Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cryptotaenia japonica 'Atropurpurea' and Hypoestes sanguinolenta

Cryptotaenia japonica 'Atropurpurea' (Purple leafed Japanese Parsley) and Hypoestes sanguinolenta 'Freckleface' or Polka Dot Plant
These two plants make a great team in a shady corner of the garden .The "Freckleface" is a hardy soft leafed plant from Madagascar which can be grown as a summer annual in cold climates or perennial in warm ones.It comes in three colours, red ,white and hot pink.It produces flowers in summer on tall stems but as they are insignificant, they are best cut off to keep the plant in a compact shape. The almost black ruffled leaves of the Japanese Parsley are quite distinctive but they need to be set against something bright to show them off. It also produces a flower stem to about 25 cm of tiny light pink flowers which are fairly insignificant. Both these plants will respond to moist garden soil but will hang on during dry weather and come back to life after rain.

Tradescantia x andersoniana 'Sweet Kate'

Tradescantia x andersoniana 'Sweet Kate'

This hardy perennial which began to flower in spring is still going strong though it has become so tall (35cm) that it is due for a severe cut back .The great thing about this plant is that you can cut it off at ground level and it will grow straight back up and start to flower again. This variety has very loud coloured foliage and flowers. The clump of grassy leaves are bright yellow or lime green and the flowers are vivid purple or dark blue. The flowers are sun sensitive however so you only see them in the early morning or on dull overcast days. There are some more subdued cultivars of this plant including the soft blue grey "Osprey" as well as pure white, pale mauve ,pink and a double flowering blue.It is a very hardy plant across a range of climates and will grow in full sun or light shade.
2017 update: I still grow this though I am currently out of stock.

Perilla frutescens crispa, "Shisho"

Purple leafed Beefsteak Plant Perilla frutescens crispa is called Shisho in Japan
This summer herb is easy to grow and drops enough seed to return each year.The seeds are remarkable as they are mottled purple and resemble tiny spotted birds' eggs.
In Japan the leaves are used in tempura, while the seeds are preserved and used as a salty core in candy or sweets. Another use is as an accompaniment to pickled plums.These oil rich seeds also have had an economic use in the manufacture of paint as they act as a quick drying agent .
This variety is the most decorative form of Perilla but leaf colour can vary from green to brown to mahogany to almost black.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rumex sanguineus (Bloodleaf) with Iresine herbstii (dark leaf form)

Rumex sanguineus (Bloodleaf) in foreground with Iresine herbstii dark leaf form
This Rumex is related to French Sorrell (Rumex scultatus) and has the same lemony tang or taste to the leaves due to the presence of oxalic acid . In the same way as Sorrell ,it could be added to salads and gives a bright colour contrast to a mix of leaves Rumex have a long tap root and are tolerant of poor, boggy or swampy soil.They need a cool temperate climate to flower but will grow happily in warmer climates.It is a small clump forming plant to about 15cm so needs to be at the edge of a planting scheme. The leaf veins make quite an impact especially when grown against a plant which picks up this colour such as the Iresine.
The dark leaf form of Iresine herbstii is unusual for the curled very dark leaves which emerge from the equally dark stems . It is a frost tender shrub which grows to about 35cm and can be trimmed to maintain a compact shape but is otherwise very hardy. Flowers are insignificant.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Solenostemon scutellarioides, Coleus

Coleus is one plant which will always be spoken about by its common name rather than the tongue twisting botanical one .They are at their best now .They thrive in the heat when given enough water and contrary to popular belief they are quite sun tolerant, though a spot in morning sun suits them best. They could be described as perennial but it is often difficult to keep them going over winter in cooler climates even in frost free ones. A few cuttings of favourites taken in autumn and stuck together in the one pot is one way of keeping them till spring as growth is rapid in warm weather. Striking cuttings is easy and can be as simple as placing a few stems in a glass of water.The colour choice available is vast. I like the almost black leaf varieties such as "Inky Tears"as they contrast well with plants such as the dwarf golden Bamboo. Below, Coleus are pictured as a foreground planting to the dark grass Pennisetum 'Rubrum' ,Purple Fountain Grass.

