Monday, December 30, 2013

Nigella damascena

Nigella damascena (Ranunculaceae)
 Earlier this month I tried to grow a batch of Nigella in 140mm pots as a commercial plant for sale in the nursery trade markets. This proved difficult as it is a plant which resents being transplanted once the seeds have germinated. Losses were high so I abandoned the project and it proved that it really prefers to hangout in a semi shaded garden corner in moderately rich garden soil where it can do its thing without disturbance, usually self seeding and returning each year if it happens to like the location. A cooler more temperate climate than mine may have helped in successful growing of it also.
The 'Persian Jewels' mix of Nigella contains some wonderful colours including a true sky blue , a deep purple, a crushed strawberry pink and of course white as shown here. The bonus with growing it is for the seed pods or capsules which are also decorative and these can be picked and used in dried flower arrangements.
Common names abound for this plant and include the English, Love-in-a-Mist or Devil-in a-Bush, the latter name referencing those horny little protuberances which top the flower. Other common names reference the veil of delicate, spidery or lacy foliage bracts which surround the flowers. It is a true texture or 'stroke me' plant ideal for sensory gardens. The German Venushaarige braut im haaren (Venus haired bride) or Jungfer im grunen (bridesmaid in green flower) paint the picture nicely of this fennel like foliage.
The other species of Nigella which I have yet to grow, N. sativa, yields the seed which is sometimes goes by the name of black cumin.The aromatic and pungent seeds are more commonly used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. The Indian panch phora is a mixture of nigella seed, cumin seed, fennel, fenugreek and mustard seed.There is also a tradition of using the seed as a topping for bread especially in eastern Europe where the heavy rye style loaves, which weigh a ton and just one slice will fortify you for a hike through a blizzard, are popular. I am thinking here of the Russian chernuska rye bread or the German black bread with schwartzkummel. 
Nigella spice seed remains less well known in Australia but the flowering species has been a popular cottage garden flower for many years.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Swan Lake'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Swan Lake' syn. 'Dainty White' syn. 'White La France'
This is another familiar old garden Hibiscus which has been grown for decades since its introduction from Florida. The pure white flower, which is occasionally flushed with green or cream on the petal edges, is a miniature windmill type of about 125mm and it originally appeared as a sport on 'Dainty Pink'. Pink flowers may still sometimes occur depending on the time of year. This is a very tall growing bush with whip-lash stems covered in only tiny leaves. If left un-pruned it develops a slightly weeping habit with age. The fashion for trimmed and pruned-within-an-inch-of-their-life shrubs has left this Hibiscus out in the cold somewhat but it is certainly worth including in a wild tropical style garden where a splash of white tempers more hot vibrant colours of foliage and flowers.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Enid Lewis'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Enid Lewis'
 Enid is an old fashioned name as is this variety of Hibiscus. It was originally grown by the great Australian Hibiscus nurseryman from the Sydney suburb of Warringah, Les Beers, who established Hibiscus Park Nursery there in the late 1950's. The suburb is now famous for its Mall.......This small flowered Flamingo pink variety is flushed with a biscuit colour at the edge of the petals and on the reverse. It is not a huge flower only being about 125-150 mm wide but is a '2 dayer'. It flowers for most of the year and over winter the flowers shrink and become quite miniature and look quite sweet. Les Beers selected this variety when it appeared as a sport on 'Sabrina' which in turn had originated from the aforementioned 'Mrs George Davis' or Kona. It is a tall growing variety which becomes gnarly with age but can be kept pruned to a more manageable height. It is a recommended variety for growing in a partly shaded location.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Mrs George Davis'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Mrs George Davis' syn 'Kona'
The rich rose pink double flowers of 'Mrs George Davis' are a familiar sight in many old gardens up and down the coast. This vigorous tall growing variety, which originated in Hawaii in the 1950's, is a popular choice for use as a hedge or screen and in warm climate gardens it will flower for most of the year. It has few of the pest or disease problems which can affect some of the more flamboyant modern hybrids, suffering no die-back or borer as it matures. Regular pruning each year and a dose of Hibiscus fertilizer ensures a healthy flush of new growth and continuous flowering. This variety has given rise to a couple of good 'sports' or flowers which have appeared on the bush as a different colour from the original. These are the Cardinal red 'Sabrina' and the peaches and cream 'Mrs Andreasen', both doubles and very hardy varieties.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Garden as a character in Patrick White's 'The Aunt's Story'

