Thursday, March 28, 2013

Manettia bicolor, 'Brazilian Firecracker'

Manettia bicolor ,'Brazilian Firecracker' (Family Rubiaceae)

There are not many climbers which are small and dainty enough to be planted safely amongst shrubs, used as a ground cover or placed in a hanging basket or decorative container and be continually in flower. This is one such plant and I was fortunate enough to be given a cutting of it a year ago. Though originating from South America and suited to warm climates it will tolerate a few degrees of frost and can be grown successfully on a windowsill indoors. The tubular flowers which are only about 20mm long, are a brilliant scarlet with vivid yellow flared lobes at their apex.
 For those who remember their childhood firecrackers, the flowers remind me a bit of 'Tom Thumbs'  which were about the same size and were attached to each other by a string so they went off in succession with quite a punch.
This plant is named for Italian botanist Savero Manetti (1723-1785) who spent time as supervisor of the Botanic Garden in Florence at a time when such gardens contained herbal plants or "simples", associated with herbalism or herbal medicine.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Hot Mustard'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Hot Mustard'
This is a curious colour to have in a flower. It varies depending on the time of the day from khaki to old gold. The colour is tempered with a soft pink centre with radiating pink stripes.
This large bushy variety was bred by Brian Kerr. Under-plant with one of those brown New Zealand Carex grasses or team with a hot pink or orange flowers to help subdue the impact of these brighter colours.
2017 update: See Brian Kerr's comment below for more details. Thanks Brian.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Anemone hupehensis 'Bowles' Purple'

 Anemone hupehensis Bowles' Purple
This is a smaller grower than the variety 'Japonica', the Japanese Anemone which is usually white or pale pink with flower stems reaching a metre or more, though there is much confusion as to the correct cultivar names and hybrids of these Anemones in Australia.
I was given a small clump of this last year by a gardening mate who called it Bowles' Pink, though no reference is made to either a pink or purple form in the RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. E.A. Bowles is remembered as a breeder of Anemones so I have no doubt this plant goes back a long way. By coincidence the background plant in this photo is the grass or sedge Carex Bowles' Golden.
 The flower color on this Anemone starts out as a vibrant cerise purple before fading to bright pink and white on the edge of the petals. 
From a nursery point of view it is easier get to flower in a 14cm pot which is a bonus from a sales point of view compared with the 'in demand' tall white species with its larger leaves and flower stem making it more difficult to manage. 
This plant is a hardy semi shade to shade lover and is tolerant of frost and dry.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Soapwort: Saponaria officinalis

 Saponaria officinalis 'Rosea Plena', Soapwort

Soapwort is so named because the leaves and roots of the plants contain saponins or soap and it has been used since ancient times for this purpose.  It was brought to Britain by the Romans and taken to the Americas by the Pilgrim Fathers and probably arrived in Australia with the First Fleet. Sometimes it is given the folk name of 'Bouncing Bet' alluding to its habit of bouncing from one place to another via underground roots and appearing far from where it was originally planted. Thus modern garden writers give caution as to planting it freely least it overtake a complete garden. Surprisingly, given its love of moist rich soil or of being pond-side, it belongs to the carnation/dianthus/sweet william family Caryophyllaceae, plants which are normally associated with limey dry soil and Mediterranean conditions. The visual similarity is in the jointed stems and soft sugary fragrance of the flowers.
The double flowering form, pictured above, is said to be less vigorous than the single variety.This one I obtained from a specialist nursery last year during Bowral Tulip Time and it is flowering for the first time, though is somewhat lax in habit.
Years ago I grew the single flowered variety which I got from Dragonfly Aquatics, the nursery of Australian water gardening expert Nick Romanowski who praised the single flowered 'wild type' as being more appealing in his book Water Garden Plants and Animals (UNSW Press).
In the eyes of herb enthusiasts Soapwort will be forever associated with the work of Lady Margaret Meade-Fetherstonhaugh (1888-1977) who used it to restore delicate fabric and brocades in the family home of Uppark (now a National Trust property), in Sussex which her husband had inherited in 1930. With curtains dating from 1746 and in need of restoration she collaborated with herbalist Hilda Leyel (1880-1957) to form a natural cleaning product based on the leaves and roots of the plant. Achieving great success she remarked 'It is a miracle process which not only cleans but heals the material by feeding and strengthening the threads of the textile'

