Monday, April 30, 2012

Devil's Ivy, Epipremnum pinnatum 'Aureum'

This is a very 1970's Brisbane photo.The orange flowering tree in the background is an African tulip tree, Spathodea campanulata which now has the dubious title of 'Class 3 declared pest plant under Queensland legislation'. What caught my eye however was the climber growing up the palm trees. It goes by the common name of Devil's Ivy being a popular houseplant worldwide. I have a large tub of it in a glasshouse and it is liking it so much it is climbing the walls, relishing the heat and humidity. It is still in the juvenile stage with the leaves measuring about 15cm long. As it grows the leaves get bigger and become irregularly divided and can reach about 80cm long as shown here. Botanically it has undergone quite a few name changes and is often referred to as Scindapsus, Pothos or Rhapidophhora. For the time being it is now officially Epipremnum pinnatum 'Aureum' and a member of the Aroid family. The plain green form originated in the Solomon Islands and this golden coloured form is a sport thought to have originated in nursery cultivation.Various cultivars are available and are often sold as basket plants and these include 'Golden Queen' with mainly yellow leaves, 'Neon' with chartreuse foliage and 'Marble Queen' with white variegated leaves.They are extremely tough plants and before moving my plant into a favourable spot I had neglected to water it or care for it at all for many months. Though most of the leaves had dropped off it responded quickly to a bit of TLC and is now thriving. Most of the rope like climbing stems produce roots at the nodes so cuttings are easy to strike and it is even quite happy to grow in a jar of water on a windowsill.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Alpine Strawberry, Fragaria vesca

Fragaria vesca, Alpine Strawberry
Illustration from Flora von Deutschland, Osterreich und Schweiz
by Dr Otto Thome, 1885
Despite their cool climate sounding name, Alpine or European wild strawberries are fairly easy to grow and in our mild climate it is possible to pick fruit from them for many months of the year. The problem is being able to pick enough of them to 'make a meal' as they are really the ultimate sweet garden snack food which you eat as you find them. 
I grow a few varieties including a white fruited form called 'Pineapple Crush'; and one called 'Golden Alexandria' with lovely lime green foliage which makes it eye catching in a shady garden spot. 
The tiny white flowers of Alpine strawberries are produced on long stems and stand proud of the foliage until the fruit forms and then they disappear amongst the foliage. They are clump forming plants and can be propagated by dividing a clump or growing them from seed. Seedlings often pop up in unexpected places and can be dug up and moved to more favourable sites. Germination of seed can be slow and if you end up with a mass of tiny plants crowded together in a seed tray they are fairly easy to separate and surprisingly hardy despite their delicate looking roots and tender appearance.
The only problem I have in growing them comes in the form of leaf spotting during the hottest months but diseased foliage can be cut off and if they are given some compost or fertilizer, after a haircut, they grow back in no time. These strawberries grow well in pots but are best in a semi shaded spot. Leaves wilt if the container dries out, but they are so forgiving they quickly revive when given a drink.

 Golden Alexandria
 Flowers and fruit
 It is interesting that the fruit can be eaten at any stage and remains sweet even when starting to go very soft or at the almost dried stage.
Wild strawberries have been popular for centuries and much folklore, literature and songs include a reference to them. The strawberry is depicted as a heart shaped symbol of love or unrequited love as in the rendition of the folk song I loved a lass sung by Andreas Scholl :
'The men in yon forest, they ask it of me 
"How many wild strawberries grow in the salt sea?"
And I ask of them back with a tear in my eye 
"How many ships sail in the forest?"

Friday, April 27, 2012

1950's Brisbane gardening

A Brisbane garden featured on the cover of Gardening in Warm Climates by Desmond Herbert (1898-1976) photographed by Frank Hurley (1885-1962) and published in 1952. Plants include: Mango tree, Cooktown orchid, King orchid, Elk and Staghorns,  Bougainvillea 'Scarlet O'Hara', Orange and yellow leaf Crotons, orange Crucifix orchids, red Dahlias, purple Lantana montevidensis growing up a Cocos palm.

 Desmond Herbert's book on gardening in Brisbane gives a unique insight into the style of gardens and plants which were popular there the middle of last Century. It was written while he was Professor of Botany at the University of Queensland and the photographs throughout, apart from the cover, were taken by John Bailey (1914-1956) who was Curator of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. While Brisbane was then regarded as little more than a dusty country town, the photographs reveal a sophisticated garden city. This is a book I still dip into from time to time and value as an interesting information source.

 Once commonly found on the coastal 'wallum' swamps of Bribie Island and the Sunshine Coast, Christmas bells, Blandfordia species were picked into extinction and had all but disappeared by the 1970's.

