Thursday, April 30, 2009


These topiary ,which I saw in a garden recently seem to have a life of their own and look as if they could get up and move around the garden own their own.

Allamanda violacea

Allamanda violacea
This is a rambling lax shrub or climber from Brazil makes quite an impact in the garden. The rich mauve purple flowers are large and showy. It flowers for more than six months of the year and just starts to slow down as the weather cools down For me, it goes deciduous once the minimum temperatures go down below 5C so it can be bare for July and August. In the sub tropics it will remain evergreen .Fairly hardy and not particular as to soil, I have seen it grown as a lawn specimen and still flowering prolifically .It makes a great climber or shrub near the front entrance to houses.
2017 update: I do not have this colour available.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Echinocactus grusonii, Golden Barrel Cactus

Echinocactus grusonii
Winter started here this week with record low temperatures ,the first snow falls and a minus13C recorded on the mountains. Here on the coast it is not so bad but still a bit bleak and the first days of cold can be hard to get used to. So it is time to move most of my Cactus to a spot under the eaves of the house where they can rest out of the rain and take warmth from a wall which might heat up a little during the day.
The Golden Barrel Cactus is easy to grow and is one of the essential plants for anyone who wants to have a bit of a collection of cactus and succulents .It is fairly trouble free and it is possible to grow it in the ground if you can give it a really well drained soil mix. The largest one I have seen was about 90 cm high growing in a glasshouse and with a circle of yellow flowers around the top. You can buy seed of it fairly readily and the germination is good. I grew a batch of about 30 and was surprised at the different growth rates between individual plants. Potting them on can be a bit tricky, with all the spines to deal with, but I found that a band of folded newspaper wrapped around it seems to make it a bit easier to manoeuvre into and out of a pot.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Santolina chamaecyparissus, Cotton Lavender

Provence, France the home of Santolina
Silver foliaged Santolina or 'Cotton Lavender'
(Abrotano hembra or Abrotano-femea)
In the south of France ,where this is native, it is called the 'Petit cypres', a reference to the pine like aromatic foliage or its similarity to the compact habit of a dwarf Cypress pine. It is also native to Spain and Portugal.To some, the foliage smells like a mix of olive oil and turpentine .Whatever it reminds you of ,it has been used together with lavender as a moth repellent and as a home remedy to control insects indoors. To grow this well you need a Mediterranean climate of hot dry summers. It also prefers poor soils a little on the alkaline side. The yellow or cream button flowers smother the bush in early summer and are best trimmed off once they are finished to keep the plant compact. In coastal climates with high humidity plants may only last a few seasons before they fall apart and become untidy. It is still worth growing and now is a good time to take cuttings of semi ripe wood of this easily grown plant.
2017 update: I no longer grow this.

Echeveria pallida ,Argentine echeveria

Echeveria pallida

This pale leafed succulent from Argentina makes a lovely sculptural; rosette to about 20cm. and as the weather cools down the spoon shaped leaves take on a pink tinge at the edges. It is a good plant for pots and makes a nice contrast with darker coloured plants. I have trouble with snails and slugs which relish the juicy leaves and are able to hide in the centre and do damage before you know it has happened. Mealy bug can also do damage and the flower stems can attract black thrip .All things to watch out for .The flowers on this Echeveria make good cut flowers as they are on quite long stems.
2017 update: I always have plants in stock.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Syzygium australe , Brush Cherry

Rainbow LorikeetSyzygium australe, Brush Cherry fruit

Often I am woken in the morning by a screeching noisy flock of rainbow lorikeets who, with their persistent raucous chattering are clambering through the bottle brush flowers outside my window. The other day I was surprised to see a large group on the ground working their way through the fallen fruit of a Brush Cherry. This is one of the most fruitful of the now common Lilly Pilly trees and some care needs to be taken as to where to plant one. If you park your car under one during the fruit season to will be covered with pink polka dots in no time. They can also be messy if planted near paved areas or pathways. It is a very attractive tree for larger gardens and is guaranteed to attract a variety of wildlife. Growing up to 9 metres it is a hardy tree over a range of climates.

