update:I have various sizes available for sale including advanced specimens in 30cm pots. It has very low water requirements and even in a container it will grow well with just occasional watering.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A gardening knife

Once upon a time ,knives of the non kitchen variety for use outdoors were given a G rating.
In the 1957 film The Pajama Game ,a comedy no less, knives were thrown around with gay abandon,even in the darkened confines of "Hernando's Hideaway" (Ole! indeed)
This particular knife is very useful for dividing up perennials on a work bench,removing offsets from Agave and Aloe plants and for weeding around prickly or spiky plants.It is also great for use in the bush if you are trying to remove that most horrible of weeds Asparagus densiflorus and plumosus.
The non-sharp point also means it does less damage if you do happen to drop it on your foot.(Heaven forbid) The wooden handle is also great as it is non slip and comfortable to use.
James and Janet Walker
M/S Allora Qld 4362
(sorry to the squeamish but it's called a lamb skinning knife)

2017 update: This was my second one which I no longer have. Despite spray painting the handle in dayglo orange it disappeared in the garden one day and never returned

Marsilea drummondii, Nardoo

Marsillea drummondii, Nardoo
This unassuming small native water fern which has leaves not unlike a four-leaved clover, has an interesting history. The triangular shaped seed(spore) cases are edible and have a pleasant nutty taste.
Spore cases on Nardoo
This formed part of the last meal of the ill-fated Burke and Wills who perished at Cooper's Creek in 1861. The following quotation from Wills' Journal is taken from Brough Smyth's "Aborigines of Victoria"....."I cannot understand this Nardoo at all ;it certainly will not agree with me in any form. We are reduced to it alone,and we manage to get from 4 to 5 pounds a day between us ...It seems to give us no nutriment...Starvation on Nardoo is by no means very unpleasant but for the weakness one feels and the utter inability to move oneself, for ,as far as appetite goes it gives me the greatest satisfaction"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Camellia reticulata

Originating from the Yunnan province in China, the exquisite and sumptuous flowers of Camellia reticulata are regarded there as a symbol of good fortune and wealth.
In the home garden ,they develop as an open and sparsely foliaged shrub with leaves which have serrated margins and a slightly quilted appearance. Most are slow growers ,though grafting onto Camellia sasanqua rootstock makes them more vigorous. They need less moisture and nutrients than other Camellias and are adaptable to light well drained soil.
A well grown specimen of Camellia reticulata would make an ideal feature plant in a small courtyard if accompanied by a clump forming bamboo ,topiary and grasses.
Last weekend these beauties were on display at Legacy House in Market Street ,Wollongong, a show put on by Camellias Illawarra Inc. Here are some of the blooms which were on display.

Champion Bloom: Ruta Hagman

Reserve Champion: Ted Craig
Champion Australian Raised Cultivar: Alaskan Queen
Champion Formal Double Bloom: Valentines Day Variegated

2017 update: I often get asked about where to obtain good sized Reticulatas but they remain elusive as many of the specialist Camellia growers are no longer in business.

Gymnostoma australianum, Daintree Pine

Gymnostoma australianum Daintree Pine

This is a beautiful small native conifer which hopefully will become more widely known as a garden accent plant or for use as a hedge plant. It grows to about 2 metres and stays in a compact conical shape. The little cones are quite attractive as well. Its hardiness ,frost tolerance and suitability for coastal districts make it a great garden or landscaping plant. It tolerates shade well.
2017 update: I had a batch of mature ones in 300mm for sale which have now all sold and I will have more available at some future date.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Streptosolen jamesonii,' Ginger Meggs'

Streptosolen jamesonii syn Browallia jamesonii

This slender branched shrub which grows to about 1.5 metres is not seen much anymore even though it will grow as far south as Melbourne. The open growth habit of cascading branches may have been the reason for its loss of popularity as it is is not easy to "attack" with a hedge trimmer and requires hand pruning after flowering. The honey eater birds love it and often weigh the arching branches right to the ground while feeding.The bright marmalade colour and manageable height means it can be used to great effect when planted in front of the dark forms of Cordyline australis such as 'Scott Base' or Cordyline fruticosa 'Negra'
 2017 update. It is still available in the nursery trade and I sometimes propagate it. There is a golden yellow flowering form which always puts on a good show. The dwarf compact form known as 'Ginger Meggs' is also available.