Spanish style wrought iron gate with hedge, clipped cypresses and feathery Cocos plumosa in the background

Beloved by parrots who get drunk on the nectar from the 'octopus' red flowers, the Queensland Umbrella tree, Brassaia actinophylla, has fallen from grace and is no longer a popular street tree.

 When backyards were big. Bunya Pine, Araucaria bidwilli, with a mass planting of the white Azalea alba magna

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The score at half time: Cabbage whites 10, me zero

How does one cabbage white butterfly manage to find my small tray of Brassica seedlings (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) amongst all the plants I grow, lay a few million or so eggs which hatch out while my back is turned and then have the cheek to come back again today to check on its offspring in case there is a tiny millimetre of leaf left where it could just lay more eggs.

Rosemary 'Gorza'

Rosemary variety 'Gorza'
ANZAC day is the one day of the year when a sprig of the herb rosemary is pinned to a lapel as a way of remembering the sacrifices made by those who have served the country in times of war and conflict. I grow several different varieties and I often think it would be interesting to have a stock bed collection of all the types available. One of the newish ones I am growing at the moment is the so called chef's variety called Gorza. Apparently it produces good straight stems which can be cut to make bar-b-que skewers for threading with meat and vegetables.
 Every now and then a seedling rosemary will come up in a pot or in the garden and I carefully remove it and pot it on just in case it turns out to be a slightly different form. A serious plant breeder would probably tell me that it takes hundreds of such seedlings until something special turns up but it is always interesting none the less. It is pictured below.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Justicia scheidweileri 'Brazilian Fireworks'

Brazilian Fireworks,
Justicia scheidweileri 
 I love the vibrant colour contrast of the bracts compared with the flowers on this little plant. It is a small shrub which grows to about 20cm and flowers for most of the year prefering a sheltered or shady spot. It would be suitable to grow as an indoor plant in frosty climates and brought outdoors over summer. I hope to get some cuttings of this plant soon and have it growing well by next summer.
2017 update: I still only have one small plant of this. It is not particularly robust.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Arbutus unedo, Irish Strawberry Tree

Arbutus unedo, The Strawberry Tree
It is flowering now in Autumn sunshine
Arbutus is from southern Europe, Ireland and the Canary Islands but it is especially popular in the Algarave province of Portugal where they turn the fruit into a mean hard spirit with a kick called Medronho. In Spain, the city of Madrid was once surrounded by Arbutus trees and the city's coat of arms shows a bear and an Arbutus tree.
Here it grows across a range of climates but does better in cool districts. I am not aware of the fruit being popular here for use in the making of liqueurs but it is an exceptionally decorative large shrub to small tree with dense green foliage absolutely smothered in white waxy flowers at this time of year. I no longer attempt to grow it here on the coast as it was fairly susceptible to spider mite which turned the leaves a silvery colour.

Crenellated pruning

Crenellated parapet pruned Euonymus japonicus 'Aureo Marginatus' with background unidentified shrub wearing a brown autumn coat.

I get the feeling that an under-gardener grew tired of endless 'cloud pruning' and shaping of shrubs into nice round shapes and decided to go for a more medieval castle look, perhaps being influenced by a computer game involving dungeons and dragons.
This Euonymus or Japanese Spindle bush has never been a favourite shrub of mine as it always tends to look a little stiff and the colour is a very harsh shade of yellow. Hey big bird canary look at me kind of thing. It also more often than not reverts back to green in places as can be seen in the left section. Maybe this is not an issue if you want to show the Aussie colours of green and gold however. Growth can also be uneven if you plant it as a proper hedge with some sections racing ahead while others sulk and fail to grow properly. I pass a hedge like this where the individual plants look like sullen lumps and have never met up properly. Otherwise it is a very cold and drought hardy shrub with few pest and disease problems.
Crenellated parapet illustration from the Dictionary of French Architecture,11th to 16th Century (1856) by Euguene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cotoneaster horizontalis var. hodginsii

Rockspray, Cotoneaster horizontalis var. hodginsii (Rosaceae)
Everyday I see the tall shrub Cotoneaster growing wild along the freeway and it is absolutely covered in bright red berries at the moment. The berries are loved by birds hence its spread to wild or bushland areas and general fall from grace as a popular shrub.. It is still found growing in many old gardens but is seldom offered for sale in nurseries. This small neat rock garden species is more popular and still grown for its interesting ascending and descending flat branches which are covered with white flowers in spring and red berries at this time of year. The quantity and quality of flowers and berry display is subject to climate and more success will be had in growing this shrub if you live in Canberra or Melbourne. My experience of growing it in a warmer climate is that it is more prone to attack from spider mite and general die-back of some branches due to fungal problems. It is otherwise fairly undemanding under average garden conditions. Propagation is usually by cuttings as varieties may not come true to seed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cloud-pruned Diosma