Above an almost black Coleus growing with dwarf golden Bamboo

Podolepis neglecta and Murdania graminea,Native Daisy and Lily

Podolepsis neglecta (yellow native daisy) Murdania graminea (mauve grass lily)
Small native perennial plants that grow in grasslands and scrub rarely make into the home garden. Their beauty is subtle and to make any impact in a garden setting they would need to be mass planted . Both of these plants produce flowers on stems that are at least 30 cm and flowering time is usually quite long, though very much dependant on rainfall. Their leaves are fairly insignificant so when not in flower they do tend to "disappear" and become nondescript. One of the remarkable aspects of the Mudania is the vast strong root system that this plant has . Perhaps this is the way it is able to survive in a grassy habitat and regrow after fire or grazing by animals.
2017 update: Available from Greening Australia Nursery in Brisbane.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tree trunks and bark

Some photos of trees with interesting bark

Houttuynia cordata 'Chamaeleon'

Houttuynia cordata 'Chamaeleon'
This ground cover is sometimes given the name of 'fish plant' and will grow across a range of climates from temperate to tropical. It is native to South East Asia and China. The plain green leaf form is sold in Asian grocery stores and the aromatic strongly scented leaves make a great addition to soups or can be included as an ingredient when making Vietnamese rice paper rolls. In Vietnamese it is called rau diep ca. It spreads by underground runners and may become invasive but is easily controlled by yanking out the bits you don't want . The flowers are fairly insignificant white 'bracts' though the double flowering form 'Flore Pleno' is more impressive.

2017 update. I still grow this and can propagate on request.

Calathea burle-marxii 'Green Ice'

Calathea burle-marxii 'Green Ice'
Calathea, a name derived from the Greek 'kalathos' meaning basket are tropical herbaceous perennials so they are at their best during mid summer. This particular plant was named after the famous Brazilian landscape architect Burle Marx and grows as a clump to about 1.5 metres with broad banana like leaves and striking flower stems up to 45cm .It likes a semi shade position and some humus rich soil but is otherwise fairly hardy. Like other herbaceous perennials ,the down time is in winter when the leaves get a bit tatty.and need to be cut back.There is another cultivar called 'Blue Ice' which has very pale blue flower heads In temperate climates Calathea make good container plants and they can be moved indoors during frosty weather.

2017 update: I no longer have this plant unfortunately.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Zinnea elegans 'Oklahoma Gold'

Zinnea elegans 'Oklahoma Gold'

Zinnias perform well when the weather gets as hot as it does now, though coming as they do via Mexico, one would expect this of them. Passing a massed display of these bright summer flowers the other day I made a note to come back and photograph them.
Trouble is, all those other summer distractions are keeping us away from the garden...the cricket..the tennis....Tour Down Under ...the at ..(near that bridge) where the bream and whiting are good.
What I like about Zinnias is that they flower till at least June if you keep picking the flowers. They get a bit of mildew on the leaves late in the season but this does not seem to diminish the flower quality. A few years ago, when pastel coloured flowers were all the rage, Zinnia 'Envy' with its pale green flowers was popular. My favourite variety is Zinnea 'Happy Talk' with its spikey flower petals .The cultivar names sure do sound like they are straight out of a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway Musical starring Hugh Jackman!
Below hot pink Zinneas with Miscanthus grass and Cannas.
Below, .Zinneas and Coleus surrounding Cordyline 'Red Star'

Below yellow Zinneas with purple heart Tadescantia pallida

Pink Zinneas with Coleus

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Schizolobium parahybum, Mexican Tree Fern