Euphorbia pulcherrima plenissima, 'Flor de Noche Buena'

Euphorbia pulcherrima plenissima, Double Poinsettia 
in a garden, Neutral Bay ,Sydney.
The winter flowering shrub Poinsettia is now seldom grown which is a pity because it is a reliable drought hardy shrub which only requires a late spring prune to keep it manageable .The cream flowering form is also seen in some old gardens. If you see one ,ask for a cutting, as it strikes readily from a 30 cm piece placed directly in the ground.
The dwarf cultivars of Poinsettia are now grown for use as a Christmas office and home decoration plant .This is an American tradition which we have adopted. (Poinsettias are stimulated to flower by the short day length of winter.) That said, the Paul Ecke varieties from California are truly magnificent favourite is one with green and gold leaves with maroon flowers, just a shame they are not grown here during our winter.
2017 update: I have found it quite hard to grow to a good size in a pot and in the garden it just sulks and refuses to grow. Recently dismayed to see a mature cream flowered in a local garden removed removed and replaced with some nondescript shrub.

Caltha pulustris 'Gigantea', King Cup

Caltha palustris 'Gigantea', King Cup
This temperate northern hemisphere plant begins to flower now and continues for at least another month .It is a shade and water loving perennial which has handsome kidney shaped leaves and pure butter yellow flowers to 5 cm across. I grow it in pots usually with a tray of water underneath and then move it to deep shade during the hot months. It can be grown beside a pond in damp heavy soil as well. These "buttercup" type flowers have a real glow to them and are a delight to the eye.
2017 update I no longer have a plant of it in the garden as it could not cope with the extreme heat of summer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum', Bronze Fennel

Fennel has an interesting Olympics association in that the ancient Greek word Marathon means fennel. (in Latin marathrum means fennel)
Part of the myth and legend of the battle of Marathon fought on a fennel field against the Persians in 490 BC , has the Athenian athlete Pheidippides run the first "marathon" with news of battle victory holding of course a sprig of fennel.
Much later the poet Robert Browning alluded to this legend in his stirring poem "Pheidippides" which was published in 1879.
This poem could well have lent some credence towards the inauguration of the marathon race at the first modern Olympics in 1896.
History aside, the bronze form of fennel makes a fine garden plant ,though it should be remembered that the plain green form is something of a roadside weed.
The tan and rich brown foliage of bronze fennel is the perfect foil for bright flowered perennials such as Rudbeckia, Cannas and Daylilies or in combination with roses such as the apricot coloured 'Just Joey' or the coffee shaded 'Julia's rose.
The added bonus is that it is a useful kitchen herb. The cut stems and foliage add a subtle flavour when used to line a baking dish when cooking a whole fish.
The Italians use the other fennel ,the bulb one (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum) which is often called aniseed in both salads and hot dishes.
They also use fennel seed in the salami finocciona and for the liqueur fenouillette.

2017 update: Not sure why I didn't include a photo. I still grow it sometimes and it looks best in winter and early spring

Physostegia virginiana, 'Obedient Plant'

Physostegia virginiana Obedient Plant

For those with a keen eye, it is interesting to note the inclusion of this flower in the bouquets presented to medal winners at the Beijing Olympic Games. Not a Chinese perennial plant but from east North America where it occurs from Minnesota ,south to North Carolina,Tennessee and Missouri. In Australia ,it is a very hardy plant adaptable to both sub-tropical climates and cold temperate. It is a rampant grower sending out underground stems in all directions, but that said ,it is a good cut flower with strong stiff stems and pretty flowers in shades of white, pale and dark pink. It gets the name 'Obedient Plant' because the individual flowers on the stalk (the pedicel) are malleable and remain fixed when moved. It is a perfect florist's flower as no wire is needed to hold the flower in place. Plants are not readily available anymore but may be available when in flower during summer.
 2017 update: Nice to see it returning to being available again and seeing it on Nursery tubestock lists though I probably won't be growing it commercially again at this stage.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

winter break

Hail frozen on a fence ledge
Time for a winter break. Will be returning soon.....