 Uppark in Sussex, as pictured in the early 18th C by Jan Kipp, where the revival of interest in the use of the herb Saponaria was carried out by Lady Meade-Fetherstonhaugh who went on to become President of the Society of Herbalists following the death of Hilda Leyel.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kniphofia 'Bressingham Comet'

Kniphofia 'Bressingham Comet'

Spot flowering at the moment on 60cm stems is this lovely grassy foliaged Red Hot Poker which is a selection by Alan Bloom of Blooms of Bressingham, the famous UK perennial Nursery. The small flower becomes yellow tipped as it ages but is predominately a tangerine orange colour. I persevere with Kniphofias though the climate here is too warm and humid, so many varieties succumb to mealy bug around the base of the leaves or develop collar rot if they get too much water. There are always new ones coming on the market and one I noticed in the market on Friday was called 'Pineapple Popsical'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Cooperii', Snowflake Hibiscus

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Cooperii'
This Hibiscus has long been a part of the indoor plant trade and its delicate small variegated white leaves, which have a hot pink tinge at certain times of the year, have given it the common name of the 'Snowflake Hibiscus'. The variegation or lack of chlorophyll in the leaves means it is is not a particularly vigorous grower in all but tropical climates. I keep it in a pot and it makes a nice contrast with darker foliage plants. This is the first time mine has flowered and the pendulous pillar box red blooms are very attractive.
It needs a warm spot over winter as leaves may drop if it is very cold. For some reason insect pest find the leaves particularly tasty and again this could be due to the lack of green pigment which may inhibit predators.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Nicole Louise'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Nicole Louise'

This is a more subdued flower than the previously mentioned 'Mary Forbes' as the orange colour has a matte finish and is tempered by a cream line flowing along the edge of the petal and onto the reverse. In some lights, and at certain times of the day, the orange takes on a more glowing pink tone.
This is a hardy variety of average height with good glossy foliage.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Mary Forbes'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Mary Forbes'
This photo and the one below were added on June 12 /2013 to note that winter flower colour and form is slightly different to the original posted at the bottom.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Mary Forbes'

 This Hibiscus has both ruffled petal edges and extra ruffled petaloids in the centre of the bloom. From a distance the flower appears as a vibrant burnt orange but up close it reveals a hot pink centre with contrasting paler rays.
Growing to average height of about 1.5 metres this is a stunning variety.
I am unsure of its origin.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Berried Treasure'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Berried Treasure'

This large flowering variety has recurved petals, a glowing pink centre with hints of grey, silver and mauve. Aptly named as there is a gold dusting to the back of the flower The pod parent or "Mother" is 'Topaz Glory' and the pollen parent or "Father" is 'Oyster Pearl'. It was bred by Brian Kerr. Traces of gold can also be found on the ruffled petal edges. Ten out of ten for a two day bloom.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Aster 'Benary Mix'

Aster 'Benary Mix'
Easter daisy
This is one of the best tall varieties of perennial Asters I have grown, with colours ranging from white to pink and magenta. The flower stems are strong and self supporting. 
A little bit of mildew appeared on the leaves during a rainy spell earlier in the month but after cutting off the affected leaves the plants recovered quickly. 
Autumn is the time for dividing perennials as there is still enough warmth in the soil for new plants grown by division to become established and put down new roots before winter.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Patricia Noble'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Patricia Noble'
This Hibiscus is a real winner. It is a two day bloom which starts off a peach pink colour before deepening to a salmon orange. The background colour is buff which shows through in some patches and therefore makes the pink look as if it has been washed on with a watercolour brush. It is a large 18cm wide bloom with fully overlapped ruffled petals. The bonus is the foliage which is glossy and quilted with most leaves being orbiculate in shape. It appeared as a sport of 'Ross  Estey' which is a soft rose pink suffused with apricot and is also highly recommended.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Lollipop'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Lollipop'

