Monday, August 31, 2009


Endymion, English-Spanish Bluebell
The bluebells have came out during the past couple of days and I have is a nice border of them under an old apricot tree and a few others amongst some roses. The 'bluebell fantasy' is to have a whole woodland garden filled with them, mass planted under deciduous trees preferably silver Birch. One of my bulb books says they have a sweet-sharp fragrance and are worth picking as they can fill the house with this fragrance for days.This I must try. Bulbs are usually available for sale in February /March and shade is recommended but if planted in a sunny spot the foliage tends to stay more upright supporting the flower stems. In shade the leaves lay flat on the ground and look as if a cat has been sleeping in that patch of the garden.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Linaria viscosa, Toadflax

Linaria viscosa Magenta and Gold

The Linaria or 'Toadflax' are just starting to flower. I saved seed of the above species from a plant I bought at a market as the colour is an intense and bright magenta. The small gold spot is the nectary to make sure bees land in the right spot for pollination . The other variety I am growing for an upcoming plant show is Linaria bipartita 'Fairy Bouquet'. It is one of the easiest annuals to grow from seed and germination is almost 100 per cent. Flowering occurring after about 12 weeks from sowing on 15cm high plants. Most Linaria come from the Mediterranean region and are grown as winter/spring garden annuals in temperate regions .

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lavandula dentata

Lavandula dentata French Lavender

In France this is known as 'English' lavender, while here we call it 'French'. Fact is, it is neither French nor English but grows wild in Spain and Morocco. It is a 1metre shrub with very aromatic leaves and it reaches a peak of flowering at this time of year. It is certainly one of the hardiest lavenders and tolerates cold (minus 8C) ,does well under humid coastal conditions and in sea spray. That said, the leaves adapt to the seasons whatever the climate by becoming large and open during cool wet conditions and changing to a vertical stem hugging form during times of heat and dry. Occasional shearing to remove old flower heads helps maintain it in a good shape and it appreciates a side dressing of dolomite lime in autumn. Their are some unusual forms of L dentata including one with white flowers ; a variegated leaf variety called 'Linda Ligon' and the dark purple flowering variety called 'Plougman's Blue'.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Phytolacca americana, Pokeweed

Phytolacca americana
 Pokeweed or Inkweed
This traditional native American medicinal herb with its tiny pumpkin like seed heads makes an occasional appearance in the garden. The seeds ripen to black and are filled with inky coloured juice. It is a poisonous plant so should be handled with care.

Abelia x 'Keat's Gold'

Abelia x grandiflora 'Keat's Gold'
The glossy gold splashed leaves of this hardy shrub make quite a statement in any landscape so it has become a popular choice for commercial landscaping projects.I have seen it used in shopping centres and roundabout gardens to great effect. It only grows to about 120cm and is easy to shape into hedges or topiary shapes. From January to March the entire shrub is covered in clusters of sweetly scented pale pink flowers . It has no special soil or watering requirements and will tolerate frost ,sea wind, sun or part shade.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Philotheca shrubs

Philotheca syn Eriostemon cultivar

This delightful native shrub is looking fantastic at the moment .The various forms and species of this plant all bear masses of waxy white or pink flowers .Names such as 'Profusion', 'Cascade of Stars' and 'Flower Girl' have been registered to describe particular varieties. Most are compact growing shrubs up to a metre in height with the bonus of having aromatic foliage typical of members of the citrus family (Rutaceae). They prefer light well drained soils with a good covering of leaf litter mulch but adapt to heavier soils in positions of full sun or part shade.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Delphinium Pacific Hybrids

Delphiniums are one of the most stately flowers of Spring reaching a height of about 1.5 metres. The best I have ever seen were at the Chelsea Flower Show with displays of near perfect blooms. I can't grow these tall ones as they require a sheltered spot with rich organic soil and plenty of water and it is just too warm on the coast for them to last very long. The dwarf cultivar 'Marine Blue' is worth growing as it does not require staking and the flower colour is a unique dark ultramarine blue. In cool temperate climates Delphiniums can be treated as short lived perennials ,lasting a few years before needing to be replaced.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Banksia 'Little Eric'

Banksia ericifolia 'Little Eric'

This is one of the choice compact native shrubs, growing to just over a metre high and spreading to about 1.5metres. The flowers are a rich mahogany colour and stand well above the foliage from late winter well into spring. It needs an open sunny position for best flowering with average well drained soil. It is tolerant of frost and sea wind.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Babar (the lion)

Babar (1483-1530) Superintending in the Garden of Fidelity ,the violet-garden ,1508 KabulBabar or Zahir-ud-din was the first Great Moghul and founder of the Moghul Empire.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thryptomene saxicola

Thryptomene saxicola

This small, open pendulous (1metre) shrub from south Western Australia has been in garden cultivation for a long time and is noted for the dainty pink flowers which smother the bush at this time of year. It is a good cut flower and can be used to fill out an arrangement. In a garden, its miniature leaves and flowers work against it, as it merges into the surrounding vegetation and looks a bit like a pink blur. It would be useful as foreground planting in a raised planter box which allows the sprays of flowers to be held high to spill over the edge.