Gordonia axillaris

At this time of year, in a lot of old gardens, the ground is littered with flowers from the Gordonia looking like very much like fried eggs sunny side up. Native to Asia, this is an attractive small tree (6 metres) and is worth growing for a number of reasons . It has interesting orange patchwork bark, glossy foliage with an occasional scarlet flush to them and masses of waxy white flowers which have prominent orange stamens. It can be slow growing, requiring a deep rich acid soil and has perhaps fallen out of favour in the recent years of drought because of its need for adequate soil moisture. It can look miserable for a number of years before finally getting a go on. It is hardy over a range of climates and will tolerate cold down to about minus 3C.
2017 update: I don't grow this but can order in from a supplier if required.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chrysanthemum x morifolium

Chrysanthemums in the New International Encyclopedia of 1902
Chrysanthemum with Persicaria virginiana flowers
Chrysanthemum x morifolium

Chrysanthemums are starting to flower which indicates that the days are starting to shorten and winter is approaching. The light is starting to soften, shadows are getting longer and with so much rain recently the ground is soggy underfoot. Autumn is well and truly here.
The tawny shaded Chrysanthemums above are one of my favourite colours of this flower. Next favourite are the green "spider" variety and then the tiny button yellow ones. To see these flowers at their best you have to go to China or Japan where they have cult status and are quite remarkable . I like some of the Chinese cultivar names such as 'Heaven Full of Stars', 'Drunk with Wine made from Peaches of the Immortals' or 'White Crane sleeping in the Snow', which are mentioned in the chapter on Chrysanthemums in Peter Valder's book The Garden Plants of China (Florilegium books) They are very easy plants to grow and are not fussy as to soil or fertilizer requirements. Clumps can be divided up at any time of the year and cuttings strike fairly readily as well.
2017 update: I am not a nursery supplier of 'mums.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Papaver rhoeas, Flanders Poppy

'In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses,row on row
That mark our place;and in the sky
The larks,still bravely singing fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below'
Lt.Col. John McCrae (1872-1918)
Published Punch vol.cxlix,8,Dec 1915

Papaver rhoeas botanical detail

Papaver rhoeas Flanders Poppy

Papaver rhoeas flower

The Flanders poppy will be forever associated with ANZAC day (April 25th) and with Remembrance Day (November 11th), a time we pause to reflect on, and remember those who lost their lives in service to this country.
This poppy is not difficult to grow and now is the time to sow seed or plant seedlings. Quite good results can be achieved by scattering seed over bare dirt and letting nature do the rest, The stems of the plant tend to be fairly lax as it has adapted to using meadow grass and other plants in fields as support while it is growing . It also needs well drained gritty soil to do well. In good soil there will be lush foliage growth and few flowers. Packets of seed are usually available from Diggers Seeds and seedlings are sold in punnets from Floriana.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Acacia cognata 'Lime Magik'

Acacia cognata 'Lime Magik'
This is a really magical and graceful Wattle. The soft lime green foliage is pendulous like a weeping willow. It is a frost hardy shrub growing to about 4 metres . The species is native to Victoria and New South Wales and this cultivar was developed in Victoria. Flowers are produced in Spring and are pale yellow.
2017 update: I don't grow this but it is available from specialist native plant nurseries.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Muehlenbeckia axillaris, Maidenhair Vine

Maidenhair vine is native to both Australia and New Zealand and is a fairly well known climber and ground cover noted for the tiny leaves and thin wiry stems which forms quite a dense mat or thick fast growing vine. Last night it was featured in the Monty Don's Around the world in 80 gardens. Monty took a flying leap and jumped into the middle of a patch of this plant in a New Zealand garden while commenting that he was safe to do so knowing that he had left all the venomous creatures behind in Australia. Trouble is the venomous animal which was shown was no other than the harmless and good garden friend, the Saint Andrew's Cross spider.

Agiope aetherea, St Andrew's Cross Spider

Muehlenbeckia axillaris,Maidenhair Vine
This is a very hardy plant and will tolerate frosty conditions or coastal ones as well . It can be successfully grown over a topiary frame but needs almost constant clipping as it is very fast growing.
2017 update: I do grow this from time to time but I am currently out of stock.

The Bush Turkey

Alectura lathami 
 Australian Bush Turkey
One of my gardening friends from up north was complaining about the Bush Turkeys that have invaded her garden and scratched up all her newly planted vegetable seedlings. These communal birds seem to have made themselves right at home in suburban gardens these days and have become quite domesticated. Just a shame they can't be put to good use at making a compost heap as their nest building habits would make them good at this. Their nest, attended by the male bird can be about 4 metres wide and at least 1.5 metres high is made up of all sorts of organic leaf litter and debris. The temperature of the mound, which can contain up to 15 eggs, is kept around the 33C-35C .Once hatched the chicks dig their way to the surface unaided and are independent and free spirited from the word go.

