Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lycoris aurea, Golden Spider Lily

Lycoris aurea, Golden Spider Lily
This is another bulb which likes that hot dry part of early summer to set it on the road to flowering well in the last days of summer and into autumn This species originates from limestone country in China where it is known as Hudixiao (Suddenly The Soil Smiles) a charming reference to its habit of flowering before the leaves appear. It likes a spot in morning sun and prefers a light sandy or well drained soil. Once the leaves appear it can be fed with blood and bone and given a dressing of lime. It is best left undisturbed for several years to build up a small colony of plants as it makes an excellent cut flower over time, especially as the flowers are coloured such a rich apricot yellow orange.
Lycoris have the distinction of being named after the actress-mistress of Marc Anthony.
Available from specialist bulb growers.

Amaryllis belladonna, Naked Lady

Amaryllis belladonna ''Windhoek' 
Naked Lady bulb

Why the common name "naked lady"? I guess it originated because this bulb flowers when the foliage is dormant and the bare stems appear well above the ground usually up to 90cm tall, though the name belladonna means beautiful woman.
This bulb is a true survivor and is often found in abandoned gardens and farmhouses .It has adapted to a hot baking early summer and then sends up the flowers in response to late summer or autumn rain. The hot pink coloured flowers on purple stems of A. b. 'Rubra' scream at you from quite a distance so it hard not to notice it in flower This cultivar A. b. 'Windhoek' has a white throat which makes it a bit more subdued. There is a white flowering form called A.b. 'Hathor'
I don't grow them in my nursery but all are readily available and appear in spring bulb catalogues .It is hardy over a range of climates.

Malaviscus arboreus Sleeping Hibiscus

Malaviscus arboreus 
 Sleeping Hibiscus
The sleeping Hibiscus gets its common name from the flowers which remain in a bud like state ,never opening to reveal a central flower.
However they are produced in such quantity this shrub remains quite a decorative addition to any warm climate garden. The usual colour is red but it will "sport" with pale marshmallow pink flowers as well. It is native to Florida ,Texas and Mexico south to Peru and Brazil. It needs constant pruning when young .as branches are sent out at odd angles and these can be quite sparse of foliage. This is probably why it is not often seen anymore in the nursery trade as it looks quite ungainly in a pot.
In this age of the compact shrub/hedge plant ,it does not fit the bill. It will eventually reach about 3 metres high and responds well to shearing to give it a good shape. I have seen it trained as a standard as testament to this. It is otherwise very hardy and not fussy as to soil or position.
2017 update: I propagate both colours and have plants available from time to time.

The Dahlia Part 2

Just a few more Dahlias from the Show Bench.......

looking good and single as well

the water-lily type

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hedychium flavescens, Cream Ginger

Hedychium flavescens 
 Cream Ginger

Ornamental Gingers have become quite popular in recent years and as they are native to mountainous regions in the tropics (this one is from east India) they are adaptable to more temperate climates and are frost hardy.Some such as Hedychium gardnerianum, the yellow ginger, like it a little too well here and can act like a garden thug spreading by thick rhizomes and difficult to dig out once established. It has even become a bushland weed especially in cool moist gullies where clumps can spread for a couple of metres across and are just as tall. It is clearly visible locally in such a spot if driving the Bulli Pass road.
It is the perfume of gingers which is the real attraction,as all have a strong sweet scent with lemon and gardenia overtones.The flowers are good for picking. sitting atop tall stems of large tropical leaves ,they make for dramatic arrangements.The perfume will fill the room on a late summer evening. In the garden ,old flower stems need to be removed once flowering has finished . Sometimes borer attack the stems and are noticed by the small holes at the base of the stem and the withered growth of the top. Otherwise they are fairly hardy but perform best in semi-shade with reasonably moist fertile soil.

Dahlia variabilis The Dahlia

The Dahlia was named after the Swedish botanist Dr Dahl, so it is fitting to give this popular and colourful flower a mention right now in light of the announcement of the engagement of Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria ,the 31 year old daughter of King Carl Gustaf XVI and Queen Silivia, and heir to the Swedish throne.
 She plans to marry her fitness instructor Daniel Westling,35, who will be known as Prince Daniel, Duke of Vaestergoetland. .................A good news story at last!
The Dahlia comes into its own around now and continues to bloom all through autumn. It is a popular flower for display at horticultural shows and competition is always fierce between growers
The photos below were taken at such a show here in Wollongong.