Thryptomene with mauve Swan River Daisy ,Grasses and Kangaroo Paw

Monday, August 17, 2009

Banksia 'Roller Coaster'

Banksia integrifolia 'Roller Coaster'

This is one of the prostrate ground cover forms of the tree Banksia integrifolia which probably came from a windy sea cliff where it had adapted to hug the ground as a means of survival. It needs a large space in a garden and is perfect for growing over embankments or rock walls. If given too much shade or multi planted, the growth may revert to a more upright form. The way to go is to plant one and give it lots of room to follow the contours of the land . The foliage is dense and good at suppressing weeds and flowers are produced for much of the year making it an ideal bird attracting shrub.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Plectranthus neochilus, Dogbane

Plectranthus neochilus
 Dogbane or Spur Flower

This strongly aromatic groundcover is in flower now and has been for almost a month. It is from Zambia , Zimbabwe and Natal in Africa and is the sort of plant you could include in a low water use garden or with succulents. It forms quite a dense mat of foliage and can be a bit invasive under good garden conditions so is best used in harsh spots such as banks in full sun with poor soil. Any cut stem pieces will grow roots easily so to increase plants it is simply a matter of putting new cuttings straight in the ground where they are to grow. This is a great bee plant and could be planted on the perimeter of a vegetable garden to encourage insect pollinators. It will tolerate light frost only.
2017 update: I no longer grow it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eryngium maritimum, Sea Holly

Eryngium maritimum, Sea Holly (Cardo Corredor/Cardo rolador)
at Meia Praia Beach ,Lagos, Portugal. photographed by Julio Reis

Eryngo or Sea Holly is an interesting plant with a fascinating history. As the common name suggests,it is a spiny leaved plant with prickly flowers having a colour blend of pewter green, turquoise and powder blue. It grows on sandy beaches just above the high water mark in Britain and Europe as well as in North Africa . In Australia, it appears occasionally as isolated specimens in places such as the sand dunes at Budgewoi on the Central Coast of New South Wales and at Wreck Beach near Port Stephens. How it arrived in Australia is difficult to determine but perhaps a seed hitched a ride on a ship from the northern hemisphere. The poet William Drummond (1585-1649) captured the essence of it in native habitat in the following verse. '...the Eryngo here Sits as a Queen among the scanty tribes of vegetable race, Here the sweet rose would die; but she imbibes from arid sand and salt sea dewdrops strength: The native of the beach, by nature formed to dwell among the ruder elements.'
It was from the late 15th to the 18th century that Eryngo was much valued as a herb and edible plant. The new green shoots were boiled and eaten like asparagus and the long roots, which travel a great distance underground, were candied and valued for their restorative powers, for treating nervous disorders as well as being a popular aphrodisiac. The poet John Dryden (1631-1701) wrote ' Who lewdly dancing at a midnight ball, For hot eryngoes and fat oysters call' ,as a reference to this latter use.
In Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act 5 Sc v) Falstaff's prayer for erotic prowess and a bit of 'cool rut-time' includes a dose of eryngo:
Mistress Ford: Sir John! art thou there, my deer, my male deer? Falstaff: My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Greensleeves, hail kissing comfits and snow eryngoes...
It could be noted here also, that the other animal which 'ruts' is the goat and the name eryngium is derived from the diminutive of the Greek eerungos meaning the beard of a goat. Plant folklore relating to eryngo also mentions the goat, as, according to Plutarch:'They report of the Sea Holly, if one goat taketh it into her mouth it causeth her first to stand still and afterwards the whole flock, until such time as the shepherd takes it from her.' Goats are not very selective grazing animals so perhaps the poor goat was so stunned to find such a prickly plant in her mouth she stood stock still.

Sea Holly/Eryngo in Flora von Deutschland, Osterich und der Schwiez 1885
Prof Dr Otto Wilhelm Thome

Albrecht Durer self portrait with Eyrngo flower at age 22 in 1493
This telling self portrait by German artist Durer was painted while he was on a 'bachelor holiday' in Europe 'sowing a few wild oats' and enjoying time away from his native city of Nuremberg where he has just finished his apprenticeship with the woodblock master Michael Wolgemuth. His father wanted him home and had arranged for him to be married to a certain Agnes Frey. What he sent home to his bride to be was this portrait with the eryngo flower ,a potent symbol of his amorous intentions ,though the whole eryngo plant was often distilled into a drink which was thought to help 'the melancholly of the heart'. A romantic notion rather than a sexual advance.
In Germany eryngo is known as krausdistil or maerwortel.