This is one of the small windmill style of Hibiscus flowers which characteristically hang down and twirl around in the breeze. 
It is an Australian Hibiscus bred by Brian Kerr and his comment below describes its origin and his suggestion for its use as a hedging variety.
This lovely curled flower with radiating dark red stripes from the centre and slight fringing and crimping on the petal edge are produced in abundance for most of the year.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Grapette'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Grapette'
Of the lavender/grey flowering Hibiscus, my favourite has to be 'Peggy Walton' which has a contrasting red 'eye' in the centre of the bloom which lifts the pale grey flower.
This is a prolific flowering variety however with medium sized blooms about 15cm across. on a strong upright bush.
'Grapette' is from Florida and was bred by Gordon and Evelyn Howard from 'Topaz Glory' x 'Tylene'.

Salvia splendens 'Dark Purple'

Salvia splendens Dark Purple 

Some flowers can be just too dark, am thinking of the all black Pansy for example, which can make them difficult to place in a garden. They need a bright companion, as shown here where they are planted with Tithonia 'Fiesta del Sol', to lift the mood from the sombre tone which they evoke.
Silver foliage plants make for a sophisticated match also, so this Salvia could look good surrounded by the old silver dust bush, a Senecio or Cineraria species. Salvia splendens have few pest or disease problems though snails are partial to young seedlings. They tolerate heat and dry well but need regular removal of spent flowers to keep blooming for months.

Salvia splendens 'Salmon'

Salvia splendens 'Salmon'
This is one from last summer which was a left over from plant sales and was lurking in the throw out pile. It redeemed itself by putting on a show of flowers to get my attention. 
The salmon orange calyxes clasp pale pink flowers which are made to appear more delicate from the more vibrant companion above.
Hardy? Yes This went through frost in the plant market and regrew from the base in spring.

Salvia splendens 'Salsa Plum'

Salvia splendens 'Salsa Plum'
Flowering for months, as I have been cutting back each batch of flowers when they finish and more are produced within no time. The flower colour varies from plum to maroon or cranberry, depending on the weather and light conditions. The individual flared trumpet shaped flowers below the papery calyx have an orange throat a bit like like a mango salsa combo. So an aptly named short lived perennial or annual summer bloomer. Seed is best sown in spring, though germination can be erratic and it is best to wait until days are consistently warm for success.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Capsicum annum 'Pusa Jwala'

Capsicum annum 'Pusa Jwala', Indian Chilli Variety
Oh to be in Hyderabad for "the defeat of monumental proportions in the second Test by an innings and 135 runs......." though larrikin Merv Hughes looked like he was having a great time in the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium. Loved to have been there under that blazing blue sky.

This is the most popular Indian chilli variety characterized by elongated curling pods which have a wrinkly puckered skin. Mine are still pale green though they will change to red over the coming months. The plant has an umbrella shape of loose open branches and is very prolific. This chilli dries well so is easy to store for later use. It makes a good container plant or decorative kitchen garden addition.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Capsicum pubescens 'Canario'

Capsicum pubescens 'Canario'
 It is the chilli ripening time of year and many of the varieties which I have had for years languish in pots in some odd corner awaiting garden space or spare time to nurture and plant out. Even these neglected ones still produce fruit and I look on in reverence knowing they go off the heat scale for me to even dare try, as I swear "siete caldos", hot enough to season seven soups or "caballo", because the heat of the pod kicks like a horse, when I pass them over for the milder 'lipstick' or 'bullet' types.
Capsicum pubescens has a history going back some 6000 years when it was domesticated by the Incas in the ancient capital of Cuzco in Peru. It is a high altitude species and forms a shrubby plant with arching branches to over a metre clothed in soft hairy leaves and conspicuous purple star shaped flowers. Cutting open a mature pod reveals many black seeds which is a way of distinguishing this species from other chilli. It will tolerate low winter temperatures and usually re-shoots after frost damage. Perfect to grow in a decorative pot in a courtyard or kitchen garden as they do in the highlands of Mexico and Peru.