 The Aunt's Story by Patrick White
1958 (2nd edition) Eyre and Spottiswoode, London
Cover design by Sidney Nolan
'Tis the season for reading Australian fiction and if the novel includes descriptions of plants and gardens it is always a bonus for those with a horticultural bent. When writers get their plant descriptions wrong however it can leave a jarring note. In Christos Tsiolkas' barracuda a character picks a bunch of blue Snapdragons. Nup! No such colour in 'Snappies' but I think he might have meant Penstemon which have a similar flower structure and come in a blue colour range. A piece of trivia you might say but in the poetic prose of Patrick White there are no such errors, as the gardens and the plants they contain reflect the mood of the characters and become an integral part of the story. 'Aunt' Theodora Goodman grows up in a country house set in a landscape of black volcanic hills and dead skeleton trees with a garden as grim and as unsettling as the personality of her mother. There is a 'solid majority of soughing pines' which are always 'stirring, murmuring and brooding with vague discontent' while on the south side of the house where Mrs Goodman wanted roses she had 'clay carted specially from a great distance' to create 'an artificial rose garden so untidy it looked indigenous'. The roses 'remain as a power and influence in themselves' over the life of 'Aunt Theo' for the rest of the novel. They follow her to the Cote d'Azur and on arrival in her room at the Hotel du Midi, maroon roses 'shouted through megaphones at the brass bed' and even 'retreating from the jaws of roses' into the jardin exotique of the Hotel where 'she hoped the garden would be the goal of her journey' she instead finds herself surrounded by cactus spines before resignedly taking a seat on a bench 'beneath a crimson elbowed thorn' indeed not unlike one found on the 'water shoot' of a growing rose bush.
The 'jardin exotique' is 'completely static, rigid, the equation of a garden' and 'it is all that a garden ought to be, neat and not native, resourcefully planned as opposed to dankly imaginative'. It wears the 'colourless expression of glass' and even the air is 'dry ,motionless and complacent' 'full of sad sounds of no distinguishable origin'.'On the trunk of a cactus flies had discovered a wound' and 'Theodora watched their invasion of the cactus sore.' There are no flowers here, 'sudden and scarlet like Spanish bombs' and even in the rooms of other guests she is confronted with a 'tangle of undergrowth, feathered, musky, tarnished, putting out tendrils of regret and hope, twitching at her skirt' while the indoor potted Monstera deliciosa has fruit 'eaten when black and almost putrid'. When the Hotel burns down Theodora is flashed back to her childhood garden as in the flames she sees 'the revival of roses' and 'how they glowed, glowing and blowing like great clusters of garnets on the live hedge'. Even after the fire the plant forms of the jardin exotique remained 'stiff and still, though on one edge, where they had pressed against the side of the Hotel, they were black and withered' as if 'their zinc had run into a fresh hatefulness'.
In the final chapter which is set in Taos, New Mexico, the dusty sombre pine trees return as does a black rose, a flattened fabric one pinned to her hat. As White explained "I gave Theodora the black rose because it was at the point where she had been finally reduced .....charred and purified" and decidedly unhinged.

'There were the evenings when red roses congealed in great scented clots, deepening in the undergrowth'.
"I see perfection in the rose, both of the flesh and of the spirit " Patrick White (1912-1990)

Friday, December 20, 2013


 Prunus persica 'Versicolor'
In the nursery industry it is often difficult to describe, in layman's terms, the exact colour of a flower, but it is even more difficult when a shrub has flowers which undergo a colour change from bud to bloom or present different coloured flowers on the same branch as is the case with the Prunus pictured above. I come unstuck when labeling the Brugmansia below as pink when actually the blooms start out as acid yellow. The customer naturally feels duped at the appearance of these yellow flowers but only has to wait a couple of days before the colour changes to dark pink. It's versatile versicolor........