Theobroma cacao,Chocolate

Theobroma cacao with pods growing with a Croton 
 This is a true tropical tree requiring minimum temperatures of between 18C-21C to do well so it is mainly grown in the top end of the country. However most botanic gardens including the one in Wollongong have a tree in their glasshouse collection so you can see this fascinating plant up close.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Alphitonia excelsa , Red Ash

Dead trees are rarely left in landscapes or parks as they are deemed a safety risk, even though they provide an important bird habitat such as a nesting sites for parrots or as a vantage point for birds of prey.The tree below is an example of one such beauty which has been left, for the time being . It has strength and presence like the spires from work by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926)

Antoni Gaudi (detail)

Worimi Dates sculpture from Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa)
in Hunter Region Botanic Garden
This large dead tree has been used by sculptor Worimi Dates to depict the life the Garuahgal people of Raymond Terrace in New South Wales.

Alphitonia excelsa Red Ash leaf detail
The Red Ash is a good small tree for gardens on the east coast reaching a manageable size of about 6 metres.It is noted for the conspicuous silver on the underside of the leaves which becomes more noticeable when the tree is blown by the wind.
2017 update: I used to grow this but no longer have plants for sale.

Rosa, Tea Rose Penelope 1906

Australian Tea Rose Penelope 1906

This is one of the warm climate roses bred and developed in Queensland by Welsh born gardener and nursery proprietor John Williams (1858-1928) It is one of the ever blooming tea roses which can change colour depending on the temperature ,this one flushing a strawberry pink as the weather cools down. Williams commenced the Broadwater Nursery at Mt Gravatt in Brisbane in 1896 specialising in citrus and roses. His other famous rose is 'Star of Queensland' which seems to have vanished from cultivation.
2017 update: I no longer have this rose but would love to get it again.

Rondeletia leucophylla, Panama Rose

Rondeletia leucophylla
 Panama Rose
This small shrub (1.5 metres) from Mexico has been given the name Rondeletia 'Caprice'. An appropriate name as I have become capricious about it and don't think it is worth growing . The foliage is thin and reedy ,often bronze tinged and mean looking, making it appear fairly nondescript in a garden .However it is fairly consistent at flowering with a main flush of flowers in spring/summer and odd flowers throughout the year. They look quite nice up close but are not a patch on Pentas which would make a good substitute if you wanted a good low shrub.Allegedly the flowers are perfumed in the evening but I have not detected this and think it may be just a marketing ploy.
2017 update: Such harsh words !

Crinum amabile,Giant Spider Lily

Crinum amabile
  Giant Spider Lily
This large bulbous plant is native to Sumatra and is noteworthy for the broad metre long purple shaded leaves and the robust crown of red striped white flowers which are very fragrant. Getting it to flower outside the tropics may be difficult but the foliage is striking on its own.
2017 update: I currently don't have any plants available.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cuscuta, Dodder

Cuscuta species or Dodder belong to the Morning Glory Family, Convolvulaceae and it is a parasitic plant which has thread like twining leafless stems that drape over host plants attaching itself by special absorbing organs known as haustorium. It was once given the folk name of devil's hair but has recently been given a lift in status by florists with its inclusion on bridal tables in combination with orchids and other decorative flowers. Dodders new symbolism being about 'true love entwined' It is not the sort of plant you will find at your local garden centre but you do come across the local species Cuscuta australis if you are out bush walking.It is pictured below along with other species from overseas.
Cuscuta sp. in Shawnee National Forest
South Illinois, USA

Cuscuta sp.covering an Acacia tree in Pakistan
Cuscuta sp. in the Mojave Desert

Cuscuta europaea in flower

Cuscuta australis in local bushland

Banksia oblongifolia

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) naturalist and botanist

Joseph banks as a boy, painted in 1757
Sir Joseph Banks sculpture in Hunter Region Botanic Garden

Banksia oblongifolia
Sir Joseph Banks has iconic status in Australia and is honoured for the beautiful native plant Banksia.  Most species have an autumn flush of flowers starting in March and lasting till July or August. This is one of the small growing species which rarely grows over a metre in height . It hugs coastal cliffs in wind swept positions surviving and flowering well in dry and rocky spots around Sydney and all along the coast to Queensland. The flower spikes produced are greenish yellow in bud opening to a warm pale yellow as they mature. Leaves have an attractive rusty appearance when they are in the juvenile stage. Banksias are also one of the premier plants for attracting honey eating birds to the garden.
2017 update: Available from specialist native plant nurseries.