Sunday, September 30, 2012


Across the country, and in particular in the nation's capital Canberra, there have been outbreaks of Tulipomania bought on by the sight of thousands of simultaneously flowering tulips in all colours of the rainbow. Last week I went to the local event of 'Tulip Time' held in Corbett Gardens in Bowral in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. It was a great morning out and as always I ended up to talking to nursery folk on the trials and tribulation of growing plants commercially and working in the horticultural industry. 
More tulip photos to come as soon as I get a chance to pick out my favourites.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wisteria brachybotrys

I picked up this wisteria on a sale table at a large hardware store at the end of last year. It was looking a bit worse for wear and was barely alive, however, it has come good and is looking a picture at the moment. Though it was named as Wisteria brachybotry 'Okayama' it does not match the description of a dark mauve or mallow coloured flower. Wrong tag in pot quite possibly? There are three different species of Wisteria in general cultivation:W. sinensis (Chinese wisteria) W. floribunda (Japanese wisteria) and this one, though even it is sometimes confused with the American native species W. macrostachya and W. frutescens which are most often found in Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.
In his book Wisterias: A Comprehensive Guide (Florelegium Books), Peter Valder  says it is the last species to flower and that it flowers more reliably in its younger years without demanding a regular pruning regime for best flowers. I have planted it in a decorative pot and am hoping for some more 'spot flowering' in the summer months. I came across the photo below of a specimen trained as a shrub with low clipped box as ground cover around it. It looks very elegant. It is in The Education of a Gardener by Russell Page.

Calibrachoa in hanging basket

This morning I drove past a Garden Centre with a "closing down" sign out front. Never a good thing to see. The fence outside the place was decorated with hangings baskets which are very popular at the moment. I bought this one earlier in the week to give as a gift. I love the combination of colours and it looks very Impressionistic with dots of colour when seen from a distance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum', Koreanspice Viburnum

 Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum'
This small low growing rounded shrub (1metre high) is really suited to a cool mountain climate and despite my recommendations about its possible limited success here on the coast, a friend recently brought one from a specialist nursery. I wonder how it will cope with the summer humidity and heat. Other Viburnums grown here often end up with spider mite damage on their leaves or powdery mildew. It is worth a try however as the flowers are sweetly scented and the leaves have an interesting texture. Deciduous in winter, it would be ideal to under-plant with some winter flowering bulbs or as a background to Helleborus species.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The beat of black wings

At the nursery a crow uses both the top of a tall poplar tree and a Norfolk Island pine tree to survey its territory. Occasionally it will fly off to an equally tall distant Gum tree with a couple of Magpies in hot pursuit but it is never deterred by their efforts of intimidation. The reason it has taken up residence in the neighbourhood seems to be that it has formed a special bond with a local black tom cat. Edgar Alan Poe could not have come up with a better companion. The crow will land on a fence while the cat rolls around on the ground in front of it. Then they take it in turns to jump about and tease each other. If only I could get close enough to record the action on film or video. Did they form a bond over a shared food bowl as crows are known to be intelligent enough to find something tasty and remember the place where it may appear again. There is an interesting article about the ability they have to remember faces and details on the Birds in Backyards website (see link below) Last year on a bushwalk I came across a so called Parliament of crows where a large number of them gather together to hold a "meeting" to caw a lot about what is going on. Fascinating to know what that is all about.
A couple of well known song birds have had their crow moments in the past, namely Joni Mitchell and Madonna.
Joni Mitchell as crow on Hejira (1976)
photograph by Norman Seaf and Joel Bernstein

Madonna from music video Frozen
from  Ray of Light (1998)
Warner Brothers Records and Maverick Records 

Welcome to Birds in Backyards | BIRDS in BACKYARDS

Blackbird, Turdus mirula

Turdus mirula
This spring I have heard and seen blackbirds in the garden for the first time. Their semi look a like cousins the starlings, who have a somewhat greasy sheen to their feathers, appear in large numbers at dusk, settle on the lawn for feeding before retiring with much wheezy chatter to a large dense conifer to roost for the night. The blackbirds however are much more charming and discreet.  I know they were introduced into Australia in the 1850's, firstly in Melbourne and then later in Sydney, but they are not very common here.The male bird I see looks very happy with himself and is almost rotund in shape, so is obviously finding lots to eat. I do remember them from the days when I lived in Melbourne and how they were cursed for digging up freshly planted seedlings or for throwing mulch over newly swept paths in their search for earthworms. Apparently they have a liking for soft fruits as well which makes them cursed even more. I can forgive them all these bad habits as they have the sweetest song both at dawn and in the early twilight. Whether a pair sets up home here remains to be seen but I wouldn't mind if they do.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Calibrachoa x hybrida