Eryngium in The Herball of John Gerard, (1545-1612), surgeon and botanist of London published there in 1597.

John Gerard made many trips to the market town of Colchester in the English county of Essex which had become the centre of eryngo 'industry' ,with roots being harvested from the sandy beaches of nearby Mersea, Clacton and Dovercourt .These candied roots were advertised as cough candy and sold in attractive gilt boxes perfumed with musk and ambergris. Their manufacture was started by the apothecary Robert Buxton (Also called Thomas Buxton in some text) and on his death passed into the hands of his apprentice Samuel Great in whose family it remained until 1797.

A box of Candied Eryngo roots from Colchester
Finally, to give eryngo a modern perspective, the Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses by Deni Bown (RD Press ) calls Eryngium maritimum ' a sweet mucilaginous herb that is diruretic, anti-inflammatory and expectorant. ' Mention of its more provocative historical uses have all but disappeared.
2017 update: I have been unsuccessful at propagating it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tomatoes in Potatoes up

Seed potatoes planted in late June are now growing well.
Tomato planting time here on the coast is the first weekend of August. This year I have planted Grosse Lisse , and mini Roma. Look set for a great harvest around Christmas time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First Freesias

Freesia refracta alba

A week ago there was only one flower out and now there are many.These Freesias are growing in a bed with roses to which they are a good companion. While the roses are just stumps after their annual pruning, these bulbs have the chance to put on their best display. As they are only small and die down in summer they do not compete with the growth of the roses. Freesias are from South Africa and have naturalized in many parts of the country ,beside roads, on cliff faces near the sea and in bushland. They were named in honour of Freidrich H.T. Freese. The perfume of Freesias is warm and sweet though not to everyones taste. In the film The Devil wears Prada, the character of Miranda Priestly played by Meryl Streep tells her assistant that she wants all Freesias removed from a function because she can't stand the smell of them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Violets now

Double white Violets
'.....violets now that strew the green lap of new come spring'
Shakespeare: King Richard II

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pigface, Baby toes & Living stones

Lampranthus aureus, "Pigface" or Orange Ice-plant

Fenestrartia aurantiaca "Baby toes"

Lithops salicola, Living Stones

A collection of Lithops or "Living Stones"

All these plants are members of the Aizoaceae family and produce large crystalline daisy type flowers which are notable for their size compared to the parent plant and for their quantity of flowers. Most are native to the dry regions of South Africa.
A garden I drive past everyday has two large square beds in their front lawn with the Orange Pigface making a fluro colour statement at the moment. "Pigface" are called "Ice- Plants" in California and are popular coastal plants which put on a bright show of red, yellow , pink, mauve, purple or orange flowers in late winter and early spring.
They make good ground-covers in hot dry garden sites and require little maintenance other than shearing off the dead flower heads in late spring. The only problems I have encountered in growing them come from scale insects and root mealy bug. This is a problem in mainly potted specimens which may become stressed when I forget to water them. A friend of mine collects the "Living Stones" and "Baby toes"and they make unusual pot plants and are a real talking point.
2017 update: I don't grow these for sale.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Grevillea speciosa

Grevillea speciosa, Red Spider Flower

This is one of the wildflowers of Sydney found growing around the Harbour at North Head and Dobroyd Point as well as in Ku-ring-gai Chase and the Brisbane Waters National Park. It is rather a straggly shrub in the wild growing to about 1.7 metres but the flowers are a vibrant red and are produced in abundance from now until September. In a garden situation it needs to be grown in a well drained sandy soil and kept well pruned to maintain a compact shape.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Looking at Lichen

"Lichenes" from Artforms of Nature 1904 by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), biologist, naturalist and artist.

Ernst Haeckel and von Michclucho Maclay on a nature tour of the Canary Islands in 1866
Stone wall in the Cevenne region of France covered in orange Lichen
Hairy Lichen in local bushland
Lichen and vine covered wall

Blue grey Lichen on Eucalyptus bark

Large stone showing a pattern of Lichen

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nandina domestica 'Nana'

Nandina domestica 'Nana'
One of the most popular garden and landscaping plants in Australia and much used in the gardens of service stations or at roundabouts, it never fails to please at this time of year if you want some brilliant winter colour. Too common to mention I wonder? I love it because it can be grown tough with minimal water and in poor soil without ill affect. However instead of dot planting it which is the way it often gets used, it needs to be group planted 3 or 5 together and used as a contrast plant with black ,silver or gold foliage as part of an integrated garden design or contrasted with spike shaped Yuccas or Agaves or blended with tawny shaded grasses to carry it through the summer when the Nandina foliage takes on more yellow and bronze tones.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Coral Tree, Erythrina variegata var. indica