Nasturtiums in pots

 While the garden bed Nasturtiums have long gone, shrivelled in the heat and dropping a load of seed, I have had more success in keeping them going in pots. One thing I did not realize is that they can be pruned back in a reasonably hard manner and they will regrow in a more compact and floriferous way. Container growing also makes it easier to control the amount of fertilizer they get as it is well known that excessive nitrogenous fertilizer will produce a mass of leaves with hidden flowers. Removing spent flowers stops them going to seed and thus shortening their life and though this takes a bit of extra effort there is no reason why these Nasturtiums will not keep on going all through summer and into autumn.
These 'Christmas red' ones will make a nice addition to the festive table in the coming days.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Aloe camperii x

 Aloe camperii x with Euphorbia trigona behind
and with Grevillea rosmarinifolia
Though I acquired this Aloe as 'species camperii' many years ago I suspect it is a hybrid as the real camperii has brilliant orange flowers. However this one is growing in absolute shade all year round and when out of the sun flower colours are often less strident. This is a good low clump forming Aloe with octopus style leaves which radiate out to 40cm or more. They are a solid army green but may acquire stripes in a sunny position.The flower stem has a lovely velvety bloom to it and as the dome shaped flowers emerge they are green tipped custard yellow with a vibrant orange heart. They last for many weeks. Now is a good time of year to remove small side shoots or "pups" from around the base of any clump forming Aloe and use these to grow new plants, while allowing the cut stems to dry off for a few days before re-planting.
2017 update: I have some stock available.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Spring Song'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Spring Song'
 The gloss of this flower is exceptional. While the outer petals are a rich salmon orange, the inner eye zone is a bright flamingo pink with a very prominent protruding staminal column, tipped with deep red stigma pads, and shaded a more delicate shell pink. The central zone of the flower merges from flamingo to a light Phlox pink with overlaid Phlox pink veins. This is a tall upright busy Hibiscus and is an Australian cultivar bred by Stan Beard in the 1980's and registered in 2002. There is a Florida variety of 'Spring Song' bred by Dale Dubin which has more yellow colouration in the flower.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Iberis umbellata, Globe Candytuft

Iberis umbellata, Globe Candytuft (Brassicaceae)
with 'Dark Opal' basil and mauve Ageratum
Often I will have just one plant of something, especially if it is an an annual such as this one which arrived via a packet of mixed seed. It is always interesting sowing those packs of seed which come labelled as 'rockery mixture' or 'cottage garden flowers' as you never know what to expect. Often different seasonal flowers are included which means it is better to make successive sowing over a period of months as some seeds are programmed to just appear at certain times of the year. You often get inspiration to grow just one of the successful varieties at a future time and for me this is the case here. I would like to try growing the so called hyacinth flowered Candytuft, Iberis amara, which produces a tight cluster of white flowers which are sweetly perfumed. Having a flower belonging to the cabbage family, a 'Brassica', with a sweet perfume seems quite odd of course but nature always has many surprises. This globe candytuft looks a bit like Alyssum/Sweet Alice on stilts and seems to attract a good share of beneficial insects to the garden in the same way Alyssum does.
The Iberis name refers to the Spanish origin of the plant, the Iberian Peninsular. In France it is known as Iberide while the English Candytuft comes from Candia , the old English name for the Greek Island of Crete where it also grows wild. The most interesting common name for it is the Portuguese Assembleias which refers to the way the individual flowers are arranged in a cluster around the stem.

Heliotropium arborescens 'White Lady'

Heliotropium arborescens 'White Lady' (Boriginaceae)
 White flowered Heliotrope or Cherry Pie, as it is sometimes known, is very sweetly scented and is as vigorous as the dark purple kind reaching up to a metre or more. This variety dates from the Victorian era of the late 19th century when Heliotrope was a very popular ornamental garden plant.  As shrubs they can become very untidy and open in habit so it is wise to tip prune plants regularly and remove spent flowers so as to maintain a compact bush. Otherwise they are normally very hardy and have very low water and fertilizer requirements.
2017 update: I no longer grow this plant.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Lady Cilento'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Lady Cilento'
 A lot of Queenslanders  grew up in a household where "Medical Mother", Lady Cilento (1893-1985) was regularly quoted and her sound advice was given good heed. It is a delightful irony that this Hibiscus should bloom on this day of the opening of the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane. It is a spectacular large ruffled flower not for the feint hearted with all those splashes and swirls of orange and yellow. I like to think of it as being a Vitamin C kind of colour given Lady Cilento's advocacy for the use of vitamins. It was bred by Ian Wicks from a pod parent of 'Fiesta' and a pollen parent of 'Three Cheers' and released in 1982. It is a strong upright growing bush or it can be grown as an espalier. Imagine this planted against a purple wall.