 Calibrachoa 'Cabaret Purple'
Earlier this year I was sent a sample range of plant labels which included ones depicting the various colour forms of Calibrachoa, a ground cover plant which sometimes goes by the common name of perennial Petunia, for the large flowering variety,  or 'Million Bells' for the smaller types. For the last year or more I have grown a purple flowering one in a hanging basket and it has been constantly in flower. The only down time it has had was when it needed a cut back after a period of constant rain which diminished the capacity of the flowers to open properly, in much the same way it does to annual Petunias.
 Calibrachoa 'Cherry Rose' growing with Myoporum parvifolium
In a garden situation, I like the way it can be successfully teamed with other ground cover plants such as in the case above where its fine stems are able to weave amongst the companion plant and still flower well. This overcomes the problem often seen with this plant where leaves may die off along the stem leaving a bare stringy plant with flowers only at the end. There is certainly a case for planting various ground cover plants together to see how well they combine and even letting them fight it out a bit to see which one dominates.
 Calibrachoa colour range of light and dark pink, 'Mango Tango',purple, lavender, tangerine, orange, yellow, also includes flowers with contrasting eye colour or darker veins.

If you have the space, it is terrific when used as a broad patchwork colourful groundcover.
My fantasy planting of Calibrachoa would be in the Cubist garden pictured below which was designed in the 1920's by Gabriel Guevrekian at Villa Noailles in the hills above Hyeres in the Var, South Eastern France. Blocks of colour with larger flowering types in foreground with smaller behind....

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sarcococca confusa, Sweet Box

  Sweet Box
Sarcococoa confusa

 This plant is ideal to fill that niche of plants to grow in dry shade which have a nice perfume and that can be trimmed to a topiary or hedge shape. Sweet box will also grow across a range of climates from cold to warm temperate. I only planted one underneath a Brugmansia which is well known for its suckering habit and vigorous root system. I probably should have planted about 5 together so that they formed a good dense rounded mass of green to about 1.5 metres high. The flowers appear in winter and last into spring and though they are fairly insignificant they pack quite a punch from something so small. This shrub which belongs to the plant family Buxaceae originates from western China and is a worthwhile addition to any garden. I sold out of the last batch I grew so its popularity seems to be increasing.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Indian Hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis x indica

Flowering together: Loropetalum 'China Pink', Indian Hawthorn, and red Grevillea rosmarinifolia
Indian Hawthorn or Rhaphiolepis (Family Rosaceae) is a hardy rounded shrub native to southern China where it is called Wheel Mei. There are both pink and white flowering cultivars available, some of which are marketed as compact and low growing, though most will grow to 1.5 metres or more and very old specimens are known to form tree like thickets with a massive root system. It is one of the garden shrub 'standbys' when you are looking for a hardy plant which will tolerate sea spray coastal gardens or difficult spots which tend to dry out quickly. Masses of flowers are produced in spring and these are followed by clusters of  berries which slowly ripen black by autumn. They are supposed to be edible, though I have never tried them, but at least they are not poisonous making this shrub a child friendly addition to any garden. 
2017 update: I currently don't have any stock.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Loropetalum chinense rubrum, 'China Pink' Fringe flower

Loropetalum chinense rubrum, Fringe flower

(Family: Hamamelidaceae)
This attractive and hardy shrub will grow anywhere from Brisbane to Melbourne and at the moment it is showing its brilliant carmine pink flowers. When not in flower it has deep burgundy leaves which makes for an interesting contrasting colour in any garden or landscape. The one pictured here has been pruned to a rounded 2 metre shrub but the natural shape is more open and weeping, often with a curved and arching main trunk, sort of like a giant bonsai. There is a white flowering form as well and in its native habitat of southern China it is called Jimu which translates as silk ribbon making reference to the appearance of the flowers. This shrub is not fussy as to soil type and will tolerate dry conditions well. If left unpruned it may reach 3 metres or more but can be kept at any height as it responds well to even quite hard pruning.
2017 update: I currently don't have any stock.