Erythrina variegata var. indica
 Coral Tree
The Coral trees are spectacular at the moment, painting the landscape a vivid scarlet. If you are driving anywhere along the coast or if driving to Sydney via Mt. Ousley road, you realize what big trees they grow into, with a vast canopy. They have fallen out of favour somewhat because of their habit of shedding limbs and growing a new tree from any branch which falls to the ground. This ability to take root from large branches has led to their name of "quick stick". Erythrinas occur naturally over a number of countries and climates and are found in Madagascar,Tanzania, India, Southeast Asia and Australia. New growth is often thorny and persistent thorns often remain on trees trunks, perhaps another reason for their fall from grace.The painter Brett Whitely often included the tiger claw like flowers in his Sydney harbour paintings usually depicting them with an attendant honey eating bird.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Frilly Lizard, Chlamydosaurus kingi

Wall detail of Frilled Lizard at Illawarra Grevillea Park

Our most noteworthy lizard carved into a block of a sandstone wall. The membranous frill in the real lizard is braced by cartilaginous ribs, analogous to the metal supports of an umbrella and is often coloured a striking red and yellow. It was the source of inspiration for one of the costumes in the film Pricilla Queen of the Desert. You have to go to the dry parts of Queensland or the Northern Territory to find it , not in desert but heavily timbered scrub-lands. When pursued it sprints rapidly with its tail held high off the ground.If capture seems inevitable,it whirls around, opens its jaws, erects its frill while emitting loud hissing noises from its wide open mouth. A frenzied attack may follow with much lashing of its thin whip like tail while at the same time biting savagely. Its jaws however are quite weak and it is incapable of inflicting a bite of much magnitude.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bergenia cordifolia

Bergenia cordifolia ,"Elephant's Ears"
This low growing clump forming perennial is one of the recommended plants for difficult gardening spots such as in heavy shade under trees. It grows well across a range of climates and produces the pretty pink flowers from late winter into spring. In cold climates it flowers later and is grown as much for the leaves as the flowers . The leaves often turn a rich burgundy or plum colour over Winter. Big clumps can be divided up over time and it is an easy plant to dig up and replant in a new spot. Though tolerant of dry conditions , stressed plants may look a bit forlorn and are prone to attack by spider mite which causes the underside of the leaves to turn silver and for the plant to lose some vigor.
There are about 8 species of Bergenia found across Central and eastern Asia growing in damp woodlands, rocky areas and open slopes. The cultivars of note which are available are B. 'Abendglut' and the Bressingham cultivars from the UK including 'Ruby', 'Salmon' and 'White'.
2017 update: I am out of stock and may not grow again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Qualup Bell

Pimelea physodes, Qualup Bell

Native to the gravelly soils between Ravensthorpe and the Gardener River in Western Australia ,this small shrub was named after Qualup Homestead where it is found growing abundantly. The botanical name Pimelea comes from Pimele meaning fat , a reference to the oily seeds. Pimeleas usually have flat heads of flowers but in this species the true flowers are hidden under large leafy bracts which form a protective bell shaped cover. These bracts start out an apple green and purple colour and become more vibrant over time. In the early morning the flowers release a perfume which is more delicate than the Boronia. This shrub has become more readily available at specialist native plant nurseries and is worth growing in a raised garden bed in full sun or as a container plant.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Melaleuca thymifolia

Melaleuca thymifolia 
 thyme-leaved honey-myrtle
This delightful small(1metre) shrub grows along the east coast of Australia in New South Wales and Queensland and is one of the most familiar of our native plants. The fluffy mauve flowers appear throughout the year if it is given favourable garden conditions such as moist soil with a good covering of mulch.There are a few cultivars which are available including a white flowering form 'White Lace' and a pink variety 'Pink Lace' as well as a compact form 'Little Beauty' which is ideal for foreground planting or low hedges.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Helleborus x hybridus , Lenten rose or Winter rose

Hellebores are fashionable and popular perennials especially in cool temperate gardens where they can be grown to perfection.They like a spot under deciduous trees and are very hardy surviving extremes of cold and quite hot dry conditions in summer though they respond to well composted soil and good general maintenance such as removal of old leaves and spent flower stems. The flowers are nodding ,an adaptation to shed falling snow and allow pollinators a safe haven to do their work. The flowers are often spotted and marked also to attract insects and give them a sense of direction to meet their target. Plant breeders have come up with some wonderful colours so they are available in black, white ,maroon ,green and even primrose shades with both single and double flowering varieties. Here on the coast I have had no success in growing them so I admire them when visiting more temperate gardens.The above specimens were grown by Rose guru Sue Kingsford in her Southern Highlands garden.