Schizolobium parahybum 
Tower Tree, in Wollongong Botanic Gardens
This tree from Brazil and Panama was given the common name of Mexican Tree Fern years ago in the Nursery trade perhaps because the central leaves fan out in much the same way as a tree fern does.It is quite an extraordinary tree to grow because it is so fast growing and remains straight, and slender to about 30 metres.The trunk on young trees remains green and is somewhat sticky to touch. Clusters of bright yellow flowers appear in summer and are just visible in this photo. It is deciduous in winter so you are left with a "flag pole" at that time of year.
2017 update: I have a few advanced plants available

Poinciana regina syn Delonix regina

Poinciana regina syn Delonix regina 
 The Royal Poinciana Tree

This broad spreading tree from Madagascar with its soft ferny foliage is one of the most perfect summer shade trees under which you can really relax and chill out. It is strictly tropical but will grow all along the warm east coast as far south as Nowra., though the flamboyant scarlet orange flowers are at their best from Brisbane to the north. A specimen of it I admire in a local garden has reached a respectable 6 metres and is very graceful with the leaf fronds waving like cool fans in the slightest breeze.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Calliandra haematocephala, Red Powder Puff

Calliandra haematocephala 
Red Powder Puff
This is a really hardy shrub from South Brazil for warm temperate to tropical gardens. It is rambling with arching branches which spread out to a couple of metres in all directions, though it can be pruned to a well rounded shrub. There are several flushes of flowers throughout the year ,from winter to early summer.There is a white flowering form which is equally as hardy and a pink one as well .It will grow in shade or sun and tolerate root competition from trees. Birds are attracted to the big bright flowers. It is tolerant of light frosts only.
2017 update: I no longer have it available for sale.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Agave angustifolia marginata,Variegated Caribbean Agave

Agave angustifoila marginata, Variegated Caribbean Agave from the West Indies
This is one of the best small Agaves which suckers and forms an easy care group over a number of years and one which never becomes difficult to manage . A local planting of it in a dry planter box in front of a real estate office always looks smart as the plants remain formal and neat. The white edged blue grey leaves are distinctive and the terminal spines are small and inconspicuous.
It could also be grown amongst softer flowering perennials. As an edging plant in a shrub border particularly in difficult dry sites it would prove a winner.
2017 update: I have stock available mainly in smaller sizes.

Heliotropium arborescens,Cherry Pie

Heliotropium arborescens "Heliotrope" or Cherry Pie

Heliotrope was the name used to describe the particular shade of purple which this small vanilla scented South American shrub produces. Once favoured as a respectable colour to be worn by ladies, it even gets discussed as such in the drama series The Jewel in the Crown based on Paul Scott's novels The Raj Quartet. Perhaps it was a familiar shrub in the warm "Hill Station" gardens of British India.
The crinkled furry leaves are also tinged purple. It is a useful shrub for use under trees or on embankments in a semi shaded position though it will tolerate full sun. It forms a sprawling shrub about a metre high and across. There are a couple of other forms including one with golden foliage and one with white flowers. They are just barely frost tolerant and prefer a warm to hot spot to do well . Flowers are produced constantly in the warm months and they need regular light pruning to keep them in shape.The perfume is one you never get tired of as it is warm and sweet .

The colour using industries adopted the name in about 1880

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Euphorbia cotinifolia

Burgundy coloured leaves of Euphorbia cotinifolia
This shrub/small tree from Africa is becoming increasingly popular as a warm climate substitute for purple or red foliaged trees such as Japanese Maples ,Acer palmatum or the Forest Pansy, Cercis canadensis, both of which do better in cool temperate climates. Euphorbia cotinifolia is frost tender and may even become deciduous in cold winters without frost. The first flush of spring foliage is a rich dark red sometimes with a blue grey bloom over the surface of the leaf. Like all Euphorbias it has very low water requirements and will tolerate quite harsh growing conditions and is not fussy about soil .Care should be taken when pruning to avoid the milky sap which may cause skin blisters and eye irritation.
2017 update: I have stock available.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lagerstroemia indica, Crepe Myrtle