Being a native of Mexico/Central America ,the Dahlia does well in warm climates but is successful in cold climates as the plant is normally grown from underground tubers which can be lifted and stored dry in a box of sawdust or sand over the winter months for replanting the following spring.
The following poem was written by an English enthusiast in praise of the Dahlia.
Though severed from its native clime,
Whose skies are ever bright and clear
And nature's face is all sublime
And beauty clothes the fragrant air,
The Dahlia will each glory wear,
With tints as bright and leaves as green;
And winter,in his savage mien
May breathe forth storms,yet she will bear
With all: and in the Summer ray
With blossoms deck the brow of day.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' or Herbstfreude

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' or 'Herbstfreude'
This strong growing succulent from China and Japan can grow to about 60 cm and starts to flower about now. It is a true herbaceous plant and completely goes to ground over winter ,disappearing to just a few shoots barely visible on the surface of the soil. For this reason, it is a popular succulent to grow in cool temperate climates. It is less successful on the warm humid coast particularly if there is rain during February. Too much water swells the flowering stems and the whole plant collapses into a heap leaving a bare centre and horizontal stems. In cool climates ,the flower heads can be left to dry to a tan colour and these are decorative as a winter element when covered by an icy frost. brrr!
The safer beat in warm climates is to grow Sedum sieboldii which has delightful pale pink flowers and is fairly prostrate making it suitable to grow in a hanging basket.The foliage is also a nice pale blue grey.
2017 update: I no longer grow these cool climate Sedums

Agave bracteosa ,Curly Agave

Agave bracteosa , Curly Agave

This thorn-less clump forming Agave rarely gets a mention in any gardening books on cacti and succulents which is a pity because it is one of the more user friendly varieties and has all those qualities of hardiness and low water use which everyone now seeks in a garden plant. Perhaps one of the reasons it seldom makes it into mainstream garden use is because of the brittle nature of the leaves which are easily broken when planting or moving it. It suckers readily around the base but these can be removed using a sharp knife ,resulting in a stronger and larger central plant. As it is not a tall grower and covers an area of about a metre square ,it is suitable for including in a mixed planting of shrubs or planting under trees in light shade.
2017 update: I have limited stock available at any given time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ficus carica The Fig

From a horticultural point of view ,the fig tree is one of the easiest fruit trees to grow and in fact will react to over-fertile soils by producing very little fruit. If planting one, the trick is to fill the planting hole with some old concrete rubble and don't bother to remove the black plastic planter bag it was grown in,as they like to have their roots constricted . Thus imitating their natural habit of growing out of old walls in Mediterranean countries.That said ,a mulch of some cow manure in spring would suffice as fertilizer to keep them producing well. There are several varieties available with both purple or green skin and trees will start to fruit within three years of planting. All fig trees need to be netted once the fruit has formed to protect them from birds.
It has been a good hot summer for the ripening of figs and they are just starting to make an appearance at the local growers' market. You need to eat them just after they have been picked as ripe figs oozing sugar only last for a few days before starting to ferment or forming a layer of grey mould over their soft skin. Apart from eating them fresh, I like to have them wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto di Parma washed down by a glass of icy cold VB or crisp white wine. As a dessert ,I oven bake them for 15 minutes with brown sugar and a little butter. The resulting figs are swimming in caramel sauce which can be poured over ice-cream. A little lime zest on top makes them taste even better. I recently had figs in a salad made for a lunch by some Greek friends. The figs were accompanied by walnuts, goat's cheese and watercress . The combination was fantastic.
If you do have any left over figs or have a huge crop, they can be dried or preserved by placing them in jars and covering with alcohol such as a good port. The resulting drunken figs would be ready for eating by winter to remind you of the joys of summer.
2017 update Its the 5th of February and the figs have already been picked so are they ripening sooner now?

Hakea laurina, Pin-cushion Hakea

Hakea laurina 
 Pin-cushion Hakea
This handsome Western Australian shrub should be more widely grown but has been branded as difficult to grow because it allegedly likes sandy free draining soil and a climate with low humidity. Admittedly it can be a bit of a straggly shrub and needs to be kept well tip pruned to keep it in shape but any lack of compact habit is made up for by the extraordinary flowers. Usually it reaches about 2 metres in height and the main flowering time is winter /spring but odd flowers are produced throughout the year. Have planted it in clay soil with no loss of vigor or adverse reaction.
2017 update: This was a feature plant in my previous garden. I no longer have a plant of it. It is usually available from specialist native plant nurseries and is highly recommended.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Backhousia citriodora ,Lemon Myrtle