Two double Bougainvilleas

Bougainvillea ' Klong Fire'
Bougainvillea 'Pagoda Pink'
Ok so they look remarkably similar in the photos but 'Klong Fire' starts out as a rich dark red and ages to hot pink while 'Pagoda Pink starts out hot pink and fades to a softer pink. Both are just as vigorous as the single flowering varieties but the flower heads of 'bracts' are denser and there seems to be more of them. Both make good container grown specimens and they can be kept dwarf and compact with ease and flowering for most of the time as well. I must say I like to grow Bougainvilleas without stakes. Most are sold tied up like Joan of Arc in a stiff manner but if left untied and pruned as a compact shrub they are more versatile as to their ultimate use, either as a container or planter box specimen or to be espaliered against a wall or made to cascade over an embankment or grow up over a pergola. Leave off the stakes please growers.....

Verbena rigida, Lilac Vervain

Verbena rigida (Verbenaceae )
I have not grown this species of Verbena for a number of years. I like the ferny soft foliage and the fact that it flowers non stop for months. In cooler climates it is usually treated as a summer annual but in warmer climes it will keep on going and re-blooming especially if given the occasional "haircut" to keep it looking good. Pink and white forms are sometimes available and it makes a terrific hanging basket plant as a stand-alone or when mixed with other flowers or foliage. It will tolerate dry and this is an advantage if using in a basket which we all know can dry out at a fast rate.
I am not aware of this species having become weedy like Verbena bonariensis has along roadsides and paddocks . It originates from Argentina.

Dwarf Red Bougainvillea 'Temple Fire'

Bougainvillea 'Temple Fire' with Antignon 'Coral Creeper'
  "You little beauty" is all you can say about this plant. Only growing to about a metre it seems to be always in flower and needs minimal trimming ,water or fertilizer. It is a good "Boug" to grow in a planter box under the eaves of a dwelling, in full hot western sun or on a balcony where rain can't reach. Overall however growth can be slow to reach that maximum spread and very few Nurseries offer mature plants in a large size pot ,but it is worth the wait if planting a small one. I am combining the 'Temple Fire' with the climber Coral Creeper or Chain of Hearts (Antignon leptopus) which sends off long shoots which are amenable to being draped over other plants as flowers on it appear at the tips over summer.  More cultural notes can be found on this website:
Dwarf Red Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea 'Temple Fire') (Department of Natural Resources and Mines)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Crown of Bohemia'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Crown of Bohemia'
 This wonderful old Californian variety of Hibiscus dates form 1958. It was bred by Vavra from a pod parent of 'Rhonda D. Sport' and a pollen parent of 'Harvey' (Reference: Stanley Palmer)
 What a rich colour this flower is, a true old gold with just enough signal red showing around the base of the petals to enliven it more.

A 44 gallon drum

I have this old 44 gallon drum in the garden to use when washing the soil off the roots of plants and it is aging nicely with a wonderful blue surface.

Dianthus deltoides 'Arctic Fire'

Dianthus deltoides 'Arctic Fire' (Carophyllaceae)
The flower size on this mat forming perennial ground cover is only about that of a five cent piece (2cm across) but they pack quite a punch when displayed en mass, as each stem carries dozens of flowers at any one time. This 'Maiden Pink' has very dark green leaves and forms such a dense carpet, spreading to 30cm or more, that weeds are unable to make an appearance through its surface. Though given the term 'alpine plant' probably because it would be perfectly at home in a scree or rock garden, it is hardy across a range of climates and does not suffer the same fate in humid conditions of the grey leaved Dianthus by turning up its toes.
 Easily grown from seed sown at any time of year or propagated by division during autumn.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Datlily, Hemerocallis

 Hemerocallis cultivars, Daylily hybrids (Hemerocallidaceae)
It's Daylily week with lots coming into flower right now. I grow a very small selection of the hundreds available. They are reliable perennials and are fairly easy care. I like the fact that you can cut them off at ground level and they regrow with fresh leaves in a very short space of time. This is a useful tidy up thing to do if you are growing them in pots as the foliage can be susceptible to damage by thrips which causes it to develop silver markings and by rust which shows up as small rusty spots all along the leaves, both problems leaving the plant a bit tired looking. Cutting off spent flower stems and regular doses of liquid fertilizer ensure healthy plants overall.
Hemerocallis species are native to eastern Asia and have been grown in Chinese gardens for centuries where they are used as both a food and in traditional medicine. As a vegetable they are known as Huanghuacai or yellow flower vegetable or as Jinzhencai, golden needle vegetable. The orange daylily, H. fulva, is known as the Xuan Plant ,Xuancao, or 'forgetting sadness herb'. They are also favoured by women who are hoping for the conception of sons over daughters.