Lagerstroemia indica Crepe Myrtle
This summer flowering tree is well known over a range of climates from cool tempeate to sub tropical. Debate usually rages over whether to leave it unpuned, but pruning encourages larger flowers and the height can be kept to a manageable size in small gardens. In cool climates the leaves produce flame like autumn tones and the smooth satiny bark is also a feature.
Some old varieties were subject to powdery mildew which disfigures the leaves and has led to the unflattering common name of "Crap Myrtle"

New cultivars, such as those offered by Flemings Nursery in their Indian Summer range are long flowering and resistant to mildew.

Canna x generalis ,Cannas

Versatile plant Canna x generalis , above, showing dark leaf red flowering cultivar set against the pale leaves of the Giant Reed, Arundo donax 'Versicolor' with an edging of Hemerocallis Daylily
One plant which stands up to the current heatwave conditions and always looks good is the bulb/rhizome/perennial Canna. They have been used in public parks and municipal areas as summer bedding plants for over a century. One such planting which always looked good was in the median strip of a road near Bondi Beach in Sydney, though I don't think it is there anymore. Cannas are quite tolerant of salt laden coastal wind, though their leaves can become a bit shredded during a southerly buster. In recent years they have regained popularity as a hardy garden plant especially with the introduction of the many dwarf cultivars which are suitable for growing in pots and containers. The first Cannas are in flower in late spring while the Sweet Peas are still out as per photos below. Also of interest are the so called water Cannas ,Canna glauca, which as the name suggests are able to grow in shallow water though are adaptable and hardy under general garden conditions as well/ The foliage of Canna glauca is a lovely blue grey and the leaves are pointed.
Canna foliage can be quite striking as well ,with a colour range of smokey purple as in Canna 'Constitution' to gold striped as in 'Striatus' or 'Bengal Tiger' and near black as in 'Purpurea' or 'Wyoming' and the multi coloured 'Tropicana' or 'Durban' Unfortunately confusion remains over cultivar names with the same plant being given a different name depending on where you get it and in which country. 

Pale pink flowers of Canna 'Constitution'

Un-named bright Canary Yellow Canna

The hard pink of Canna 'Una"

Canna "Tropicana Gold' in a planting with ground covers Plectranthus 'Nicoletta and the violet blue flowering Nepeta grandiflora and the clump forming spikey Srelitzia juncea. Bambusa oldhamii behind will soon tower over this group
2017 update: I have a small range of Canna plants for sale.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ferraria undulata

Ferraria undulata
Bulb catalogues with offers of spring flowering bulbs usually arrive in January and it is difficult to even think that far ahead while the surf beckons.This South African bulb is one such bulb on offer from (the late) Bryan H Tonkin per his wife Shirley and daughter Jane in their summer 2009 catalogue. They also list Ferraria crispa which has darker velvety maroon coloured flowers.
I first encountered this bulb growing wild in Waverley Cemetery (in Sydney) under a 19th century headstone. Indeed it has a "Gothic Victorian" air about it as the flowers emit a queer smell ......a sort of musty closed tomb odour . To make matters worse the newly closed flowers (seen in bottom of photo) form a drop of dark coloured liquid at the tip which resembles a drop of blood.
Time to get out that LP of The Cramps and give it a spin! and bring on Halloween

Cosmos sulphureus

Cosmos sulphureus 'Bright Lights'
This summer annual which grows to about 60cm is one which returns year after year, as it sets lots of seed and does not require any special attention or soil. Seed usually germinates after rain and the seedlings grow quickly and flower within a matter of weeks. The best planting of it I have seen was one where it was grown under standard 'Iceberg' Roses, that other stalwart of the garden which go on flowering for months. All Cosmos species produce pollen rich flowers which attract beneficial insects to the garden. This orange form is the most common colour in the mix but yellow and scarlet flowers also appear .