Backhousia citriodora
  Lemon Myrtle
Lemon Myrtle leaves have become a familiar and mainstream additive to a diverse range of products such as marinades, teas, yoghurt and soap. In its native habitat of Queensland it grows as a tall rainforest tree but is adaptable to a range of climates and can be sheared as a hedge plant or grown in a container. It makes a good pot plant if you want to have a few leaves on hand close to the kitchen .As a young plant it can be a bit straggly with a very open habit but soon becomes more compact with regular tip pruning. It is really one of those essential garden plants as you can never get tired of crushing a few leaves in your hand to release that warm citrus aroma.
2017 update: I currently don't have any stock available.

Atriplex nummularia, Old man saltbush

Atriplex nummularia
 Old man saltbush
This native plant was once scorned as a worthless shrub from arid regions of the country until it was discovered that sheep were fond of grazing on it and the flavour of lamb was improved and more succulent . Visit any specialist butcher or Farmer's Market in the city now and you are likely to find saltbush lamb as a quality brand product.
As a garden specimen, hedge or screening plant, this handsome shrub has much to offer .It reaches about 3 metres and is tolerant of the most adverse conditions including poor, dry and saline soils. It is also frost tolerant. Although it has fairly insignificant flowers, the silver coin shaped leaves have the unique aspect of being reflective, much like the stripe you see on running shoes or jackets. This makes it ideal to use to define boundaries and driveways which are used at night. It is easily propagated by seed or cuttings though both need to be kept on the drier side and not attempted during humid months.
2017 update: I currently don't have any stock available

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Allium tuberosum, Garlic Chives

Allium tuberosum
  Garlic or Chinese Chives, gau choy
The clump forming garlic chives have just formed their first fat pointed flower buds. At this stage they are known as gau choy fa and it is the perfect time to pick them for stir frying and cooking as a vegetable ,dressing them with oyster sauce.The lower end of the flowering stems are cut off as you would with asparagus and the rest cut into finger length pieces. The flower buds themselves are not eaten.
This well known herb and decorative garden plant was brought here by Chinese immigrants in the early part of the 20th century or possibly earlier during the gold rush. These chives have a fairly strong taste and the leaves can be harvested at any time of year by cutting them just below the soil surface as much of the flavour is at the base of the leaf. Traditionally they are added to cooked dishes including classics such as omelettes, noodles,tofu,spring rolls or dumplings. Blanching the leaves so they turn a pale yellow by covering the plant with black plastic or straw subtly alters the flavour and makes it more delicate . Bunches of these (gau wong) are often seen for sale in Asian grocery shops. Sometimes these are cooked as a vegetable on their own in a similar way to gau choy fa.

Crinum x powellii, Cape Lily

Pale pink flowering Crinum x powellii

This Crinum has a bit of an image problem because it begins to flower just when the leaves are looking their worst ; tatty ,chewed and withered , though this year after an extremely dry hot January this was to be expected. Like many hardy bulbs this Crinum is often given the toughest possible growing spot because it always sends up flowers in February no matter what.The clump in the top photo is growing beneath a Casuarina which normally inhibits the growth of all but the hardiest of plants. Giving it a more choice spot it will reward the grower with larger more fragrant flowers and it deserves the good treatment as it has been pleasing gardeners since1732.
2017 update: I don't have any plants or bulbs available at present.

Eucharis grandiflora, Amazon Lily

Eucharis grandiflora 
Amazon Lily or Colombian Andes Lily

This is one evergreen bulb which thrives in heat and humidity though it can be a bit tricky to grow. At this time of year, and in Spring as well, it sends up a flower stem holding an umbel of pure white nodding very fragrant flowers .The broad deep green leaves are also attractive but are much loved by snails . If growing in the garden it does best in a compost rich soil in a semi shaded warm position amongst other semi tropical foliage plants. The safer bet is to grow it in a pot in a bush-house situation using a good quality potting mix with some gritty sharp sand and peat added. Growing in a pot makes it easier to induce flowering . Restricting water and allowing the pot to dry off for a few weeks followed by feeding with liquid manure helps to induce flowering . This process can be repeated if it still remains shy to flower. Like most bulbs it can be divided every few years if it becomes crowded in a pot. Care should be taken not to damage the fleshy thick roots during re-potting . The name Eucharis is from the Greek meaning graceful attraction.
2017 update: I am currently sold out but have plants available from time to time.