At the Cowra garden, the shrub Coleonum pullchellum or Diosma is clipped to resemble mossy boulders.The fine textured foliage allows for a smooth finish and the shape can be varied from small low flat 'rocks' in the foreground to larger more rounded ones in the distance.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

First frost

A blue morning for Roxy
The ute, a solid block of ice at dawn
Waking up on a still bright frosty morning in the country is a bit of a novelty for anyone who lives on the coast. It is remarkable to see the landscape so blue and white. Before leaving to head west I did the mad scramble to find warms things to wear. It was needed.
Arctotis daisy
Cold? nah!
Furry dandelion leaves
Goodbye summer pumpkins as the big leaves turn black

Monday, April 9, 2012

Crotons, Codiaeum varigatum

Croton 'Excellent' (Codiaeum varigatum)
Croton 'Ebernum'

Collecting plants is a bit addictive. You start off with one or two and before you know it there are three more on your shopping trolley. Fortunately with Crotons they are versatile enough to be used as container plants and will take both indoor conditions as well as grow in pots in a hot sunny courtyard or patio. The only thing they don't like is cold weather and "wet feet". The first few I had dropped all their leaves over winter and looked like sticks in a pot. However they recovered quickly in summer and put on a great flush of new growth and colourful leaves. So I added a few more to the collection this summer including one with broad violin shaped leaves, the aptly named 'Excellent' and the unusual cream and green 'Ebernum'.
If you live north of Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, Crotons can be planted in the ground and they are terrific in coastal sandy soils in both a sunny or semi shaded position. They have few pest or disease problems.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Plectranthus oertendahlii 'Emerald Lace'

In flower now Plectranthus oertendahlii 'Emerald Lace'
Emerald Lace growing in deep shade under inky purple Bromeliad Neoregelia 'Royal Flush'
Plectranthus, many of which hail from South Africa like this one, are a hardy bunch as far as water requirements go. If it gets too dry or too sunny for them their leaves go dull and they stop growing but spring back into action as soon as conditions are favourable. I have tried Emerald Lace in a few different shady spots and what it seems to like doing is hugging a bigger plant so it can peep out from underneath it. My specimens in more open ground have been less successful and it is certainly not a rampant grower like other species. This lack of vigor leads to that other problem which nurserymen have and that is not being able to get enough cutting material from a stock plant to be able to grow it in commercial quantities. I am wondering whether it is not better suited to a more sub-tropical climate as the lower minimum temperature recommended for it is 10C. It is a worthy addition to any warm climate garden as the scalloped silver marked leaves are a striking and the dainty white flowers are a delight at this time of year.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Helichrysum petiolare minus 'Silver Mist'

Silver Mist Licorice Plant, Helichrysum petiolare minus

If you want a vigorous silver foliaged ground cover plant to hide the ugly lower branches of rose bushes this is one plant you could use. Here it is with a tiny Queen Elizabeth rose bud peeping out amongst its own pastel pink flowers. Most rose growers go for the "scorched earth policy" and hate to have anything growing underneath them so this suggestion may well fall on deaf ears. The problem with Silver Mist is that it grows so damn fast over summer you almost need to cut it back weekly and it will quickly smother its neighbours if you are not careful. Frost knocks it back over winter and thus it is often grown as an annual or hanging basket specimen in other countries. It recovers quickly from frost damage once the weather warms up but you have to live with a fairly unattractive plant of blackened stems in the meantime. Propagation is fairly easy at this time of year, as the weather cools down, but less so in the middle of summer when woolly silver leafed plants tend to damp off in high humidity. All in all this is an easy plant to grow requiring no special growing conditions other than well drained soil.
2017 update: I no longer grow this.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Salvia mexicana 'Lime Calyx' and Salvia 'Meigan's Magic'

Salvia mexicana 'Lime Calyx' with purple Salvia 'Meigan's Magic'

In the garden with the vibrant Salvia mexicana 'Lime Calyx' side by side Salvia 'Meigan's Magic'.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Seed saving:Basil

Rino's lemon basil is a variety he got from a relative in Thailand. It has larger leaves than the normal lemon basil so is well worth saving for seed to be grown again next summer. As soon as the flower heads turn brown I place them in a paper bag to dry and then shake out the tiny black seeds. I transfer the seed to tiny zip-lock bags and store them in the fridge.