Wisteria as standard

 In one of the wide treeless streets of my neighbourhood someone has planted a wisteria which has been trained as a standard. This is quite a good option for growing this climber given its reputation for damaging roots and habit of getting away and climbing twenty metres or more up the nearest structure. This one has developed quite a thick trunk already and is even sprouting a few of the pendulous raceme flowers along its length. It has broken the white concrete circular edging around its base but as it is a lawn specimen any sucker growth or side shoots would be cut down as soon as they emerge. No doubt it requires a bit of work to keep it looking good with regular pruning of the new stems which sprout once the flowers are finished. Wisterias used to flower in October which is when spring really got going and now it is not uncommon to see them in bloom from late August.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Suddenly it's Spring

Alto sax player Phil Woods blowing a gale with a vase of Freesias
 Phil Woods recorded a track called Suddenly it's Spring in 1956 for the album Pairing Off. He blew the kind of sound I like to hear, not like what is happening outside at the moment with the wind howling through the trees gathering speed as it goes from the mountains and on out to sea. There has been nothing nice about the weather of the last week. The ground is littered with blossoms which have been torn off or shredded. The air is dry and gritty, hot one day, freezing the next. Flowers which normally bloom for a few weeks are all over in flash. I picked the last of the Freesias today. Feel like giving up on gardening? Yes...
However artist Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) seemed to be conveying the same message in 1449 when he painted La Nascita di Venere .The sea is whipped up, flowers are flying through the air, and the assistant to the central Venus is having a hard time trying to cover her nakedness with the flowing garment. Thankfully she had such long hair to cover herself.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Anemone coronaria 'de Caen'

Anemone coronaria 'de Caen'
Sometimes you get just one line of historical information and you have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps as to the how and why. The French did a lot of hybridizing and improving of this Spring flowering native bulb in the 18th Century and I am wondering whether it is because the resulting flower colours of mainly red, white and blue perfectly reflected their flag and were used in patriotic bedding displays to herald the spring. The breeding work was done in the Normandy region of northern France, hence this single flowered form is named for the city of Caen and the double flowered form is named for one of the Saints of spring, the Irish St. Brigid. Down in Spain, where it is also native, it is given the common name of Spanish Poppy because the red flowered variety has a resemblance to the famous Flanders Poppy.
This is a bulb which is quite hardy in warm climates and less so in extremely cold ones. American Louise Beebe Wilder gave it the thumbs down for the very cold North American States but wrote very eloquently about other members of the race: Of all the flowers that flicker briefly across the worn brown garment that is spring, none are more tenderly beguiling than the Anemones. They do not charm by splurge but by far gentler arts.
Anemones, which droop their eyes
Earthward before they dare arise
To flush the border....
From a horticultural point of view, bulbs are usually purchased in late summer and planted anytime from late February onwards, but herein lies a problem. The bulbs, which resemble wrinkly toes which have emerged from a long soak in a bathtub, may rot if the the conditions are too wet and humid. They have a bit of a flat dorsal side from which the parsley like leaves and flower buds emerge and I planted mine in a store bought 'bulb fibre mix' which proved to be too moisture retentive so I had many casualties early in the season. Then you have that problem of temperature fluctuation in autumn where some plants are tricked into thinking that it is spring and half heartedly flower too early, not unlike what vegetable growers experience when their crop bolts to seed prematurely. Eventually things settle down and the flowers, which emerge over late winter, are carried singly on strong straight stems and put on a wonderful show of opening, closing ,nodding and swaying in the breeze or gale as the case may be. I only planted red and white ones this year, though the blue, which is a dark navy blue, has blue black stamens like silky orphington chicken feathers. Next year for that one. Though they are best treated as an annual, it is worth saving the seed which can be planted in late summer. This is what I am hoping to do to see what success I have in growing them from seed. Always a challenge.
The painting of Anemones below is by Australian botanical artist and writer Joan Law-Smith (1919-1998). What I like about her very refined and elegant work is that it has an elongated perspective, and in a slightly surreal way, she always make you feel as if you have drunk the shrinking potion of Alice in Wonderland and are left looking up at a giant tree sized flower.
 Anemone from A Gardener's Diary by Joan Law-Smith
Published in 1976 by Women's Committee of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria)
From colourful bedding plants in parks of yesteryear to the modern day version:
Street Art in Caen, France by 'Inkflottante'