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pimelea linifolia, Rice Flower

Pimelea linifolia, Rice Flower in coastal bushland near Wollongong City
This charming small shrub which grows to about 45cm high is found along the east coast in the sandy soils away from the beach and sheltered from the full force of salt laden winds It seems to be always in flower and is worth growing in the garden if you can mass plant it in amongst some native grasses. There is an improved form available with larger flowers called 'White Jewel'
2017 update: still hard to grow and propagate. Enjoy it on coastal bush walks

Pimelea linifolia 'White Jewel'

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hippeastrum 'Papillo', Butterfly Lily

Hippeastrum 'Papillo' (syn H. psittacinum)
Hippeastrum lilies start to flower in late winter and continue through to spring.The name is derived from 'hippeus' a knight and 'astron' a star and they really are flamboyant and exotic star performers in the garden.The flowers of this one are orchid like ,creamy white and with maroon and green stripes. They like similar conditions to Agapanthus and are just as tough though they prefer the temperature to stay above zero degrees. This species stays evergreen with quite tough strappy leaves. I grow this in a pot with the bulb held quite high above the rim.I remove the small babies from around the parent bulb in summer It likes to be 'pot-bound' and is not particular as to watering. It is from south Brazil where it grows in sandy soil with a leaf mulch in sun or part shade position.
2017 update. This has proved tricky to grow over the years and I have lost a lot of potted plants from bulb rot, though sometimes it is marauding snails and slugs which decimate the plants. I don't have any plants for sale currently.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Azalea indica 'Alphonse Anderson'

Azalea indica 'Alphonse Anderson'

This Azalea is one of the big three which start to flower about now .The others being 'Alba Magna' (pure white) and 'Magnifica' (magenta or rosy purple) Usually you see them in older homes happily growing in the middle of a lawn or garden bed without any obvious watering or attention. I like the white best of all because it is a real blinding snow white .After flowering however, you are left with a fairly ordinary looking shrub usually with leaves affected by red spider mite and other pests. This is the reason they have fallen from favour somewhat.This is a pity because they are such reliable and hardy shrubs. I think the best way to treat them is as topiary and shear them within an inch of their lives. The Japanese do this to the 'Kurume' type Azaleas but the larger types like 'Alphonse' respond well to this treatment as well.

Azaleas in foreground at Japanese Garden, Mt Cootha Botanic Gardens, Brisbane in winter

Propagation by marcotting at Bali Botanic Gardens.
2017 update: there has been a lot more interest in growing these old fashioned style Azaleas in recent years. If you have the patience it is worth starting out with a single stemmed small plant so you have the option of training it as a standard or keeping it close clipped with cloud pruning

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alstroemeria brasiliensis, Parrot Alstroemeria

Alstroemeria brasiliensis 'Variegatus'
The variegated form of the Parrot Lily, so called because the flowers are rosy-crimson and green,is less invasive than the plain green form which should only be planted with caution. The creamy grey leaves of this one remind me of Hosta sieboldiana the plantain lily from Japan which has larger but similarly marked leaves.Whereas Hostas due best in a cool temperate climate this bulb is hardier over a range of climates.It is indispensable as a ground cover in deep dry shade and is a good contrast with dark leaved strappy plants like Clivia lilies.
2017 update I no longer have a plant of it but it occasionally makes an appearance at plant fairs. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Callistemon polandii, Gold-tipped Bottlebrush

Callistemon polandii, gold tipped bottlebrush
This bottlebrush was named after the Reverand Poland who was probably a keen eyed amateur botanist in his spare time. It occurs along that strip of coast between Rockhampton and Townsville but like most of its kind it is adaptable to frosty climates around the country. The flowers are a nice deep red and the gold tipped anthers really stand out against this colour.
An added bonus is that the new foliage is silvery pink and quite distinctive. It is in flower now and will probably continue to flower for the next few months. It is usually sold as a "shrub" but I think it is better treated as a small tree as it grows to about 5 metres ,a good size for a small garden. Better still in planting a group of 5 about a metre apart, and, as they mature, by removing the lower branches an interesting symmetry of trunks is revealed . This also allows for under-planting with either other native plants or tropical style foliage plants, The fibrous papery bark of the trees is also useful for attaching orchids or bromeliads to add another dimension to the planting scheme. Needless to say it is an excellent tree for attracting birds from the noisy lorikeets to tiny honeyeaters. The New Holland honeyeaters often hold a party in the tree with a gathering of up to ten or fifteen making a terrific racket with their machinegun like explosive chattering and darting about.
2017 update; I no longer have a plant of it in the garden but it still should be available from specialist native plant growers

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Bromeliad flower

Aechmea species flower
If you are sick of hearing every conversation opening with the words C'est dur pour tout le monde (It's tough for everybody) then this "Brom" is bound to put a smile on your face with its mini pineapple flowers. For the young at heart it might remind them of everyone's favourite "porous yella fella" SpongeBob SquarePants ,(the invertebrate sea sponge with square pants) who happens to live in a two-storey pineapple.
So this one is for SpongeBob....friendly adventurous, clumsy, disaster prone but always looking on the bright side

Kitchen Garden Foundation

The Kitchen Garden Foundation is an initiative of Australian cook and author Stephanie Alexander to encourage schools to establish productive vegetable and fruit gardens so that children are able to learn the complete process of growing ,harvesting and cooking fresh food.
 For more information go to

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Winter flowering Rose

Rose Zephrine Drouhin (1868) growing through a hedge of the maroon foliaged Iresine herbstii
This hot pink flowering rose belongs to the group known as the Bourbon Roses which originated on the French island colony of Reunion (I'Lle Bourbon) now part of Mauritius.
Roses which flower in winter seem to retain their perfume throughout the day and this one has quite a strong scent. It grows as an untidy rambling shrub and is perfect for planting where it can rest on or grow over the top of a hedge.One of its best attributes is that it is thornless and apart from a getting a bit of mildew on the leaves in summer it is very hardy. I usually cut off the spent flowers and before you know it there is a fresh batch appearing .There is not set time for pruning it either as long as any dead wood or old stems are cut out it is rewarding and easy care. ,definitely a firm favourite. Spot flowering occurs throughout the year.

Aloe ciliaris,a climbing Aloe

Aloe ciliaris, a climbing Aloe
This climber from South Africa should be more widely grown in light of its low water requirements and tolerance of shade.The flowers occur throughout the year and are quite distinctive yellow tipped and bright orange-red. In its native habitat it grows in dense scrub and climbs through surrounding bushes sometimes to a height of 6 metres. Like any climber it needs to be trained on a support when young to give best results. This is not something I admit to having done but left to its on devices it has managed to grow up the side of a shed and flower well. It is not thorny ,the species name ciliaris refers to the soft hairs around the leaf sheaths.Tip pruning can be done to keep it as a shrub.
2017 update: I have limited stock available for sale.

Polyanthus (Primula x polyantha cv.)

Double flowering Polyanthus with the purple ground cover Tradescantia pallida

Polyanthus are one of the mainstays of the winter gardening scene. With their lurid colours they are the sort of flower you expect to find in a Jeff Koons artwork. Remember his Puppy outside The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 1995....a living sculpture of plants.
How to use these garish colours in a garden can be difficult .I am sure the plant breeders thought they might give a bright show in a window box on a gloomy dull day.
So how to use them here? I think they are the perfect plant for outside a cubby house to encourage children to take an interest in gardening.
Occasionally amongst the batch you will find some flowers which have more unusual colour such as this one with blue veins in the petals,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oenanthe javanica 'Pink Flamingo'

Oenanthe javanica 'Pink Flamingo'
The plain green form of this plant is called water celery or water drop-wort. I grow this pink cultivar in a pot in shallow water but it is able to grow in heavy damp soil as well .In winter the colour becomes more intense and the leaves are quite feathery and delicate with a cream edge If you have one of those ponds where everything goes to sleep or looks half dead at this time of year this is the plant to grow but during summer it less appealing and needs to be cut back to control the vigorous growth.
It does have an "international passport" as it is native to tropical Queensland, India Japan and Malaysia.In Japan it is called seri and is added to salads.It is surprisingly cold tolerant and will withstand frosts.